JK Rowling: Creating Harry Potter's Fantasy Empire

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Nov. 9 (Bloomberg) -- This episode of Game Changers spotlights the phenomenon of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter book and film series.

Var nreumq=nreumq||[];nreumq.push(["mark","firstbyte",new date().gettime()]); she is the first author to become a billionaire.

There are not many authors who keep putting out books in a series that can sell 10, 12, 15 million copies on the first day of publication.

Her imagination has resonated with children and adults and changed every industry.

Harry potter itself was as big as a small publishing company.

Harry potter is the gold standard.

Jk rowling's success was born out of struggle and heartbreak.

I was the biggest failure that i knew.

With a storybook ending.

Chapter one.

5, 4, 3, 2, 1 -- harry potter.

At the center of the most financially successful story in the history of fiction, harry potter, is the determined joanne rowling.

She got a billion kids reading 400-, 500-, 600-page tomes in an era when kids were not reading books at all.

Over $10 billion in overall revenue generated, this was an absolute amazing franchise that i think we will not see again.

Harry potter's popularity thrust her into the unfamiliar world of celebrity.

After being hounded by paparazzi, she now limits access to her private life and declined to participate in this story.

She was born in 1965 in england.

Jim dale knew those villages well.

There are no rich people living in those small towns.

Everybody was working class.

You would go into the houses and see the same wallpaper that you had.

There was only one shop in the town.

You would see the same dress.

That kind of environment.

Her literary ambitions were recognized at an early age.

She completed her first book when she was 6. she had this attitude, publish it.

Behind the confidence was insecurity, as she admitted on "oprah." i was not the world's most secure person.

I was someone with not much self-belief at all.

But i believed -- i can tell a story.

Her story was shaped in a small village in gloucestershire county.

She had both a microscopic and a microcosmic view of harry potter universe.

We had lots of points of references in common.

It is a description of something, somewhere, in england.

It has to be.

We do have the fantastic old castles, those wonderful ancient buildings.

We do have those woods.

In 1980, her mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

A tragic event for the family.

But it did not divert her from her passion for fiction in school.

Or later, in college.

Jo wawss a classics major in college.

After college, rowling paid her rent by working for amnesty international in london, writing stories on her lunch hour.

In 1990, on a train to london, she had an idea that would change for life.

A boy who does not know he is a wizard goes to wizard school.

Because she did not have a pen, she had to think for hours.

She started naming the school, thinking of the teachers, all of that started forming.

In "harry potter and me," she explains what a life altering moment this was.

That elated feeling when you just met someone with whom you might eventually fall in love.

This vivid mind knew what was going to be behind a door that you did not know existed.

It was amazing, really.

Only six months later, she received her breaking news.

Her mother had passed away from multiple sclerosis.

Rowling opened up about her loss for bbc.

I started writing harry six months before she died.

That is a real regret because i did not tell her that i was even writing it.

She did not know anything about harry potter at all.

It changed her views on love and death and what it means in our lives.

Her focus on the boy wizard intensified.

She was eventually fired from several jobs for writing instead of working.

It was a bleak time for the unemployed author.

She decided to leave england altogether.

She left england to make a fresh start in portugal.

She got a job as a teacher and continued writing.

She married a local tv journalist and, within a year, had a daughter.

After what she described as a "short and catastrophic marriage," she moved to scotland to be near her sister.

She was poor, and she had not found a career yet.

She tried to get teaching jobs and the work was not consistent.

She had to go on public assistance.

It was hand to mouth, day to day.

It is not glamorous and it is not romantic, but it did help.

Rowling said that rock bottom became the solid foundation to rebuild her life.

She continued to write in the warmth of a cafe with her daughter napping at her side.

When she had the first three chapters, she sent it off to an agent.

It was rejected.

In 1995, she sent three chapters to an agency.

It got the usual treatment for an unknown author.

These things can sit in a pile for ages, you know.

Just by chance, somebody was turning up late to a lunch, and they started reading about harry potter.

My toes curled.

Twelve publishers turned it down.

It was very non-politically correct to have boarding schools.

It had this onerous title.

It was all the things that publishing felt that the book should not be.

It was a ceo's daughter who read the first two chapters and came back to her father and said that she wanted to read more.

That is part of the beauty of the book publishing business.

It goes on gut feeling.

In 1996, six years after she began writing harry potter, they offered her $4,000 for the book.

It was not much, but for rowling, it was magic.

That moment, second only to the birth of my daughter.

But there was a catch.

To try and improve its marketability, they asked her to change her pen name to something gender neutral.

Boys do not like to read books written by girls, but girls read books written by anybody.

She borrowed an initial from her grandmother and became jk rowling.

At the 1997 book fair, word of mouth was building.

The vice president of scholastic had flown there looking for something special.

I wanted to find books that were not just trendy or popular of the moment, but that would be really loved by kids and would be their favorite book.

Michael jacobs was senior vp of scholastic's trade division at the time.

It was a book that had a lot of buzz.

The first book itself was extraordinary as a stand-alone.

He offered an unprecedented $105,000 for the rights to the first harry potter book.

When she got the call, she said that she was very scared for the first time.

It was very overwhelming.

Life had batted me around so much -- when you start getting good news, it is stressful.

The good news continued.

In 1997, the book was published in the u.k., and it was a hit.

The first round of schoolyard potter-heads was born.

Her second book was already in the works.

She felt enormous pressure to continue the momentum.

After the american sale, it was a big story in england.

This penniless author, rags to riches.

The u.s. publishers were hoping that harry potter would strike literary gold.

We knew we had something special on our hands.

You know that you have lightning in a bottle.

We knew that fairly early on.

Our approach was to publish it as a blockbuster.

We had a swat team, a war room that met every week about harry potter.

Scholastic decided to take an interactive approach to marketing the buck.

-- the book.

We did advanced reading copies of the book.

We got it into their hands.

We created a buzz.

When the book started to sell, it took off like wildfire.

It sold over 800,000 copies in 10 months, and spent more than a year on "the new york times" best-seller list.

As the second installment hit the united states stores in 1999, release of the books became major events.

Scholastic cast a spell on the public.

They put on extravaganzas with each new title that came out.

Literally thousands of kids standing outside of bookstores in costume in the middle of the night waiting to get the copies.

The logistics were difficult.

Making sure they were secure and locked down.

The sales on each book became exponentially higher.

The first printings became much bigger.

The one dark cloud that cast a shadow on the growing phenomenon were protests from conservative religious groups who saw evil in the midst of the story lines.

They accused rowling of promoting witchcraft.

Witchcraft is real.

The devil is real.

These people think that witchcraft should not be in books for children.

A lot of classic children's books will be right off the library shelves.

Even the cardinal had his own reservations.

The american library association listed rowling as the number one most challenged text in the united states.

But the backlash did not affect sales at all.

Harry potter's continual rein over the best-seller list ultimately forced the paper to add a whole separate children's category.

We would have dominated the top five, and blocked everyone else out.

Even audio book sales were breaking records and enchanting fans.

400 children and mothers turned up.

One child suddenly yelled, "you left a sentence out." the mother said, he has memorized the whole book.

I heard other little voices calling out, "so have i." international distributors snatched up the rights to translate the books and harry potter became a worldwide sensation.

We love harry potter.

Demand became so intense that there was a danger of the harry potter brand spiraling out of control.

We had supermarket and convenience stores and gas stations and other retailers who wanted harry potter books.

Jk rowling turned down hundreds of licensing offers.

She remained fiercely loyal to her vision.

There was what offer that she could not refuse -- from hollywood.

I was working for a new production company.

I read an article in the newspaper that said that someone had written the first in seven series books about a little boy who goes to boarding school and discovers that he is a wizard.

The president of the box office division of hollywood.com -- for warner brothers to get the harry potter franchise was a mission.

Warner brothers had had great success with the batman franchise, and they were determined to do it, and that is why they gave jk rowling such latitude in terms of her control over this process and over the series of films.

Our first meeting when jk rowling was over lunch.

We told her a little bit of what we wanted to do with them.

She sat down with us and we tried desperately hard to impress her.

Jk rowling was paid reportedly $2 million by warner brothers for the rights to those first two.

-- the first four films.

There are not many authors who keep putting out books in a series that can sell 10, 12, 50 million copies of the first day of publication.

That leverage allowed her to demand that the film be shot in britain with an all-british cast.

That she would have a role in choosing both the actors and directors.

Top directors clamored for admission to her imaginary world.

I know that steven spielberg was approached to direct the first harry potter film, and he wanted to do it as an animated film, and that did not come to pass.

This producer introduced the hand-picked cast in a warner brothers video.

These are three wonderful british actors.

I think her primary concern about the film being made was that we were true and faithful to the book.

She had worked incredibly hard in constructing characters and a story that she believed in she did not want to see that chopped up.


The biggest challenge to bringing her vision to the screen was by the time we were filming it, everybody had read it.

Would you ever have imagined that it would be like this?

Not in a million years.

The first harry potter film hit the screens in november of 2001. the boy wizard worked wonders.

The film was a record-breaking hit.

It opened $90.3 million, which turned out to be the biggest opening weekend of that year.

It was the biggest earner domestically at the box office in 2001. rowling retained creative control and negotiated an undisclosed percentage of the profits.

She was happy with the final product.

My memory of the reaction to the completed film was, we did it.

We did not let her down.

2001 was also the year that she happily married her second husband.

With success came problems.

Every potter movie has opened at number one.

A decade, 7 films.

The theatrical box office for the films does not include part two of "deathly hollows." that doesn't include video, sound track.

It's the biggest franchise of all time.

Rowling received a cut of the harry potter toys.

The and dies in empire continues to expand.

At one point or another to have harry potter attached to it -- games, toys or the clothing and business.

It is successful.

In 2010, harry potter took claim of its own theme park, named the wizarding world of harry potter.

They packed up the ingredients, went up to edinburgh, made it and presented it to her.

She tasted and said, that one.

She has had two more children and makes her home at an estate in northern scotland.

Five years, rowling published a new novel.

I have gone from dragons and unicorns and all of the run balls in writing that to a book that's intensely personal -- all the fun involved in writing that book to something that is intensely personal.

It hit number one on the bestseller's list.

Rowling has pre-defined success in the literary world.

Her net worth is estimated to be $1 billion, making her among the richest women in the world.

She has become a wonderfully elevated brand in terms of stature and ethics and the way that she conducts herself.

He generosity extends to charities that include aid to single-parent children, the poor in to multiple sclerosis research.

For 17 years, rowling lived and breathed harry potter.

Her story, much like his, was marked by overcoming challenges on the way to success and she told the harvard graduating class in 2008. the knowledge you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means you are ever after secure in your ability to survive.

You will never truly know yourself or the strength of your relationships until both have been tested by adversity.

Such knowledge is a true gift.

It has been painfully won and is worth more than any qualification i ever earned.

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