Harry Potter Book Sales Top 500 Million? Rowling, Inc., Fandom, and Fake News

Bloomsbury announced last week that sales of Harry Potter books had crossed the 500 million copies sold threshhold.

Bloomsbury announced that 500 million copies of the Harry Potter books have been sold worldwide since the 1997 release of J.K. Rowling’s first installment, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, in 80 languages. The milestone comes on the day of the annual Harry Potter Book Night across the UK, and two days before the same event in the United States. 

I don’t know if you follow these things. Part of me hopes very much that you don’t. And wishes that I didn’t have to.

Why not? Because news like this is to the mind what refined sugar and flour are to the body, i.e., not just ’empty calories,’ but anti-nutrients, food-like substances that require more energy and nutrients to digest than they provide. See Rolf Dobelli.

Most of the click-bait from Rowling, Inc., sadly has this quality. Rowling herself last week, in response to the substance free fire storm over the revelation that Dumbledore’s sexual identity would not be an “explicit” subject in ‘Crimes of Grindelwald,’ remarked on her Twitter feed that “believing every bit of Potter clickbait? Foolish. Just saying.”

The “500 million books sold” announcement is an excellent case in point.

For years, 2007-2013, the “Books Sold” mark was stuck at 450 million copies. In 2013, according to at least one source, it jumped to 500 million. Other sources continued to use the official 450 million number. Bloomsbury is celebrating the larger number now five years later.

But let’s get real. We have no idea what they’re counting and it is very unlikely Bloomsbury has sufficient data to make a decent estimate.

Is it the books published by Bloomsbury? Those in English? The seven books, the ancillary textbooks, Cursed Child, and the Fantastic Beasts screenplay? The eBook editions that Rowling controls? The various editions of each of the eighty languages the books have been translated into?

We read in Forbes, May/2013, that “Philosopher’s Stone and the six subsequent books have now sold 500 million copies worldwide.” 

So, in the five years 2013-2018, sales have been really poor? As in “no sales”?

The new ‘count’ from Bloomsbury with the same number means, forgive me, that they as likely as not have no idea how many copies are in print and are satisfied with this 500 million figure as sounding reasonably awe inducing.

My guess? They rounded down the figures available on Wikipedia. Really.

Add it up. The sum puts us at 510,000,006, significant figures be damned.

Really, I think it’s fair to bet that Bloomsbury has no idea how many books all those with copyright in the eighty languages and more countries in which the various editions appear. Rowling, Inc., may have a clearer idea because of royalties received from all parties but I doubt we’ll ever get a number from them.

Which means we can file this — and all future announcements of estimated total sales — as, if not “fake news,” then the mental equivalent of a Twinkie or Ding Dong.

Why do the publishers, movie studios, and fandom websites flood our attention with clickbait of this kind on a daily basis? For the same reason even health food stores have a potato and corn chip aisle.

We in fandom, alas, feed on this stuff. Witness the fervent reaction — for and against — to anything released by the studios or manufactured by websites and the consequent emotional energy invested in issues like how much  or just how Dumbledore’s sexuality will play a part in ‘Crimes’ or the Johnny Depp firestorm.

Or, yes, the accuracy of the Bloomsbury sales figure numbers.

Let’s make a deal.

Y’all do your best to resist the click-bait that is only out there to foster the flame of our excitement about coming events. We’ll try not to discuss them at any length here at HogwartsProfessor.


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