Amid a palpable frenzy, satellites tracked delivery truck movements in England. Security guards patrolled an undisclosed location in the United States. Workers in Germany toiled in the disguise of near-darkness. It was all part of a carefully coordinated mission dedicated to preventing any leaks before the official release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on 21 July 2007.

The book marked the conclusion to J.K. Rowling’s seven-part magical fantasy series and had readers of all ages on edge. Would Harry die? Would Voldemort?

The top-secret rollout punctuated a finely crafted program that had stoked demand for each installment. And the program’s leaders weren’t about to let fans down.

Bloomsbury, the book’s publisher in the United Kingdom, spent £10 million on security measures. German printing houses banned mobile phones and packed lunches at their plant so nobody could sneak out or snap images of the sacred pages. In the United States, bookseller Borders wasn’t allowed to open any sealed book boxes before midnight—not even to line the shelves of the store.

The order of intrigue cast a spell. People dressed up and camped out for days ahead of the final book’s midnight release. In the U.K., tens of thousands of people packed release parties at 280 Waterstone stores alone. In the United States, 8.3 million books were sold in the first 24 hours, shattering a previous record for first-day sales. At U.K. retailer WH Smith, books flew off the shelves at a rate of 15 every second.

4 billion

Minutes of Harry Potter audiobooks consumed between 2016 and 2018

1

Boy who lived

12

Number of publishers that rejected J.K. Rowling’s original 200-page, handwritten manuscript

US­$105,­000

Amount U.S. publisher Scholastic shelled out for the rights for Harry Potter in 1997—roughly 10 times the average foreign rights sale at the time

The series burnished the notion that longer children’s novels could be popular and massively profitable. To wit: The New York Times created a bestseller list for children’s literature in 2000—three years after the first Harry Potter book—because the books in the series kept knocking out adult titles.

Twelve years later, the Harry Potter entertainment empire is still strong—and extends well beyond books:

  • Movies: 7 of the 8 Harry Potter movies rank among the top 50 highest-grossing films of all time.
  • Theater: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child debuted at the Palace Theatre in London, England, snagging a record-breaking nine Laurence Olivier Awards. Two years later, it moved to Broadway and snared six Tony Awards.
  • Theme Parks: In 2010 Universal Studios opened the first of three Wizarding World of Harry Potter locations. The park in Orlando, Florida, USA was expanded in 2014, followed by construction of new ones in Osaka, Japan and Hollywood, California, USA.
  • Studio Tours: There are more than 6,000 daily visitors to “The Making of Harry Potter” at Warner Bros. studio in London.
  • E-commerce: Pottermore.com, the original digital platform for the franchise, posted £40.3 million in revenue in 2017. The site recently merged with WizardingWorld.com as part of a deal with Warner Bros.
  • Fun and Games: Total sales of Harry Potter-themed toys has hit more than US$7 billion. But at the end of the day, the book series is still king, with more than 500 million copies sold and translations in 80 languages.