Harry Potter, the $15 Billion Man

Books, Movies, Even a Theme Park: The Boy Wizard's Greatest Trick Is Generating Sales

By Published on .

Publishers, movie studios, video-rental retailers, toy companies and snack-food marketers are in Hogwarts heaven. With the last book, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," unveiled this week on the heels of the release of the fifth film in the series, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," we wondered: Just how much is brand Harry worth?

We totted up broad estimates of everything from book, box-office and soundtrack sales to ad time sold on TV airings of Potter films and even potential revenue from an upcoming theme park, and -- using Ad Age's magical math -- calculated the Potter economy in excess of $15 billion. That would put Harry in the same neighborhood as Michael Dell on Forbes' "World's Billionaires" list. He's twice as rich as Google's Eric Schmidt and three times wealthier than Sears' Eddie Lampert. (According to the list, "Potter" author J.K. Rowling is worth $1 billion.)

With Potter hotter than the wilting weather in most of the country last week, Nielsen Co. scoured its collection of measurement companies to come up with salient stats on Potter paraphernalia. We used much of the company's data as a starting point but also tossed into the cauldron myriad other sources and a few estimates of our own.
Potter books and products -- from DVDs and books on tape to video games and toys such as potions and wizard wands -- have tallied an advertising tab of almost $270 million since 1998, according to Nielsen. Nearly $120 million more has been spent outside the U.S. in Canada, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, South Africa, Switzerland and the U.K. (The grand total is about as much as Apple or Burger King spent in the U.S. last year; Apple laid out $384 million in 2006, followed by Burger King at just under $390 million, according to Advertising Age data.) Notably, the books mostly sell themselves: Only $2.8 million of the total went to promote Potter titles.
This is a tough one to estimate, as there's no definitive source on DVD sales. Nielsen won't divulge its sales figures (which don't include Wal-Mart) but said the first three Potter DVDs and videos released -- one each in 2003, 2004, and 2005 -- made their debuts as the No. 1-selling family titles and remained there for at least three weeks. The fourth, "Goblet of Fire," was released last year and sold more than 5 million DVDs on its first day and 9 million its first week, according to Warner Home Video. Assuming a quite-conservative 20 million sales per title at $15 each, sales exceed $1 billion.

Some $11.8 million in Ice Mice, Jelly Slugs, Cockroach Clusters, Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans (including earwax) and Fizzing Whizbees have sold since 2002. Sales of Potter-themed candy, cookies and gum products, according to A.C. Nielsen, tend to peak during the weeks in which movies or books launch. Ogres, however, satiate sweet teeth better than wizards: Ogre-sized M&Ms and other Shrek M&M products spurred more than $21 million in sales.
The four soundtracks from the Potter movies have sold a total of 1.2 million copies in the U.S. and Canada, according to Nielsen SoundScan. The first two Potter soundtracks, and particularly the first, remain the gold standard in both critical acclaim and sales, fueled by ├╝ber-film-composer John Williams, who also did the music for "Star Wars," "E.T." and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," among others. The "Sorcerer's Stone" album accounts for more than half of all sales, with 619,000 copies sold. Mr. Williams left the franchise in 2004. There have been 180,000 digital downloads of songs from the four Harry Potter soundtracks since 2003, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
More than 325 million copies of Harry Potter books have been sold worldwide, an estimated one-third of those in the U.S. Potter publisher Scholastic has readied 12 million copies of the seventh installment (Harry represents 9% of Scholastic sales every year in which one of his books is published). The previous book, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," released in 2005, sold more than 65 million copies worldwide, an average of 32.5 million per year. The Bible, the best-selling tome of all time, is estimated to have sold more than 6 trillion copies from 1816 to 1992 -- or an average of 34 million per year.
Total movie-ticket sales for the first four films topped $3.5 billion. The fifth, Warner Bros.' "Order of the Phoenix," is expected to draw $100 million in its first week, and the studio is counting on close to $900 million total sales for the flick. "The Lord of the Rings" trio of movies took in almost $3 billion in total box office, averaging slightly higher per-movie returns than the Potter quartet so far. However, neither compares to the biggest box-office blockbuster, "Titanic," which took in $1.85 billion in worldwide ticket sales, according to Nielsen EDI.
"The Wizarding World of Harry Potter" was announced in May and is set to be built at Universal Orlando, opening in late 2009. Described by Universal and Warner Bros. as "a theme park within a theme park," the world will include rides, immersive attractions, shops and restaurants. A one-day, all-access ticket at Universal Orlando to visit both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure is $77. Combined attendance at both parks was 11.2 million in 2006. If another one-tenth of the annual visitors are drawn by the Harry Potter attraction, it could tally another $86 million in ticket sales for Universal Orlando.

Harry's "Goblet of Fire" has been the best-selling home rental so far, making some $24.3 million in its 10 weeks on the top-10 list, according to film site Rotten Tomatoes. The first, second and third films garnered $15.6 million, $10.1 million and $4 million each when they were in the top 10. The site also estimates that after dropping off the top-10 list, films go on to reap another 60% more in rental sales.
Harry Potter movies have been shown more than 366 times since 2002 on ABC, Disney, ABC Family, HBO and Cinemax. That's an average of six times a month. Two Potter movies shown on Disney Channel this year averaged more than 2.8 million viewers each. And the original wins again: The May 9, 2004, showing of "Sorcerer's Stone" drew more than 11 million viewers. The premiere of Disney's teen megahit "High School Musical" attracted 7.7 million. (AA math: $50,000 to $100,000 per 30-second spot, with an average of 15 minutes per hour of commercials in a three-hour movie shown 55 times -- minus the HBO and Cinemax showings, which had no ads -- equals $247.5 million to $495 million in ad revenue.)
In May alone, almost half a million visitors went to the official Warner Bros. "Order of the Phoenix" movie website, according to Nielsen, with average visits lasting more than seven minutes. Popular fan sites such as MuggleNet.com boast more than 1 million visits a day. Only one book, Dan Brown's "DaVinci Code" (8.5 million copies), has outsold a single Potter title since 2001, according to Nielsen BookScan. A recent Nielsen Cinema survey shows that 28% of people over age 12 in the U.S. have read one or more of the books -- and 15% have devoured all six. As of July 12, Amazon showed 1. 18 million preorders for "Deathly Hollows."
Most Popular
In this article: