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[Opinion] The Power of J.K. Rowling

Posted October. 06, 2008 09:09,   


Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling is the world’s best-paid writer, banking more than 300 million U.S. dollars last year according to Forbes magazine. Her income is bigger than the combined earnings of authors taking the second to 10th spots, including James Patterson and Stephen King. Once a poor single mother who typed her stories at a coffee shop with her baby in a pram, the author of the most successful children’s book series is now richer than the English queen.

Talk show mogul Oprah Winfrey has been ranked the most power celebrity by Forbes for the second year in a row. Born an illegitimate child, she was sexually abused by her cousin at age nine and her teenage years were lost to drugs. Now, the Oprah Winfrey Show has 22 million viewers in the United States alone and is syndicated in 105 countries. She is also the chairwoman of Harpo Group, whose businesses range from a magazine to cable TV and the Internet. Harpo is Oprah spelled backwards. Her talk show has the power to make people laugh and cry.

Rowling and Winfrey owe their success to great content that know no boundary or language barrier. Over the past decade, Harry Potter has generated revenue bigger than the export of semiconductor products by Samsung Electronics. The character has dazzled the public through books, movies and DVDs. The places in the story attract numerous tourists every year. What changes the world is not magic but our imagination, Rowling said in a speech at Harvard University in June after receiving an honorary doctorate.

The world thirsts for content that stimulate imagination and inspiration. Harvard professor Joseph Nye said the future will be ruled by soft powers with advanced culture, not hard powers commanding prosperity and military power. Competitive content is the core of soft powers. Apple CEO Steve Jobs and actress Angelina Jolie have become what they are because they have the “value-added content” of being a patient who conquered cancer (Jobs) and the mother of three adoptees (Jolie). Imagination and competitive content are the magic wand of the real world.

Editorial Writer Chung Sung-hee (shchung@donga.com)