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Harry Potter and the Magic of Global Culture

On July 21st, 2007, 15 million people around the world took a break from their daily routine to read the final installment of J.K. Rowling’s best-selling Harry Potter series. Through this spellbinding story, Rowling crafted a global phenomenon, outselling every book in history with the exception of the Bible and Mao Zedong’s Little Red Book. To date, the books have sold over 450 million copies worldwide and have been translated into 70 languages.

In my thesis, I found that the main factors contributing to the global success of Harry Potter were:

-Timing: the first book was published in Britain in 1997, around the same time the Internet was becoming popular. It initially spread virally on an AOL news page, which is why Scholastic decided to offer Rowling an advance of $100,000 to sell the book in the US. The Internet also allowed for a fan following to develop independently of geographical borders (unlike Star Wars, LOTR, and other similar phenomena)

-Rowling’s hands-off approach to managing translations: Rowling didn’t require translations to be approved by her or her publisher. They only needed to approve the book cover artwork, which gave translators a great deal of liberty in adapting the story to resonate with their local culture. Tolkien, on the other hand, placed a number of restrictions on translations which prevented many translations from being published during his lifetime

-Cross-gender and age appeal

I’ll explain these core findings in the lightning talk, focusing on how the book’s timing and the Internet played an essential role in its initial spread and success.