With over 500 million books sold in at least 70 languages, the Harry Potter series by author J.K. Rowling has become the best-selling book series in history. The story chronicles the life of the titular character Harry Potter and his friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger through their seven years at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
On the origins of the series, J.K. Rowling stated:
It was 1990. My then boyfriend and I had decided to move up to Manchester together. After a weekend’s flat-hunting, I was traveling back to London on my own on a crowded train, and the idea for Harry Potter simply fell into my head.
I had been writing almost continuously since the age of six but I had never been so excited about an idea before. To my immense frustration, I didn’t have a pen that worked, and I was too shy to ask anybody if I could borrow one…
I did not have a functioning pen with me, but I do think that this was probably a good thing. I simply sat and thought, for four (delayed train) hours, while all the details bubbled up in my brain, and this scrawny, black-haired, bespectacled boy who didn’t know he was a wizard became more and more real to me.
Perhaps, if I had slowed down the ideas to capture them on paper, I might have stifled some of them (although sometimes I do wonder, idly, how much of what I imagined on that journey I had forgotten by the time I actually got my hands on a pen). I began to write ‘Philosopher’s Stone’ that very evening, although those first few pages bear no resemblance to anything in the finished book.
The story focuses on Harry’s quest to defeat the most evil wizard of all time, Lord Voldemort, who killed his parents when Harry was only 1 year old. The main theme of the books, according to Rowling, is death; however, the story also focuses on friendship, right versus wrong, prejudice, corruption, and much more.
Originally, the manuscript was turned down by several agents but was eventually accepted by the Christopher Little Agency. In August of 1996, after the manuscript was turned down by several publishers, Bloomsbury Publishing purchased the rights and released Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in June of 1997.
In April of 1997, Christopher Little had arranged an auction for American publishing rights at the Bologna Book Fair in Bologna, Italy. Arthur A. Levine, the editorial director of Scholastic Books, won the auction for the American rights, changed the title of the first book to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and released the book in September of 1998.
In March 2001, Rowling wrote the two “schoolbooks” of Quidditch Through the Ages and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them for Comic Relief charity raising over £17 million. Today, every copy of the Bloomsbury edition sold generates a donation of £1.15 towards the charity.
On July 21, 2007, the finale Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released worldwide to celebrated acclaim with sales of 11 million copies in the first 24 hours of release, breaking down to 2.7 million copies in the UK and 8.3 million in the United States.
The entire series of seven books was made into eight blockbuster movies by Warner Bros. and became the highest-grossing film series of all-time.
In 2007, Rowling constructed seven handwriting copies of The Tales of Beedle the Bard giving six of them to individuals that were instrumental to her success and the final one to be auctioned off for charity to benefit the Children’s High Level Group (CHLG). The book sold for £1.95 million to the online retailer, Amazon. On December 4, 2008, the book of fairy tales went on sale and was another major success thanks for the CHLG to a mountain of pre-orders. In the first week, 2.6 million books were sold worldwide generating £4.2 million for institutionalized children across Europe.
In 2008, Rowling submitted an 800-word untitled story as part of a charity event held by Waterstones called “What’s Your Story?”. The story recounts an adventure by Harry Potter characters Sirius Black and James Potter, Harry’s godfather and father respectively, prior to Harry Potter’s birth. The story was sold for £25,000 to Hira Digpal, the president of a Tokyo-based investment company.
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The story of the Harry Potter audiobooks began on November 22, 1999, over two years after the first book was published, when Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, read by Stephen Fry, was released in the UK. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, read by Jim Dale, was released in the US nine days later, on December 1, 1999. These two men would continue their auditory journey through July 21, 2007, when both versions of the audiobook of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows were concurrently released with the hardback editions.
On September 7, 2005, the first digital editions of the audiobooks were offered exclusively on iTunes. They were previously available only on CD and cassette tape.
Today, the entire series is available in audiobook format in Danish, Dutch, American English, British English, German, and Polish, and the first two books are also available in Italian and Brazilian Portuguese. These can all be purchased in mp3 format on Pottermore.com. Additionally, both the Jim Dale and Stephen Fry versions are now available on Audible.com, as well as the German versions. The American editions can also be purchased at the WB Shop.
- Release Dates
- Run Time
- The series is the best selling audiobooks in history.
- At 34 hours, the German edition of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is the longest audiobook in the series.
- At 8.5 hours, the American, British, and Brazilian editions of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone are the shortest audiobooks in the series.
- The total time of the US editions is 116.75 hours, or four days, twenty hours, and 45 minutes.
- The total time of the UK editions is 124 hours, or five days, four hours, meaning the UK edition of the series lasts seven hours and fifteen minutes longer than the US edition.
- On December 26, 2000, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was played uninterrupted on Radio 4 LW, making broadcasting history.
- Ever since the release of the fourth book, the US audiobooks have been simultaneously released. The UK audiobooks were not simultaneously released until the seventh book.
- The US audiobook of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince sold 165,000 copies in its first two days, setting a record as the largest two-day sale in audiobook history. The CD also made the second best-selling title on the Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites, behind the hardback edition, unheard of for an audiobook.
- For Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, both Stephen Fry and Jim Dale recorded 146 different and distinguishable character voices, the most ever recorded for an audiobook.
- The Danish versions are read by Jesper Christiansen, the Dutch by Jan Meng, the German by Felix von Manteuffel, the Italian by Giorgio Scaramuzzino, the Polish by Piotr Fronczewski, and the Brazilian Portuguese by Jorge Rebelo.
- November 22, 1999: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
- December 1, 1999: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (US)
- February 1, 2000: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (US)
- April 1, 2000: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (UK)
- September 25, 2000: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (UK)
- July 8, 2000: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (US)
- April 2, 2001: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (UK)
- June 21, 2003: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (US)
- September 22, 2003: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (UK)
- July 16, 2005: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (US)
- August 25, 2005: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (UK)
- July 21, 2007: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (US) and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (UK)
Philosopher’s Stone/Sorcerer’s Stone
American English: 8.5 hours
British English: 8.5 hours
Danish: 9.6 hours
Dutch: 9.3 hours
German: 11 hours
Italian: 9.5 hours
Polish: 10.3 hours
Brazilian Portuguese: 8.5 hours
Chamber of Secrets
American English: 9 hours
British English: 9.75 hours
Danish: 11 hours
Dutch: 9.7 hours
German: 11.5 hours
Italian: 10.5 hours
Polish: 10.4 hours
Brazilian Portuguese: 10.1 hours
Prisoner of Azkaban
American English: 12 hours
British English: 12 hours
Danish: 12.9 hours
Dutch: 12.7 hours
German: 14 hours
Polish: 12.9 hours
Goblet of Fire
American English: 20.5 hours
British English: 21 hours
Danish: 21.9 hours
Dutch: 20.8 hours
German: 25.5 hours
Polish: 23.3 hours
Order of the Phoenix
American English: 26.5 hours
British English: 29.25 hours
Danish: 29 hours
Dutch: 24 hours
German: 34 hours
Polish: 29 hours
American English: 18.5 hours
British English: 20.5 hours
Danish: 19.8 hours
Dutch: 19.8 hours
German: 23 hours
Polish: 20.2 hours
American English: 21.75 hours
British English: 24 hours
Danish: 23.7 hours
Dutch: 23.4 hours
German: 26.5 hours
Polish: 24 hours
- Pottermore E-books
- Enhanced Editions
On March 27, 2012, the Harry Potter books were released for the first time in e-book format, exclusively available on the Pottermore website. Originally released in English (both UK and US), the e-book editions are now available in Danish, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, and Swedish.
On November 19, 2012, J.K. Rowling announced that all proceeds for the e-book sales of Tales of Beedle the Bard would benefit her charity, Lumos. On March 15, 2013, in honor of Comic Relief‘s Red Nose Day, J.K. Rowling released Quidditch Through the Ages and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in e-book form on Pottermore, with 40% of the proceeds benefiting the charity.
All of the e-books can be downloaded as EPUB files from the shop at Pottermore.
On October 8, 2015, in collaboration with Apple and Pottermore, J.K. Rowling released all seven Harry Potter novels as iBooks from Apple’s iBooks store. Annotations from Rowling herself have been added to these editions, marked suitably with quill icons. In addition, illustrations and animations fill the pages, making it a brand new visual experience altogether. New fonts and customized, redesigned covers are also additions that make this release unique. Each novel currently runs for $9.99 on the iBooks Store and can be purchased from 30 countries, including the US and the UK. Although currently only available in English, languages such as French, German, and Spanish can be pre-ordered from the iBook store. The iBooks will also be available in 18 more countries on November 9, 2015.
- It is said that J.K. Rowling sent her preliminary copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to twelve publishers before it was accepted and published by Bloomsbury.
- There is a dinosaur that has been named Dracorex hogwartsia, with Hogwartsia being based on the name of Hogwarts, in honor of the series. The name translates to “Dragon King of Hogwarts.” Coincidentally, the dinosaur’s name also contains the word “draco,” but it has nothing to do with a Harry Potter book character sharing the name.
- With the exception of the first and third books, there is always a chapter with the same name as the book.
- Also, with the exception of the third book, there is always at least one character that dies in the final chapter(s) of the books (although in the second book this is a basilisk, not a human character).
- In September 2012, J.K. Rowling admitted to having rushed work on some of the Harry Potter novels due to tight deadlines, and floated the possibility of someday releasing “director’s cut” editions of the novels.
- From 2000-2009, the Harry Potter books was the top of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of the Decade.
- Nestlé Smarties Book Prize 1997 Gold Medal 9-11 years
- FCBG Children’s Book Award 1997 Overall winner and Longer Novel Category Birmingham
- Cable Children’s Book Award 1997
- Young Telegraph Paperback of the Year 1998 Carnegie Medal 1998 (Shortlist)
- British Book Awards 1997 Children’s Book of the Year
- Sheffield Children’s Book Award 1998
- Whitaker’s Platinum Book Award 2001
- Nestlé Smarties Book Prize 1998 Gold Medal 9-11 years
- Scottish Arts Council Children’s Book Award 1999 FCBG Children’s Book Award 1998 Overall winner and Longer Novel Category
- British Book Awards 1998 Children’s Book of the Year
- North East Book Award 1999
- North East Scotland Book Award 1998
- The Booksellers Association / The Bookseller Author of the Year 1998
- Whitaker’s Platinum Book Award 2001.
- Nestlé Smarties Book Prize 1999 Gold Medal 9-11 years
- Whitbread Children’s Book of the Year 1999 British Book Awards 1999 Author of the Year
- The Booksellers Association / The Bookseller Author of the Year 1998
- FCBG Children’s Book Award 1999 / Longer Novel Category
- Whitaker’s Platinum Book Award 2001.
- Scottish Arts Council Book Award 2001
- Children’s Book Award in 9-11 category 2001 Winner of the Hugo Award
- Whitaker’s Platinum Book Award 2001.
- WH Smith People’s Choice Book Awards, Fiction category, 2003
- British Book Awards Book of the Year (shortlist) 2003.
- Winner of the British Book Awards, WH Smith Book of the Year 2006
- Royal Mail Award for Scottish Children’s Books (best book for readers aged 8-12 years) 2006.
- Booksellers Association Independent Booksellers’ Book Prize (shortlist) 2008.
- Carnegie Medal 2008 (longlist)
J.K. Rowling has received many honors and awards, including:
- Author of the Year and Lifetime Achievement Award, British Book Awards, 1999 and 2008
- Booksellers Association Author of the Year, 1998 and 1999
- Order of the British Empire (OBE), 2001
- WH Smith Fiction Award, 2004
- Prince of Asturias Award for Concord, Spain, 2003
- Blue Peter Gold Badge, 2007
- Commencement speaker, Harvard University, USA, 2008
- The Edinburgh Award, 2008
- James Joyce Award, University College Dublin, 2008
- South Bank Show Award for Outstanding Achievement, 2008
- Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur: France, 2009
- Hans Christian Andersen Award, Denmark, 2010
- Honorary Degrees from the University of Exeter, University of St Andrews, Napier University, University of Edinburgh, Dartmouth College USA, Harvard University USA, and University of Aberdeen