This month, Amazon.com announced that Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy had outsold J.K. Rowling's seven-book Harry Potter series. Hunger Games' print and digital sales combined, the online retailer said in a press release, made Collins' trilogy the bestselling book series ever on Amazon.com.
At first, that sounded amazing. But it turns out Amazon was not only comparing archers and wizards, but apples and oranges.
The comparison is limited to sales on Amazon.com; it doesn't include books sold by bricks-and-mortar bookstores, other types of stores or other online retailers. No figures are available for what percentage of each author's total sales have been through Amazon, but Rowling's print sales of more than 400 million copies worldwide dwarf Collins' print sales of more than 23 million. (The women share the same American publisher, Scholastic.)
The key to Amazon's comparison may be ebook sales. The Hunger Games trilogy has sold extremely well in ebook format: Collins was the sixth author and first YA author to be named to Amazon's Kindle Million club, which means a million copies of her books had been sold to Kindle users. And in March, it was announced that she is the bestselling Kindle ebook author ever.
How many of Rowling's Harry Potter books have been sold as Kindle ebooks?
Until March of this year, there was no such thing as a Harry Potter ebook. Rowling was slow to jump on the digital bandwagon, reportedly out of piracy fears. (And there were plenty of pirated versions out there.)
When the seven novels about Harry did become officially available as ebooks, it was through Rowling's Pottermore.com website — and only through that website.
Amazon.com shoppers can find the Harry Potter ebooks on the Amazon site, but to buy them they must click through a link to Pottermore.
In response to an email about the figures, an Amazon representative wrote, "The sales of ebooks at Pottermore are not included in Amazon.com sales referenced here."
So... it's a bit like boasting that Big Macs outsell Whoppers — at McDonald's.
Amazon didn't release a sales figure when it announced Collins was its all-time Kindle bestseller, but we know her books have sold more than a million Kindle copies over the four years since the first, The Hunger Games, was published in 2008.
If you're curious how many ebooks Rowling has sold through Pottermore, the Association of American Publishers reported that in the first month they were available, 525,000 copies were sold.
It's a puzzle why Amazon would release this sketchy comparison — although it did happen to go out the day before the movie version of The Hunger Games was released on DVD.
As if Katniss Everdeen needed that kind of help.