Harry Potter and the Magic of ‘Indie’ Publishing

It’s been a wizard year for J K Rowling’s digital publishing operation Pottermore which brought in a total of £32.8 million from sales of ebooks and audiobooks in its last financial year ending March 31, 2018.

The company’s financial report says, ‘Revenue in the year outperformed expectations thanks to a strong sales performance of the Harry Potter ebooks and digital audiobooks, continued investment in franchise planning and activities associated with the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.’

In many ways, Pottermore can be described as an ‘indie’ publisher as it’s based on the work of one author and deals exclusively in ebooks and audiobooks as the print editions are still in the hands of traditional publishers. It does, of course, have considerably more resources than your average self-publisher and the overriding advantage of what seems to be a perennially popular backlist.

It’s hard to believe it’s nearly 22 years since the first Harry Potter book was published in 1997, back in the days when ebooks were almost unheard of and it was a full decade before Amazon launched the Kindle e-reader in 2007.

The Pottermore publishing operation didn’t really get into full swing until a few years ago and it was still making a loss as recently as 2016 but it’s had a big impact on the digital book market.

Although the Harry Potter ebooks are available for ‘wide’ sale through retailers such as Apple Books and Kobo, they are also available on Kindle Unlimited. Amazon insists on exclusivity from indie authors to be included in the KU ebook subscription service but bigger publishers are able to benefit from Kindle Unlimited while also selling through other outlets.

A further advantage that bigger publishers have is that Amazon is reckoned to pay them for KU borrows at the same rate as they would receive for a sale rather than on the KENP page-read basis which is paid from the monthly KDP Select Global Fund.

Kindle Unlimited has certainly had a massive impact on Pottermore’s business as the Harry Potter books are constantly dominating the Most Read section of the Amazon Charts of best-selling books. Just this week (week of January 20, 2019), there are seven Harry Potter titles crammed into the top 11 places of Amazon’s Most Read Fiction list.

Audiobooks are proving to be a major growth area and, as recently reported on this site, those magic words, ‘Alexa, read Harry Potter…’ saw J K Rowling’s titles amassing a total of 393 million minutes listened to on Amazon Echo devices in 2018 — that’s an incredible total of the equivalent of 748 years of narration.

However, Pottermore obviously also has substantial costs as that £32.8 million of revenue became a pre-tax profit of just £3.4 million after accounting for royalty obligations, investment for further content and admin. Apart from J K Rowling, of course, the audiobooks also have celebrity narrators and, presumably, substantial production costs.

Amazon’s Alexa powering boom in audiobooks