Two New Books from J. K. Rowling and Two BBC Blockbusters!

BibliographyHow about that! Two new books from J. K. Rowling and great forward progress on the teevee productions of her two Post-Potter efforts! Big news, right? Fandom marking dates for midnight release parties?

Well, not really. I’m afraid few stores will even carry the books in question, not to mention celebrate their publication, and both tomes will almost certainly mark historic low-sales marks for the Goddess of Blockbuster Book Launches.

Here’s the deal. The first book to be released is not really by Ms Rowling as much as it is a list of everything she has written and the ‘inside story’ of the writing, editing, and publication of this body of work. Read The Guardian‘s article here (hat-tip, David!).

2015 aAuthor and Sotheby’s director for children’s books Philip Errington has spent five years compiling the 544-page JK Rowling: A Bibliography 1997-2013, a work described as “slavishly thorough and somewhat mind-boggling” by Rowling which has just been published by Bloomsbury Academic. As well as providing complete bibliographic details of each edition of all Rowling’s books to date, in order to “record fact and dispel rumour” – and enable fans to work out if they might have a rare edition – Errington has also dug through Bloomsbury’s archives and interviewed its staff to include detailed information on the publishing history of Rowling’s books….

“There is a lot of incorrect information out there and this is a chance to set the record straight with detailed research,” said Errington. “I’m very fortunate that Bloomsbury let me into their archives, and that I was able to interview key people. This could act as a map for the future … you can see how the Harry Potter series just took off.”

Book stores almost certainly won’t be carrying it or participate in the launch because it is priced well out of most customers’ range. The hardback edition on Amazon is listed at $121 and the Kindle price is $57.99.

JKR3The Kindle price was $80 (and is still $100 at the publisher’s book page online) but the blowback in reader comments at Amazon was fast and red-hot. The book’s online caretakers have done all they can to quell this public outcry, in addition to dropping the eBook price by 25%, by squishing negative comments with votes that one star reviews are not helpful and, more telling, clicking on “comment does not add to discussion” (see TWS’ to-the-point sticker-shock review and all-but-erased reader response for a sample of this handiwork).

But perhaps readers are over reacting. This bibliography is not from the Bloomsbury division that published the seven Harry Potter novels in the UK and most Commonwealth nations. It is from Bloomsbury Academic. Academic imprints, like most University presses, market their books to higher education libraries and to teachers who will use them as textbooks in colleges and graduate schools. As such, prices over $100 are as much a norm as they are exceptional.

A quick survey of Bloomsbury Academics’ homepage and online catalog confirms this. Sort of.

The two most recent publications, Visible Self and Apparel Quality, are priced at $115 and $120, respectively. It isn’t until we drop well down the list to a history textbook released last year, S0uth Africa, sold for only $29.95, that we find a book less than three digits.

In the Bibliography‘s category, however, Children’s Literature, we find the Rowling Bibliography eBook priced at $100 (almost double the deftly discounted Amazon Kindle cost).

Other titles there, equally academic, are only $30, $40, and $28.

f39080870If you own a book published by Bloomsbury Academic, I’d bet it is a paperback copy of an Arden Shakespeare edition of Hamlet, Macbeth, or King Lear. Checking out the tab for those best sellers, we find that individual Bard of Stratford plays sell for between $13 and $19 in the latest series. More telling is that their latest textbook, Shakespeare on Global Stage, goes for $112 in hardback, $30 in paper covers, and $28 as an eBook.

So the question remains: is this a profit taking on Bloomsbury’s part? It strains credulity that they think this book will be primarily of interest to professors teaching classes on the subject. It is more like Melissa Anelli’s Harry, A History than an academic treatment of the Hogwarts Saga.

f38696678Fans of the books, however, myself included, would love to read the story of which books received heavy editorial work and which a relatively light touch (the Guardian article excerpts suggest, for example, that the Presence was exasperated by the many revisions requested for Prisoner of Azkaban, which title many readers consider her “break-out” book). Few of us are likely to purchase the book on release or at anytime until used copies become available, which won’t happen for several years.

By then, perhaps, we’ll have a book with the inside story on why this inside story was priced to restrict sales to libraries and affluent collectors. My uninformed speculation until we have that scoop will be along the lines that this reflects obliquely or directly the bad blood between the author and her former publishers. What percentage of the take she was offered or flat price she was paid for permission to quote her correspondence with Bloomsbury editors (or her condition for allowing publication in any form?) may be the root of the curious imprint placement and exorbitant charge for this book.

Very Good LivesThe second book being published with Ms Rowling’s name on it is Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination. From the Amazon book page:

J.K. Rowling, one of the world’s most inspiring writers, shares her wisdom and advice.

In 2008, J.K. Rowling delivered a deeply affecting commencement speech at Harvard University. Now published for the first time in book form, VERY GOOD LIVES presents J.K. Rowling’s words of wisdom for anyone at a turning point in life. How can we embrace failure? And how can we use our imagination to better both ourselves and others?Drawing from stories of her own post-graduate years, the world famous author addresses some of life’s most important questions with acuity and emotional force.

Sales of VERY GOOD LIVES will benefit both Lumos, a charity organization founded by J.K. Rowling, which works to transform the lives of disadvantaged children, and university-wide financial aid at Harvard University.

The book is 80 pages and sells for $12.34 in hardback and $9.99 on Kindle. That’s more than $.15 per page. A bargain, I guess, when compared to the Bibliography whose per page price is just under $.23, but then again, that tome has information we do not have already.

The Harvard Commencement address by Ms Rowling is available to be watched (and transcribed) on YouTube and the transcript is available online. As admirable as this may be as a fund raiser for Lumos, the Harvard University endowment hovers between $30 and $35 billion. That Harvard charges any of its students tuition is borderline scandalous:

In 2007, if Harvard had spent 5% of its $34.6 billion endowment [approximately half of what it will make in interest], all Harvard undergraduate and graduate students could have attended for free and the university would still have had $1.3 billion left over.

harvardAnd yet money is going from this book’s sales to fund Harvard’s “university wide financial aid”? When the speech can be seen and read online for free? I’ll make my contribution to Lumos directly, thanks. Harvard doesn’t need my money.

If Ms Rowling is sharing her “wisdom and advice,” I’m guessing again, that it has something to do with her new representation to publishers and other media. Very Good Lives is published by Little, Brown, the company that Neil Blair, her new agent, recruited for Casual Vacancy and the Cormoran Strike mysteries. If she is obliged to them for a given number of books, Very Good Lives is a stroke of genius, i.e., getting paid for work already done and which everyone interested has already read.

But Mr. Blair is making money for and with Ms Rowkling in other ways. His independent production company, Bronte Films, has been signed to make the BBC teevee serials of both Casual Vacancy and Cuckoo’s Calling. Ms Rowling will be collaborating on the scripts. Read about that here and here — and here and here (hat-tip, ChrisC!). And the three movie deal Blair negotiated with Warner Brothers for Fantastic Beasts?

Very Good Lives, indeed. Or at least ‘Very Well Compensated Lives.’

Cuckoo 1Given the percentage of Ms Rowling’s money that goes to charity (and, alas, to the Labor Party), I don’t begrudge her making as much as she can in order to give it away as she sees fit. My concern here, odd as it may seem to many, is that we are seeing literally here ‘the Death of the Author.’ Bibliographies are not usually produced for authors whose written work, beyond a few editorials and trading card backs, is limited to ten novels and a few charity toss-offs. And the deluxe edition of work already in the public domain also has the scent of a post mortem publication.

As excited as I am by both Casual Vacancy and the two of > seven Cormoran Strike novels we have, this air of profit taking from the past is slightly worrisome. Ms Rowling is entering her prime as a writer, her recent work demonstrates, and I more than half-expect the third Strike mystery to set off a mania not unlike that which Prisoner of Azkaban did for Harry Potter.

So why is she looking back or encouraging others to by these over-priced and unnecessary books?

Your comments and corrections are coveted, as always.


  1. This is just a guess, but it is possible that her encouragement of books with exorbitant prices may have something to do with her (possible?) problems with her publishers in terms of compensation.

    Maybe the fact is that the digital revolution has either crippled publishers to such an extent that they can’t afford to compensate their authors as much, hence the need to market as much as possible just to make ends meet (who says being world famous means living on “Easy Street”?).

    The other possibility is that less readers means that for publishers, books are out, marketing is in, hence, once more, less need to compensate even their Bestsellers.

    I have no idea for certain, yet that’s just one possible reason for all this marketing.

  2. I must confess my disappointment. I was hoping for a little more from the world of Harry Potter. Alas, it is what it is. I meant to tell you: I was watching the bonus features on my copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and you were there. I was just listening while I changed a diaper and I recognized your voice. I thought that was pretty cool. 🙂

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