September 22, 2017
A year without Harry Potter is a year without pay, at least for Scholastic
by Alex Primiani
It seems J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series may well be the only thing keeping the publishing industry (or the film industry and theme park industry, or, you know what, just google “How Harry Potter saved…”) alive. Jim Milliot at Publishers Weekly is keeping a close eye on how little readers care about anything else by reporting on a decline in sales, both at bookstores nationwide and at Scholastic, US publisher of the franchise.
According to Milliot, July bookstore sales fell 1.9% compared to last year’s figures. “The decline was due in part to a loss of the blockbuster sales provided by Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which hit stores July 31, 2016, and drove bookstore sales this time a year ago. Total bookstore sales hit $673 million this July, down from $686 million in 2016.” You’d think our current political crisis might have something to do with that too, but nope! It’s because people want their Potter and they’re not getting it, damn it!
More disturbing still is another report from Milliot, focusing on the giant financial hole left at Scholastic after no new Potter book was released this past year. “With a 52% decline in its children’s book publishing and distribution group, total revenue fell 33% at Scholastic in the quarter ended August 31, compared to the same period a year ago… While Scholastic CEO Dick Robinson pointed to a number of bestselling new titles in this quarter, including Dav Pilkey’s Dog Man: A Tale of Two Kitties, revenue from those books was not nearly enough to offset the revenue derived from Cursed Child last year.”
So what does all this mean? Since the release of the first Harry Potter book (something about a stone), publishers, parents, teachers—basically all people who deeply misunderstand teenagers—have pointed to the series’s success at bringing kids back to reading. A New York Times study by Motoko Rich from 2007 points out that, actually, teen reading habits stayed virtually unchanged during the ten-year period marked by Harry Potter book releases. Those youths who grew up alongside Harry most likely did not find a new path into the classics or avant-garde fiction or massive biographies: instead they kept reading the same seven books over and over, buying the cloaks and the wands, the movie tickets and the fan fiction.
As touching as the nostalgia many Potterheads (…) feel for their early reading years can be (I guess?), there’s also a larger refusal to let go of this nostalgia. Milliot’s reports make that clear — and that aspect is just as disturbing as the falling book sale numbers.
Yet for every non-Potter year, there are hundreds of deserving books to take Harry’s place. Rowling understands the need to keep the Potter obsession well-fueled, though. Next October, two new Harry Potter books will be released: Harry Potter — A History of Magic, and the audaciously-titled companion Harry Potter — A Journey Through the History of Magic. As the New Republic’s Sarah Jones aptly tweeted this summer, “We will never be free.”
Alex Primiani is the associate director of publicity at Melville House.