J.K. Rowling is one of the most successful authors in history, with every Harry Potter novel occupying a place in the top 20 bestsellers of all time. How much has money has Rowling made for each copy sold?
J.K. Rowling’s pay for each Harry Potter book sold is not a matter of public record. However, if she receives the industry standard 15% per book, she might have made approximately $1.15 billion, based on the series total revenue of about $7.7 billion. Each new paperback sold at $7 would be mean about $1 for Rowling.
For more on the unprecedented success of the Harry Potter series and some estimates of its finances, read on.
Harry Potter and the Publishers
When J.K. Rowling negotiated her first publishing deals in the mid-1990s, nobody could have predicted the astronomical success the Harry Potter series would come to enjoy.
Rowling had already agreed to representation by the Christopher Little Literary Agency and her agent shopped the book around. The novel eventually accepted by Bloomsbury after Alice Newton, the daughter of the publishing house’s chairman, gave a rave review to her father.
Bloomsbury purchased the rights to “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” and gave Rowling a £1,500 advance.
Her editor, Barry Cunningham, urged Rowling to get a day job due to the fine profit margins in children’s literature. Rowling received a grant of £8,000 from the Scottish Arts Council, helping her survive while she completed the book.
The initial run of the book in 1997 was just 1,000 copies, with half of these being sent to libraries. After the initial run quickly sold out and the book won several awards, the US publishing rights were auctioned.
Scholastic won the auction, securing the rights to publish the novels in the US for $105,000. This was Rowling’s first taste of legitimate financial success in writing and allowed her to move from her apartment into a house in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Although the amount Rowling received brought her a great deal of joy, Scholastic likely look back on the deal as something of a bargain.
The popularity of the series grew at an astronomical rate. When the third novel, “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”, released in the United States in September 1999, it debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list.
Even more remarkably, the two preceding novels occupied the second and third spots in the chart, a dynamic that lasted for the rest of the year.
In fact, when the fourth book, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” was released in 2000, “The New York Times” resorted to creating a separate children’s book chart for the first time, to avoid the top four spots being dominated by Harry Potter novels for the foreseeable future.
The Harry Potter series is the highest-selling book series of all time, with its seven volumes becoming the first in history to sell more than 500 million copies. The mathematics of this are staggering but some in the media have tried to break them down in a logical manner.
“The New York Times” speculated that, if Rowling received a standard 15% royalty for each copy sold, she would have made about $1.15 billion from royalties, before taxes, based on a total series revenue of $7.7 billion.
Even today, purchasing a new paperback edition of one of the Harry Potter novels at about $7 should mean about a dollar’s royalty for Rowling. While this 15% might not be enough for many authors to make a comfortable living, multiplied by more than 500 million it’s easy to see why Rowling is considered one of the richest writers in history.
Rowling has, however, donated a great deal of money to charity.