By selling more than 400 million copies, the seven-book Harry Potter series helped keep the traditional publishing industry afloat from 1997 to 2007. Now author J.K. Rowling is considering finally putting the series on e-readers. If that happens, consider it the death kneel of the physical book industry.
Granted, Harry Potter alone wouldn't push paperback and hardback readers into digital books, but it would be the last act of a slow-motion drama that's been unfolding since last year:
- Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo became the first major e-book to sell a million copies;
- Barnes & Noble sold a million Nook e-books on Christmas Day 2010;
- In January, the top six hardcover/paperback books on USA Today's best-selling list were outsold by their e-book counterparts;
- As of Q4 2010, Amazon is selling more Kindle books than either paperbacks and hardcovers. According to Business Insider, Amazon is moving 115 Kindle books for every 100 paperbacks sold, and selling about three times as many Kindle books as hardcovers sold.
Overall, he says, more books, both print and digital, are being sold, but the average hardcover costs $15.50, while the average e-book is $8.75. That means "e-books are cannibalizing the print book market."
Indeed, Publisher's Weekly reports that up to 10 percent of 2010 book sales at the big four publishers -- Random House, Penguin, Simon & Schuster, and Hachette Book Group -- were from e-book sales. Random House alone saw e-book sales jump 250 percent from 2009. Harry Potter publishers Bloomsbury (UK) and Scholastic (US) have been mum on the series coming to e-readers, but the numbers have to be putting some pressure on Rowling or her business managers. Until recently, the author insisted that she didn't want her books on any e-readers.
Other top sellers like the Tattoo series and Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games are thriving on the e-book platforms. It would make sense for Rowling, who wrapped up the Potter series two years ago, to release the e-books just as the final Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows movie hits screens this July.