Wednesday, November 10, 2010

New Data on eBook Sales

The AAP reported their monthly industry sales statistics for September, including eBook sales compiled from 12 publishers (including the big six). They show sales for the month of $39.9 million, ahead of August's $39 million, but behind July's $40.8 million. (Insiders warn not to make too much of the accuracy surrounding these monthly numbers, based upon how data is accumulated by publishers).

With total trade print sales of $489.5 million for September, that makes eBooks 7.5 percent of sales overall for the month. The total of $304.6 million in sales for the year so far comprises 8.2 percent of total trade sales of $3.705 billion, as recorded by the AAP.

With last month's announcement of Nook Color and Nook Kids, along with a wave of other initiatives aimed at ramping up the children's market, we were interested in where the children's eBook market is now--and what percentage of adult sales (rather than overall sales) have shifted to eBooks.

Based on percentage breakdowns supplied to by many reporting AAP publishers, in September adult eBooks comprised 9.5 percent of all adult trade title sales. Children's eBooks, on the other hand, comprised only 1.6 percent of all children's trade sales.

Overall print trade sales for the year are down 7.5 percent (or $276 million) through September, compared to a year ago. Inclusive of eBooks, however, the trade market is down a more modest 2 percent.

Monday, November 08, 2010

It Happened in History: Margaret Mitchell

November 8, 1900, marks the birthday of a woman whose own life reads nearly as dramatically as her most famous book.  Margaret Mitchell, a native of Atlanta, wrote Gone with the Wind, a book that was very nearly never published but, in fact, ended up winning the Pulitzer Prize for the author in 1937.
Mitchell's mother was a suffragist.  Her father was a prominent southern lawyer and president of the Atlanta Historical Society.  She grew up listening to stories about the Old South and the battles that the Confederate Army had fought around Atlanta during the Civil War.  As she grew older, she loved being the center of attention.  She said, "If I were a boy, I would try for West Point, if I could make it; or, well, I'd be a prize fighter — anything for the thrills." 
After being graduated from Washington Seminary, Mitchell studied medicine at Smith College.  She adopted her mother's feminist leanings, clashing frequently with her father's conservatism.  But she lived the Jazz Age in full and reported on it in her article, "Dancers Now Drown Out Even the Cowbell" in the Atlanta Journal Sunday Magazine.
"In vain," she wrote, "the leader of the jazz band may burst blood vessels in his efforts to make himself heard above the din of the Double Shuffle and the Fandango Stomp, the newest dances introduced to Atlanta's younger set.  Formerly we had a vast respect for the amount of noise a jazz band could produce.  Now we see it is utterly eclipsed."
Mitchell had numerous suitors when she was young.  She fell in love with a man who went to fight in World War I and never returned.  When Mitchell's mother died in 1919, Margaret returned to keep house for her father and brother.  In 1922, she married Berrien Kinnard Upshaw, who turned out to be a cruel husband with a violent temper.  The disastrous relationship was climaxed by spousal rape and was finally annulled in 1924. 
Mitchell began her writing career as a journalist in 1922.  Using the pseudonym, Peggy, she wrote whatever she thought her Atlanta Journal readers would enjoy--articles, interviews, sketches, and book reviews about beauty pageants, summer getaways, hospitals, prison cells, and whatever else that crossed her mind.  She also contributed to a popular gossip column called "Elizabeth Bennett." 
Mitchell remarried in 1926, shortly before developing a stabbing pain in her ankle.  She couldn't walk, so she took a leave of absence from the paper and holed up in her apartment.  She passed the time reading books.  After reading everything she could get her hands on, she decided to write a book, herself.  She wrote Gone With the Wind, beginning with the last chapter and working her way back in time.  The book tells the tale of Scarlett O'Hara, an aristocratic woman born on a plantation into the genteel life.  By the end of the war, she loses everything she owns.
"Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.  In her face were too sharply blended the delicate features of her mother, a Coast aristocrat of French descent, and the heavy ones of her florid Irish father.  But it was an arresting face, pointed of chin, square of jaw.  Her eyes were pale green without a touch of hazel, starred with bristly black lashes and slightly tilted at the ends.  Above them, her thick black brows slanted upward, cutting a startling oblique line in her magnolia-white skin - that skin so prized by Southern women and so carefully guarded with bonnets, veils and mittens against hot Georgia sun." - from Gone with the Wind
At the end of the book, Scarlett pleads with the man she loves, Rhett Butler, who tells her that he is leaving her.  She tells him that she doesn't know what she'll do if he goes away, to which he responds with one of literature's most celebrated lines, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."

Mitchell wrote the book on a sewing table and stuffed each section into a large Manilla envelope.  She wouldn't admit to anyone that she was writing it.  She said, "I fought violently against letting even a close friend read as much as a line."  If someone walked into the room, she would throw a bath towel over her typewriter. 
It took Mitchell nine years to complete her book.  In 1935, editor Harold Latham visited Atlanta.  When she met him, he said that he had heard she'd written a novel.  She felt shy and told him that he was mistaken.  Soon afterward, a friend told her, "I wouldn't take you for the type who would write a successful book.  You know you don't take life seriously enough to be a novelist ... I think you are wasting your time trying."
She was so furious with the comment that she went home and grabbed the manuscript.  She ran back to Latham's hotel and caught him just as he was packing for a train back to New York.  Latham liked it, and the book was published by MacMillan in 1936.  Comparable in length to Tolstoy's War and Peace, it ran over a thousand pages in length and sold millions of copies.  It broke all previous sales records.  The New Yorker praised it, and poet and critic John Crowe Ransom admired "the architectural persistence behind the big work" although he criticized it for being overly Southern, particularly in its treatment of Reconstruction. 
Malcolm Cowley's disdain in his review came partly from the book's popularity.  John Peale Bishop dismissed the novel as merely "one more of those 1,000 page novels, competent but neither very good nor very sound."  Regardless, in 1937, Gone with the Wind was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.  And in 1939, the movie adaptation appeared, starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh.  It won 10 Academy Awards, including one for Best Picture.
Margaret Mitchell died in Atlanta on August 16, 1949, after being struck accidentally by a speeding car while crossing Peachtree Street.  Lost Laysen, a lost novella by Mitchell written when she was 16 and given to her close friend, was published posthumously in 1995.  The romance was set on a South Pacific island.
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Friday, November 05, 2010

It Happened in History: Sam Shepard

November 5, 1943, marks the birthday of enigmatic actor and playwright Sam Shepard.  Born Samuel Shepard Rogers VII in Fort Sheridan, Illinois, he was the son of an Air Force career man who had been a bomber pilot in World War II.  After the war, Rogers moved his family around between various army bases until he decided to retire and try his hand at ranching.  The family raised sheep and grew avocados on their property in Duarte, California, where Shepard watched his father's slow, methodical decline into alcoholism. 

Shepard entered San Antonio Junior College, where he intended to study agriculture.  But fate intervened when, a year later, he joined a touring troupe of Nomadic thespians.  "That was one of the most exciting times of my life..." he said.  "We never spent more than one or two nights in the same place, and our stages were always the altars of churches... We crisscrossed New England, up into Maine and Vermont.  The country amazed me, having come from a place that was brown and hot and covered with Taco stands.  Finally we hit New York City and I couldn't believe it.  I'd always thought of the 'big city' as Pasadena and the Rose Parade.  I was mesmerized by this place."

He was mesmerized, as well, by the stage.  At the age of 19, he supported himself by serving tables at the Village Gate while pursuing his theatrical interests.  His first complete play, the autobiographical Cowboys, received a favorable review in The Village Voice.  The bug had bitten.  Hard.

Shepard gradually built his theatrical reputation upon a series of one act-plays produced in off-off-Broadway theatres.  He worked at experimental spots like La Mama, Cafe Cino, the Open Theatre, the American Place Theatre, or any company he could find that would produce his work.  He shared an apartment with the son of jazz legend Charles Mingus, who once remarked that, whenever Shepard wasn't reading Samuel Beckett or working, he would go into his room with a ream of paper, close the door, and emerge some time later with the same box of paper, holding a new play. 

In 1971, Shepard told an interviewer, "I don't want to be a playwright, I want to be a rock and roll star..."  Regardless, by the time he turned thirty, he had more than 30 New York productions to his credit.

Shepard's early plays were innovative, influenced by early experiments as a rock musician.  His settings are often a type of No Man's Land on the American horizon, his characters, typically loners and drifters caught between a mythical past and the technological present.  His works often explore the relationships within deeply troubled families.  In 1979, his Buried Child, dealing with the deterioration of the traditional American family, won the Pulitzer Prize.  

In 1983, Shepard divorced his wife and began a relationship with actress-producer Jessica Lange.  Two years later, he adapted his play, Fool for Love, into a script and starred in the film with Kim Basinger and Randy Quaid.  Shepard's A Lie of the Mind (1986), a poetic look at the American West, won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award.  That same year, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.  Among his works from the 1990s are Simpatico (1994), which he started to write while he was driving to Los Angeles, and Cruising Paradise (1996), which contains 40 short stories exploring the themes of solitude and loss of angry and anguished men.

After a hiatus of 20 years, Shepard directed his play, The Late Henry Moss (2000) in San Francisco at the Magic Theatre.  It starred Nick Nolte, Sean Penn, and James Gammon.  The play is about the conflict between two brothers and their dead father.  Since then, Shepard has gone on to become the most widely produced American playwright in history.  His latest play, God of Hell, came out in 2004.

Sam Shepard said, "The work never gets easier. It gets harder and more provocative. And as it gets harder you are continually reminded there is more to accomplish.  It's like digging for gold.  And when you find the vein, you know there's a lot more where that came from."

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