After four centuries he continues to be recognised as the greatest writer in the English language. The Bard was also quite a savvy businessman, amassing enough money to acquire New Place, one of the largest houses in his home town of Stratford-Upon-Avon. But how much is his literary legacy worth today?
More popular abroad than in his home country
Before we get onto that, I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised to discover that nowadays Shakespeare is more popular abroad than in his country of birth according to a 2016 YouGov poll.
But the poll also shows that his legacy makes a significant contribution to the UK’s financial prosperity and cultural influence.
Shakespeare's 38 plays and 154 sonnets been translated into 118 languages (including Klingon), and performed throughout the world. In addition, he is also a major factor in attracting visitors to his birthplace.
Out of copyright for hundreds of years
The answer to the question ‘how much is Shakespeare worth’ is complicated by the issue of copyright. His entire creative output has of course been out of copyright for centuries. In the UK, copyright currently last for 70 years after the author's death.
So the billions of publications and performances do not need to pay royalties to his estate. So, instead I have looked for the total value of Shakespeare-related content in the market today, rather than the amount he would have earned.
Next, there is the question of whether we are valuing the annual ‘turnover’ of the Shakespeare ‘industry’, or the combined value of current Shakespeare assets?
How much is Shakespeare worth?
OK, enough waffle, it’s time to get down to brass tacks.
For the annual figure. Australian valuation firm Brand Finance came up with £325 million in 2012. They claim this is more than double the combined value of Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe brands.
Their study also found:
- Shakespeare is the best-selling author of all time; with book sales estimated between two and four billion. In contrast, J.K. Rowling's unit sales are estimated to be 'merely' 450 million.
- 64 million children globally study Shakespeare in countries as diverse as Australia, Azerbaijan, China, Denmark, Italy, Kuwait, Oman, Philippines, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Ukraine and Vietnam.
- There have been more than 400 feature length films and TV productions of Shakespeare works.
- There are currently 67 registered trademarks bearing Shakespeare's name in Australia, the UK and the USA alone ranging from Shakespeare's Pies to the Royal Shakespeare Company.
This is the first time a monetary value has been placed on the Shakespeare brand taking into account book sales and downloads, paid attendance at theatre productions, box office and TV receipts from film productions, sale of Shakespeare branded goods and tourism revenue.
234 First Folios worth £1.1 billion
If we look at the value of Shakespeare's ‘estate’, then the figure is much larger. Just the value of the First Folio editions of his plays is over one billion sterling. It is believed that around 750 copies of the First Folio were printed, of which there are 234 known surviving copies.
We hold an impressive five copies here in The British Library, although this is somewhat trumped by the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. who have an astonishing 82 copies. Their value varies according to condition, but by some estimates the average value would be around £5 million. This would give a total value of £1.1 billion.
It’s impossible to be precise about the number of Shakespeare related books published in the last 400 years. A quick search on Amazon shows 146,801 results with prices ranging from £9,999.98 to zero plus £1.99 post and packing:
Then we need to add in the value of all the theatres around the world who specialise in Shakespeare productions. The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) employs 700 staff and produces around 20 productions a year from its home in Stratford-upon-Avon. Together with the re-created Globe Theatre on the Thames in London, the value must be at least £100 million.
Shakespeare on stage and screen
Next comes film and television adaptions and their related recordings for home sale. And of course, we mustn’t forget the merchandise, such as the William Shakespeare Candle and My Book of Stories: Write your own Shakespearean Tales, available from the British Library shop.
Or from elsewhere, how about Shakespeare Christmas tree ornaments, board games, playing cards, shower curtains, action figures, and even onesies.
My personal favourite is the Shakespeare bust used to conceal the entrance to the bat-cave, seen in the classic 1960’s Batman television series. Available in life-size or Lego version.
Finally, and biggest of all, is tourism. It’s impossible to calculate how many visitors to the UK are coming because of Shakespeare. Either to see his plays or explore his hometown, Stratford-Upon-Avon. Or for those seeking a warmer climate, the fictitious balcony where Romeo serenaded Juliet in Verona, Italy.
It all adds up to an impressive several billion pounds. But perhaps this focus on hard cash misses the point. The world is a richer place culturally, thanks to Shakespeare’s genius with the quill all those years ago.
Written by Neil Infield - Manager in the Business & IP Centre