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15-Year Harry Potter Spell Brings Riches to Publisher

Sarah Rappaport, |Special to CNBC.com
Tuesday, 26 Jun 2012 | 9:39 AM ET

On June 26 1997, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was first published by Bloomsbury Publishing, with an initial run of only 500 copies in hardcover. On the 15th anniversary of that date, Nigel Newton, the CEO and founder ofBloomsburypublished called Harry Potter "transformative" for the company.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
AP
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

"Bloomsbury was already a successful company, but Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone grew and grew and grew to become the biggest publishing phenomenon of modern times. It moved from big to very big to unprecedented.”

Newton said Potter’s great success was even more incredible in that it was one of Bloomsbury’s earliest ventures in children’s books.

“After we floated, we started a children’s division and got lucky very quickly. We were very lucky that one of our earliest children’s books ended up being as big as it did.” he said.

As for the future of the publishing industry post-Potter, Newton said that he sees e-book sales continuing to rise across the world.

E-book sales were 23 percent of Bloomsbury's total sales in the U.S. last year and just 3 percent in the UK, according to Newton.

"America has led the way for e-books, and it’s likely that sales in the UK and the rest of the world will rise to the American level," he said.

Newton said e-book sales were rising. Bloomsbury is seeing a share of profits from the Harry Potter e-books but the company did not disclose how much.

Bloomsbury did not negotiate the digital rights when it signed JK Rowling’s contract, Philip Jones, Deputy Editor of The Bookseller said on CNBC’s Worldwide Exchange. .

"Now if you’re a publisher, you buy digital rights and all rights around digital. Back then it wasn’t such a big issue so Bloomsbury missed a trick," Jones said.

JK Rowling sells the Harry Potter e-books through a website, Pottermore, as opposed to on Amazon or Apple formats directly. To date, she is the only author to have negotiated such a deal.

Correction:This story makes clear that e-book sales in the U.S. are 23 percent of Bloomsbury's total sales in the U.S., not of the whole market. It also makes clear that Bloomsbury does see a share of profits from the Harry Potter e-books.

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