Rowling's life story is magical

Welcome Back Potter

July 05, 2000|By Athima Chansanchai

The record-setting number of first-edition copies printed for Book IV in the popular Harry Potter series - 3.8 million in the United States - is just the latest development in the Cinderella story of the young, wand-waving wizard and the woman who brought him to bestseller lists everywhere.

Five years ago, author J.K. Rowling was a struggling single mom living on the dole, skipping meals, writing her future on notepads and napkins around Edinburgh, Scotland. She couldn't afford to photocopy her manuscript, so she typed it out several times - on a second-hand electric typewriter - to send to different agents and a publisher.

The good times began for her in 1996 when agent Christopher Little signed Bloomsbury Children's Books to publish her first Potter novel. Next, she received a grant for $13,000 from the Scottish Arts Council in February 1997. It was no small feat at the time, but chump change compared to what was to come. "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" was published in Great Britain in June 1997, and life was never the same for Rowling.

Scholastic scooped up the colonies' rights to Potter in 1997 for $105,000 and hit a goldmine as sales in the United States skyrocketed. By the fall of 1999, about 21 million copies of the first three Potter books had been published (suggested retail prices ranged from $17 to $35 each), and the trio co-habitated the New York Times bestseller list.

Today Rowling is within the top 25 percent of Forbes magazine's Celebrity 100 list, earning $40 million last year and putting her in the same company as Michael Jordan and Cher.

With its visual possibilities, Harry caught the attention of British film producer David Heyman and Warner Bros. Studio, which have acquired the rights for the Potter books. Movie rights to the first one cost $500,000, and the budget for the production, which starts filming this fall, is estimated at $90 million to $100 million.

Numbers become more dizzying with the merchandising aspect of the children's series. Warner Bros. could rake in as much as $1 billion in revenue from marketing tie-ins to Harry Potter, as well as in the licensing agreements they have with toy goliaths Hasbro and Mattel.

No small feat indeed.

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