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Much has been made of the competition in the young adult literary genre. Harry Potter took the world as if by magic, Twilight set young women’s not-yet-undead hearts a-flutter, then The Hunger Games entered the young adult arena to take its stake of the market. And it took a large stake. The Hunger Games, the first film of the series, had the third best opening of all time, beating out all of the Twilight movies released thus far and all but one Harry Potter film. As of July, The Hunger Games trilogy in book form outsold the Harry Potter series, making them the bestselling books of all time on Amazon.com.
Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games series takes place in a post-apocalyptic North America, called Panem, which is split into impoverished districts controlled by the frivolous, wealthy Capitol. Readers follow heroine Katniss Everdeen as she competes in the annual Hunger Games, a competition that forces teenagers from each of the districts to fight to the death for the Capitol’s entertainment. It has action, intrigue, and a love triangle, everything young adults (and maybe even average-age and older adults) could want in a book. As of July 19, the trilogy in print and e-book form had outsold the seven Harry Potter books in both formats on Amazon.com.
Scholastic, the publisher of both The Hunger Games and Harry Potter in the United States, says that they have 50 million copies of Collins’ trilogy (more than 23 million of The Hunger Games, more than 14 million of Catching Fire, and more than 13 million of Mockingjay) in print and digital versus 150 million print versions of the Harry Potter series.
Amazon won’t reveal their sales figures, but we can assume it includes many e-book sales (the first installment is the most borrowed book in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library). Since Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s (or Philosopher’s) Stone first hit shelves in 1997, many copies of the series’ books were likely sold in traditional bookstores and not on Amazon (which has been selling books since 1995). To compare to these staggering numbers, the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy has sold 20 million print and digital copies in the United States.
While it is already impressive that a series with less than half of the books of J.K. Rowling’s has outsold them, Collins’ collection did it in just four years. Harry Potter books have been available in the United States for 14 years, though it should be noted that the entire series wasn’t available in digital form until last March. The Hunger Games has been on the New York Times bestseller list for over 200 consecutive weeks, or nearly four years.
When the movie version of The Hunger Games hit theaters last March, it made $155 at the domestic box office. This was the third best opening weekend at the time, coming in behind The Dark Knight and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. Since then, The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises have taken the first and third spots respectively, with the final Harry Potter film bumped to the second slot. Despite The Hunger Games being knocked out of the top three, it is still notable that the first film in a franchise had such a huge opening; the other films are all parts of established franchises (The Avengers follows separate Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Captain America films). It should be interesting to see how Catching Fire, the next film in the Hunger Games franchise, does when it hits theaters in 2013.
Since Amazon is such a huge retailer, this announcement is important. The Hunger Games may never match Harry Potter’s print sales due to the changing publishing industry, but given another decade, it could have the same sales numbers (digital and print combined) as the wizard series has now. It should also be interesting to see what numbers the next three Hunger Games movies pull in on their opening weekends. They are expected to be released in November 2013, 2014, and 2015, capitalizing on the Thanksgiving weekend holiday in the U.S. So what I’ve learned today is that if Amazon was the arena and book sales were the Hunger Games, archer Katniss Everdeen would be the last tribute standing, beating Harry Potter with his wand and Christian Grey with his collection of naughty toys.