15 July 2007

Harry Potter Numbers, for What They're Worth

Among the folks jumping on the Harry Potter bandwagon this month is Neilsen Media Research, which issued a special report on the sales of the books and their ancillary products. Obviously the company wants to reinforce its position as the top tracker of media sales and consumption. But some of those numbers strike me as highlighting what Neilsen can't do.

The report stated:

Since 1998, when Nielsen began measuring book sales in the United Kingdom, the six Harry Potter books have sold more than 22.5 million copies in the UK alone. In the United States, the Harry Potter titles published after 2001 have sold more than 27.7 million copies.
Neilsen thus reminded us that its systems didn't really get rolling until after the Potter series did. (Those systems also still cover only a portion of the bookselling business.) In this case, its US data cover only the last two Harry Potter hardcovers and one Harry Potter paperback, the only new editions published since 2001.

That means Neilsen's numbers are very spotty indeed. On the same day as the firm's report, the front page of the New York Times stated:
In the 10 years since the first one, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” was published, the series has sold 325 million copies worldwide, with 121.5 million in print in the United States alone.
Thus, Neilsen's tracking systems have managed to capture only 23% of all American sales.

Confusing matters further, according to the Independent this week, "Philosopher's Stone, by far the most popular of the Potter books, has sold 107 million copies to date." That's a figure for all editions in all languages. Which means that approximately a third of all the copies sold are HP1--and thus pre-Neilsen.

Then there's this statement from the report:
A recent survey of moviegoers shows 51% of persons age 12+ are aware that the new book is coming out next month. Twenty-eight percent of persons 12+ in the U.S. have read one or more of the previous Harry Potter books, and 15% have read all of the Harry Potter books-to-date.
Was the company's conclusion about "persons 12+ in the U.S." adjusted for the fact that it surveyed "moviegoers" only? Obviously, those Americans are more involved in popular culture than the average, and probably younger as well.

Neilsen really works for the advertising industry, so its data on advertising seems most complete and reliable:
In the U.S., ad spend for all Harry Potter branded merchandise (including books, movies, DVDs and other promotional products) totals $269.1 million from 1998 to date.
Don't you love industry jargon? "How's your ad spend, Bob?" "Going up, Debbie!"

At the bottom, the report adds:
In total, $3.6 million in the U.S. has been spent to date for the Harry Potter books (1-7), Harry Potter Fantasy Beast/Quidditch books and the Harry Potter Deluxe Box Sets...
In other words, of all those advertising dollars, book publishers spent slightly more than 1%.

That about sums up the book industry. Even on a series that gets unusually high advertising budgets, as reflected in this week's centerfold in the New York Times Book Review, a book publisher puts out only a tiny fraction of what Hollywood and the toy industry spend. The biggest Harry Potter book ad spend, for HP5, comes in at less than a million dollars. On contrast, Warner Bros. spent at least thirty times that amount when its movies were in theaters, fifteen times that amount for the DVD market. It's refreshing that people still notice the books.

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