How Time Affects Your Target Market: a Harry Potter Case Study

Case Studies

© Olly Moss

When I was discussing these new Harry Potter eBook covers with authors and fellow readers, one topic dominated the conversation: target market. People pointed out that while they liked the new covers, they would have been an unsuitable choice for the original design run back in the late 90’s. I completely agree, and for one simple reason:

The book’s market changed.

In fact, these new covers are so different from the originals that they offer a great opportunity to demonstrate the importance of knowing your target market – not just at launch, but across your book’s lifespan.

Original Target Market

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was originally aimed at all children aged around eleven. This established the tone for the HP covers – bright, exciting, and imaginative. While the covers did progress towards darker and more dramatic scenes within each design run, they kept pace with (and remained focused upon) their young target market.

Original U.K. Bloomsbury Children’s Edition by Thomas Taylor, Cliff Wright and Jason Cockroft © Bloomsbury

Original U.S. Scholastic Edition by Mary GrandPré
© Scholastic

The growing Adult Market

As word of the Harry Potter books spread, a new market emerged: adults. Accordingly, the publisher released a set of cover designs that would appeal to this new group (and allow them to read the books in public without feeling too embarrassed). They removed the bright, cheery colors of the children’s covers. They replaced the cartoonish illustrations with photorealistic ones. They chose a serif font that was slimmer and more sophisticated. You can see the results below:

Original U.K. Bloomsbury Adult Edition
© Bloomsbury

The International Market

The market continued to expand, this time to non-English speaking countries. (Of course, most self-published authors have neither the time nor resources to produce covers for different languages, but with services like Tolino, it might be worth keeping in mind for the future.) In any case, it’s always fun to look at the sheer number of stylistic options that are possible:

Harry Potter Book Covers from China

Harry Potter Book Covers from France

Harry Potter Book Covers from Russia

Harry Potter Book Covers from Germany

Current Target Market

Which brings us to the current Pottermore eBook Covers.

They clearly have a strong adult appeal through their more ‘traditional’ design. However, these covers by no means alienate children; between the bold colors and the stylized illustrations, we can see that these are children’s stories at heart. Compare these designs with the original UK Bloomsbury Adult covers above, which did everything they could to remove childlike appeal.

So while these covers were designed to appeal to adults, I think there was a particular group of adults right at the center of the bullseye: old fans.

After all, it’s been twenty years since Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published. There’s a large cohort of adult readers who grew up with these books, and now own eReaders. Why not appeal to this group with elements of the children’s series they loved, while deferring to the greater knowledge, maturity and context they’ve gained over the years?

So What Can We Learn?

Few authors expect the kind of success that J.K. Rowling has experienced, nor such a seismic shift in target market. However, there will be changes. As time goes by, new readers will find you, and they might come from places you wouldn’t expect. The key is to stay engaged, stay alert, and be ready to respond to an emerging market you might have previously overlooked. And if you do find a new market, that’s the time to review your marketing strategy in order to reach them.

Next Up …

Next week I’ll be switching to more practical concerns: how to style your author name on the front cover.

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