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J.K. Rowling And The Billion-Dollar Empire
NEW YORK - Not even Joanne Kathleen Rowling could have imagined the power her pubescent wizard possessed.
With a few flicks of his magic wand, Harry Potter has turned Rowling into a billionaire (we estimate she's worth $1 billion). She's one of only five self-made female billionaires, and the first billion-dollar author.
There are few entertainers on our list. Rowling joins director/producer Steven Spielberg, whose Dreamworks Studio is banking on the success of Shrek 2 to fatten his cash pile; George Lucas, who (like Rowling) has built his empire mostly on a single franchise; and talk-show diva Oprah Winfrey, who is her own franchise.
Unlike Winfrey, Rowling has created a treasure chest of intellectual property that any media firm could buy--if she were willing to sell--and continue the Harry Potter franchise. The series is going to generate billions more in revenue just from the seven-book series. In Oprah's case, we valued just the money she's already earned. Her future earnings are much more difficult to forecast, especially given that in the past she has pondered quitting her namesake TV show. Without her, there would be little if any value in the talk show.
Rowling at 38 is one of the youngest people on the list, and the only British female. The mother of two owes her success to one teenage wizard. Harry Potter is now a billion-dollar branding empire. The five Potter books have sold 250 million copies worldwide in 55 languages, including Latin and Ancient Greek. Rowling's latest installment, Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix, sold 12 million copies in the United States alone after its June release, and earned Scholastic (nasdaq: SCHL - news - people ), her American publisher, $185 million in just six months. Scholastic placed a huge bet in 1997 when the U.S. rights for the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, were put up for auction, reportedly paying a six-figure sum. Obviously, it's paid off. The boy wizard has pushed Scholastic stock up 50% since the first book was published in 1998.
Then there are the big-budget movies produced by Warner Bros., a subsidiary of Time Warner (nyse: TWX - news - people ). The first two flicks have grossed $2 billion worldwide at the box office, fetching another $500 million in video, DVD and rental sales. Rowling, a former welfare mother, shares creative control over the films and negotiated an undisclosed cut of the profits.
Of course, Harry Potter is a toy-merchandising machine, helping Mattel (nyse: MAT - news - people ) unload an estimated $150 million worth of Potter paraphernalia so far. Video games by Electronic Arts (nasdaq: ERTS - news - people ) generate even more. The half-pint wizard is emblazoned on Johnson & Johnson's (nyse: JNJ - news - people ) Band-Aids, cologne, even gross-out Jelly Belly beans infused with such Hogwarts flavors as earwax, dirt and booger.
But Pottermania may be too fantastic to last. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the second film, released in late 2002, pulled in a stunning $866 million, but that still was $100 million short of the mark established by the first film. Mattel reports that sales of Potter toys are softening. Regardless, Warner has committed to producing movies of the third and fourth books, with the next one set to be released in June 2004.
In the meantime, Rowling is betting she can keep the magic alive for at least two more books. She's holed up in an undisclosed location writing the sixth tome and is unavailable for interviews. Word is the manuscript might already be finished, locked away in a vault, hidden from the anxious eyes of Muggles everywhere.
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