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Bestsellers and Big Reads

15 December 2003

The international scene has continued to reverberate as Harry Potter smashes through previous sales records. In spite of huge sales of the English language edition, the German translation has gone on to set new records. A staggering 1.2 million copes were sold in the first two days, making it the fastest selling book in German history. The first print run was an unprecedented 2 million copies. Never before has a book been sold through so many channels, two-thirds of them outside the book trade. Since Germany has fixed prices on books, most sales were at a price of euro 28.50 (£19.50). The French edition of the fifth book was also published on 2 December with a print-run of more than 1 million copies.

This fabulous sales record is still only part of an extraordinary worldwide phenomenon. The author's agent, Christopher Little, recently attempted to quantify this. He thinks that global sales of her books have now topped 250 million in 60 languages and 200 countries.

Translating J K Rowling's work has been tough going for the many translators working against short deadlines, as publishers try to get the translated editions out as soon as possible. An added problem has been that Warner Brothers, which has the merchandising rights, has brought pressure to bear on foreign language publishers not to change the names, even though many of them contain symbolism and wordplay which is lost unless they are properly translated. Another pitfall for the beleaguered translators is that the author is not prepared to help with any difficulties they may encounter, although perhaps, in the light of the 60 different languages involved, this is understandable. In spite of the pressure, it's good to know that the translators have on the whole shared in the Harry Potter books' success, receiving better rates of pay for their work.

The Biggest Read

Meanwhile the highly successful Big Read promotion in the UK has come to a climax with The Lord of the Rings winning the top accolade. Although there has been continual sniping from the literati, the Big Read has had a terrific effect on sales and reading, with many readers rediscovering the classics and scores of new reading groups being formed. Last year's smash British TV series, Great Britons, has already been tried in Germany; it seems likely that the stunning success of the Big Read will be repeated all over the world.