By now everybody knows that this is the last book in the Harry Potter series, arguably one of the most popular series in children literature, with more than 300 million copies sold so far for the 6 titles (not to mention the movies, toys and other merchandise). Much has been said about its literary quality and moral value. We wanted to take a look at the end of the saga from an industry perspective, borrowing from Sergio Leone’s masterpiece.
– The Good: There is little doubt that Harry Potter has made eager readers of many children. And while they’d surely miss these characters, they’ll go on to other series and books. While reading habits in young adults seem to be dropping, the fans of these books are reading more. Now they can discover other works that before were lost in the wake of Potter’s success.
– The Bad: For the industry these bestsellers represent a large percentage of sales and profits. In the years without a new Harry Potter title, the largest bookstore chains have announced declines in sales due in part to that fact. Without a new title in sight to replace its success, we may be looking at another dull in sales for next year.
– The Ugly: Every year more than 1 million different titles are sold in the U.S. Of these, very few (some say, less than 2%) sell more than 5,000 copies. Close to 200,000 new titles are published every year in the U.S. as well. Annual book sales growth is in the single percentage digits. And then, there is Harry. Its success has shed light into an industry that has long been dependant on bestsellers. One where the gap between bestsellers and non-bestsellers (or as Chris Anderson may call it, the Long Tail) seem to be increasing, as well as the gap between those who read many books per year, and those who read only a few, if any. One where best-selling does not correlate always with literary value, but rather with marketability.
Without J.K. Rowling’s help, many bookstores, and publishers, will be hard press to find a new mega-hit. And we think that that is good news. This series has seeded children with a thirst for reading, and hopefully now other titles may have the chance to harvest the fruit of Ms. Rowling’s hard labor. We should be thankful for the decade of Harry but also for its end. Now it is up to booksellers and librarians to help children and young adults find the next gems hiding in the bookshelves. No magic involved, just some light reading.
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