New blog

Those of you reading this on Apple machines (and those of you owning Apple stock) may be interested in my new blog.

See you next week.

Next week

This week, a reader was good enough to supply me with a great deal of fascinating context behind the Lincoln Museum and Library developments in Springfield. I hope to make use of that material in a special post next week after doing related research.

Also, next week we'll dive into the argument that there was no battle at Crampton's Gap in September, 1862.

Thanks for visiting. Have a happy and prosperous new year.

The Long Tail theory

Going through the Ingram (wholesaler) sales figures this week, I had to pause and scratch my head whenever I saw low numbers (under 200). Where is the profit in storing, shipping, and generally mediating the sale of 200 or fewer books?

Perhaps the Long Tail theory has something to do with this. The old efficiency was to transact vast numbers of sales in a few objects; Long Tail sees bigger money in doing small numbers of sales across a vast number of inventory items.

The corollary to Long Tail at the production end, seen from the viewpoint of the Civil War author who has been self-publishing, is Broad Base, i.e. to multiply channels, since each will sell only a few units. If Ingram or Baker and Taylor will take some copies, if some copies can be sold by Internet, at conventions or events, by mail order, etc., it may be possible to reproduce at least the level of results obtained by that author whose press is simply selling 200 copies of his book through wholesalers this year.

Broad Base should not be up to the author; we need a new kind of distribution specialist who can make microsales happen across many channels. And, of course, it has to pay.

Easy to say, hard to do.
NEWS No news today. Happy New Year!


AHA renegade Peter Charles Hoffer chastised

There's an interesting review of Hoffer's new book recycled from Slate in the current HNN. The reviewer is correct in pointing out that Hoffer miscasts his story as a struggle between pop and academic history. These are actually four stories of people with different kinds of ethical problems and differerent circumstances. Hoffer used elements of truth worked into an overcomressed metaphor to generate drama, a pop history trick. (See the sidebar way down the linked page.)

Anyway, the reviewer's contempt for Stephen Ambrose is breathtaking even by my standards:
In academia, Ambrose had become a joke for his mass production of feel-good war stories before the plagiarism, which only sealed his reputation; outside
academia, he remained beloved even after the imbroglio.

Not surprisingly, this old piece (which I missed during the uproar) points out that Amrose's citational transgressions started with his Civil War doctoral thesis and that he specifically victimized Bruce Catton and Russell Weigley.

It's been very quiet on the scandal front. "Too quiet" as they say in the Westerns.

Sept. 1862 newspapers posted

Some Hagerstown newspaper pages have been posted at this link; click on the top item under the heading "Featured Collections." Has this description of Bragg changed?
Half the men would desert to-day, if they thought they could get away in safety; but Bragg keeps a closer watch on them than he does on the enemy. He is a coarse and vulgar tyrant, and I should not be surprised to hear any time of his having been shot by his own men. He drinks to excess, as do all these officers. He quarrels with those around him.

It's a fun site, but the server crashed while I was trying to read the material. Good luck.

Amazon sales rankings explained

This is an interesting run down on Amazon sales rankings by a non-employee.

There are three distinct ranking schemes on Amazon: one for the top selling 10,000 books, another for the books between 10,000 and 100,000, and a third for ranks above 100,000.

Note this estimate:

Rank / Copies per day
1 / X
10 / 100
100 / 30
1000 / 10
10,000 / 2 (11 copies every 5 days)
100,000 / 1 copy a week
1,000,000 / around 15 total, depends on pub date
2,000,000 / around 2 total, depends on pub date
NEWS | Group hopes to restore house at Mill Springs * Georgian re-enactors don Union blue for Bush inaugural * Citizens seek removal of ACW colonel's name from Colo. street


Amazon top ACW sellers, 2004

How this list was made: Please see yesterday's B&N list. The methodology is the same.

Notes: Number 10 on this list is a juvenile nonfiction title. Number 6 looks like an Amazon glitch, given the low number of total (non-Amazon) sales estimated from Ingram figures. It may be ranked there by virtue of ordering rate.

For what it's worth:

(1) American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies (1)
by Michael W. Kauffman (1) / Random House (Nov 2004)
Amazon.com Sales Rank in Books: #709
Total 2004 sales estimate for this edition: 11,100

(2) Freedom Rising: Washington in the Civil War (13)
by Ernest B. Furgurson / Knopf (Nov 2004)
Amazon.com Sales Rank in Books: #4,050
Total 2004 sales estimate for this edition: 3,000

(3) Civil War, Volume 1-3 Box Set (15)
by Shelby Foote / Vintage (Nov 1986)
Amazon.com Sales Rank in Books: #3,457
Total 2004 sales estimate for this edition: 3,100

(4) The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War (19)
by Thomas Dilorenzo / Three Rivers (Dec 2003)
Amazon.com Sales Rank in Books: #5,562
Total 2004 sales estimate for this edition: 6,800

(5) Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States) (23)
by James M. McPherson / Oxford (Oct 2003)
Amazon.com Sales Rank in Books: #5,299
Total 2004 sales estimate for this edition: 10,800

(6) The Oxford Atlas of the Civil War (28)
by Steven E. Woodworth, et al / Oxford (Nov 2004)
Amazon.com Sales Rank in Books: #16,363
Total 2004 sales estimate for this edition: 900

(7) Civil War Trivia And Fact Book: Unusual and Often Overlooked Facts About America's Civil War (34)
by Webb Garrison / Rutledge Hill (May 1992)
Amazon.com Sales Rank in Books: #78,441
Total 2004 sales estimate for this edition: 2,400

(8) Stars in Their Courses: The Gettysburg Campaign, June-July 1863 (41)
by Shelby Foote / Modern Library (Jun 1994)
Amazon.com Sales Rank in Books: #25,741
Total 2004 sales estimate for this edition: 2,800

(9) Atlas Of The Civil War, Month By Month: Major Battles And Troop Movements (47)
by Mark Swanson, Jacqueline D. Langley / University of Georgia (Dec 2004)
Amazon.com Sales Rank in Books: #31,600
Total 2004 sales estimate for this edition: 6,700

(10) Behind Rebel Lines: The Incredible Story of Emma Edmonds, Civil War Spy (57)
by Seymour Reit / Gulliver (Aug 2001)
Amazon.com Sales Rank in Books: #60,939
Total 2004 sales estimate for this edition: 14,000
NEWS | Vicksburg park to increase fees * Dixie flag displayer loses bid to reclaim job * Henrico County gets own ACW history study


Japanese names for ACW figures

Abraham Lincoln, Aburahamu Rinkorunu.
Jefferson Davis, Jifufuruson Debisu.
George McClellan, Jioruji Mukukureruranu.
Thomas Jackson, Fumasu Jakukusonu.
Ulysses Grant, Urisusesu Gurantsu.
Braxton Bragg, Burakuton Buragugu.

Try this out.

Better to say Anchietamu rather than Shirupusuburugu, I think.

Barnes & Noble top ACW sellers, 2004

How this list was made: I searched Barnes and Noble online for "Civil War." Sorted the list by "Bestselling." Removed the following items: novels and poems, books selling at deep discount (i.e., being liquidated), and topically irrelevant titles.

The place a book would have occupied if I had not made such list edits is shown in parenthesis after the title: "Title of Book (34)."

The overall "Barnes and Noble Sales Rank" is its ranking outside of the Civil War context. This is followed by my estimate of 2004 sales as per Ingram times six (as of 12/28/04).

The titles in the list link to Amazon, with which this site is affiliated. Amazon will not carry some books published by Barnes & Noble, so the first link in the list, which is a B&N title, should draw a blank. You might amuse yourself by clicking a link and comparing the B&N sales rank with the Amazon sales rank.

1. The Official Military Atlas of the Civil War (1)
by the U.S. War Department / Barnes & Noble, Nov 2003
Barnes & Noble Sales Rank: 1,171
Total 2004 sales estimate for this edition: Ingram data not available

2. American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies (7)
by Michael W. Kauffman / Random House, Nov 2004
Barnes & Noble Sales Rank: 1,405
Total 2004 sales estimate for this edition: 11,100

3. Lincoln's War: The Untold Story of America's Greatest President as Commander in Chief (25)
Geoffrey Perret / Random House, Apr 2004
Barnes & Noble Sales Rank: 3,951
Total 2004 sales estimate for this edition: 4,100

4. Ulysses S. Grant (American Presidents Series) (30)
by Josiah Bunting / Henry Holt, Aug 2004
Barnes & Noble Sales Rank: 4,714
Total 2004 sales estimate for this edition: 7,000

5. April 1865: The Month That Saved America (37)
by Jay Winik / Harper Collins, Mar 2002
Barnes & Noble Sales Rank: 5,516
Total 2004 sales estimate for this edition: 8,700

6. Great Maps of the Civil War: Pivotal Battles and Campaigns Featuring 32 Removable Maps (39)
by William J. Miller / Rutledge Hill, Oct 2004
Barnes & Noble Sales Rank: 6,541
Total 2004 sales estimate for this edition: 5,600

7. Grant and Twain: The Story of a Friendship That Changed America (41)
by Mark Perry / Random House, May 2004
Barnes & Noble Sales Rank: 6,386
Total 2004 sales estimate for this edition: 8,600

8. Freedom Rising: Washington in the Civil War (43)
by Ernest B. Furgurson / Knopf, Nov 2004
Barnes & Noble Sales Rank: 6,599
Total 2004 sales estimate for this edition: 3,000

9. Battle Cry of Freedom (Oxford History of the United States Series): The Civil War Era (44)
by James M. McPherson / Oxford, Oct 2003
Barnes & Noble Sales Rank: 6,211
Total 2004 sales estimate for this edition: 10,800

10. Soldier's Heart: Being the Story of the Enlistment and Due Service of the Boy Charley Goddard in the First Minnesota Volunteers (65)
by Gary Paulsen, Wendy Lamb (Editor) / Laurel Leaf, Sep 2000
Barnes & Noble Sales Rank: 9,591
Total 2004 sales estimate for this edition: 36,500

Notes: (1) This last title is a work for the children's market and may sell through schools. (2) Publication dates shown are those of most recent release. (3) Anomalies between B&N ranking and my total sales figures can be viewed as reflecting sales made through stores.

Andrew Johnson's notes are now a plot device

A missing scrapbook kept by Andrew Johnson is the plot device propelling the new comic novel, Frankland.
NEWS | Scientists near answers on Civil War mystery men * Crew starts clearing site of slavery museum in Fredericksburg * Class learns research studying ACW tombstones


Cristopher Guest and the Lincoln Library

I'm helping myself understand the black comedy coming out of the Lincoln Library and Museum by reading it as drafts of a Christopher Guest movie script.

We have the Richard Norton Smith character, a mercurial and vain pop historian who is running out of presidential libraries to preside over and has settled in for what is probably his last and biggest career shot. Played by Fred Willard?

We have the "power behind the throne," a brassy Illinois cultural operative, Susan Mogerman, who runs the show in Smith's name, reports to the governor, and who calls the shots. Catherine O'Hara?

We have a Mogerman staffer, one Richard S. Taylor, a public history intellectual who cooks up a tourism-generating idea called "interpretive theatre." Bob Balaban?

We have a former New York theatre guy returned to Springfield, Phil Funkenbusch, whose Illinois successes in making "interpretive theatre" work have resulted in his appointment as director of theatrical programs at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum. Christopher Guest reprising his role as Corky St. Claire?

If you've seen Waiting for Guffman, you can't tell me this Funkenbusch project in Laramie is not a first cousin to "Red, White, and Blaine" ...
The play is also about a group of actors who interviewed and came to know those townspeople. So, not only do we meet and hear from the Laramie residents, we also hear from those actors and how the experience affected them. The fact that this is a community theatre production adds another level, because now Springfield actors are portraying the Tectonic Theatre actors portraying the people of Laramie, and we’ve all learned lessons about what it means to be human.

As you can see, the dialog can write itself. Mogerman: "We're competing with Disneyland, lakes in Wisconsin, casino boats and the like, so we have to have a program that's both entertaining and [ahem, cough] worthwhile."

Tom Vance, a manager at the Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site: "People expect to be entertained. So if you can get history across in an entertaining and accurate way, you're going to be more effective."

More effective at attracting people who expect to be entertained, I think.

Funkenbusch has ...
... about 10 boxes of scripts and a long list of ideas for that stage, including some contemporary plays about Abraham Lincoln. "These are actually good plays," Funkenbusch said. "There are a lot of bad Lincoln plays."

This is going to be rich.
NEWS | ACW group hopes to restore old house * Assasination researcher publishes "definitive" history * Williamsburg redevelopment plan allots 15 acres for Civil war sites


Book sales and new thinking: in summary

[If you are joining us late, we have been tracing the decline of a school of thought that used mass market sales to leverage itself into a position of doctrinal dominance. This concludes the thread: previous postings are linked at the bottom of this entry.]

In surveying the commercial edifice of what might be called the Centennial-era interpretation of the ACW, there is both good and bad news.

The good

The late founders of consensus history are not getting sales; the bulk of their work is out of print with no prospect of returning to trade channels. The influence of Nevins, Catton, Williams, Williams, and their contemporary helpers is vast but now felt only indirectly.

Their leading, living champions are not getting new sales outside of the Civil War readership and their backlist tends to sell weakly. They cannot "move product" at the level of the late Stephen Ambrose or even David Hackett Fischer.

Their views share shelf space with increasingly eclectic ACW titles. Publishers cannot equate good sales with the monolithic Centennial interpretation of the Civil War.

Readers can now make observations hostile to Centennial views on Internet forums, including Usenet, chat groups, and online Amazon reviews. Adverse online reader reviews are taken very seriously by publishers.

Best-selling phenomena in Civil War publishing occur in novels, not in nonfiction. Novels, whatever the value of their historic content, offer content structurally outside of doctrine.

The most influential defender of the old thinking, that aggregator of Centennial content James M. McPherson, has given up the levers by which he could continue to influence the historiographical discourse, i.e. the presidency of the American Historical Association and his Princeton professorship.

The most bankable champion of the Centennial school of thought, Catton protege Stephen Sears, is a "must read" Civil War author but one with with little reach beyond the Civil War bookbuyers.

The bad

The story elements that defined Centennial ideology are now embedded in pop culture; in that sense, the ideology's work is done. For most readers, Lincoln found a general, Grant saved the Union, and the Republican newspapers of 1861-1865 had it exactly right ... there is very little perceived need for historical analysis.

There is a receptive market for creatively reworked Centennial doctrine. People know the story and expect new work to fill in the gaps and details.

Among the burgeoning ranks of editors of soldiers’ letters and papers, there is a tendency to tap the readymade historical context designed by Nevins, Catton, Williams, and Williams in which to set their protagonists.

Commercial Civil War publications (“glossies”) continue to use Centennial doctrine as their default editorial policy.

The inspiring

More than one reader contemporary with Centennial literature has recognized it for what it is: literature. One reader in particular was inspired by its low history content to begin his own personal, decades-long program of primary research. He was convinced, late in life, to share the results of this work as books, and the first volumes are beginning to appear.

Merry Christmas, Russel Beatie.

The primary material is more accessible than ever. We should all be Russel Beaties.

Postings in this series:

Publishing - an overview
Book sales and new thinking: some context
Book sales and new thinking: more context
Ingram and the fudge factor
The matrix
The colossus
A stillness in Catton country
The fading Cry
Vestigial Cry
Davis and Gallagher
NEWS | Michigan town to restore ACW statue * Georgia Civil War re-enactors to march in inauguration parade * Grave marker error fixed in Missouri


Book sales and new thinking: in summary

We'll wrap this thread tomorrow. I had planned doing so this evening but the flood tides of Christmas are pushing me out to a sea of mindless relaxation. Thanks for visiting.

Lincoln's private life is back in the news

Believers in Lincoln-as-gay-man were heartened by the release of this new study.

Opponents of the view may appreciate this commentary.

Chris Cross was wondering what I would make of this new book. I was thinking about the matter pretty much at the time he was. I let it slide until now. Lincoln-the-gay-man is like Lincoln-the-conspiracy-victim, a deep topic filled with a rich mix of real and bogus information such that great numbers of books need to be studied in in order to make an informed comment. I don't have my heart in such an investigation.

I do know more than a little about that model of Victorian propriety, George B. McClellan. Late in his life, this receiver of all kinds of anti-Lincoln gossip felt free enough to write that he and Lincoln shared a bed on many occasions when they travelled to remote Illinois courts on railroad business (Lincoln was McClellan's lawyer, as your history books should have told you). This image conveys personal intimacy while at the same time indicating that their time in bed was spent sleeping. I draw an additional inference: that this is not something George B. McClellan would have dared written if there had been whispers of Lincoln misbehaving in bed with men. And as Lincoln's political nemesis in '64, he would have heard it all.

Lincoln was a strange man. The typical Lincoln bio glosses over the strangeness, leaving an open door for unbalanced studies of Lincoln-as-crazy and Lincoln-as-gay. One thing I can do in this case is to look at this author's evidence handling. If a writer is pushing a line, that should be fairly obvious.

Will write up my impressions soon.

Civil War irregulars, a cottage industry for writers

There have been a number of books published on Civil War irregulars since 2000. Just this year, we have seen:
* The Civil War in Appalachia
* Enemies of the Country
* Scalawags: Southern Dissenters in the Civil War and Reconstruction
* Loyalty and Loss: Alabama's Unionists in the Civil War and Reconstruction
* Civil War and Revolution on the Rio Grande Frontier
* The Confederate Dirty War
* The Battle of Carthage: Border War in Southwest Missouri July 5, 1861

That's a lot but it's not all of it. In compiling the Civil War Book News this year, from which this list is taken, I had overlooked a title: The Uncivil War: Irregular Warfare in the Upper South 1861-1865. Uncivil War looks interesting until you get to bits like this:

"Theirs [the CSA's] was a conservative revolution, aimed a maintaining the status quo and guaranteeing additional rights and privileges to the upper classes."

Someone has eaten of the fruit of the grand summation tree, planted and watered by history-challenged blowhards. Put down your official handbook for interpreting the Civil War, dear author, stop embarassing yourself, and do your topic justice.

They change the name of a road in Arkansas...

... and the Associate Press inflates it into a megatrend. "[T]he South is slowly erasing reminders of its Civil War past for fear of offending tourists and scaring off business."

I counted only four examples of name changes in this article, two of them at universities.

This is fairly classic hackwork: take a few incidents, talk to a few sources, and run with the story. The reporter altogether forgot to count the number of new businesses registered every year sporting "Dixie" or some such in the title. That kind of research would indicate a trend better than this freewheeling "impressionism."
NEWS | History buff on trail of missing cannons * Vandals attack Civil War headstones in Mass. * Power line to skip Resaca battlefield



... has struck. Truly no one is safe.

See you tomorrow.

Jeff Shaara switches to WWI

Jeff Shaara has switched venues in his new novel To the Last Man:

... the endless dialogue between the action sequences is a chore, heavy on exposition and light on character development.

Sounds like he wants to teach history. Not that the desire to entertain is completely forgotten:

For all the overwrought prose, the exploding skies, the guts that "twist into a hot swirl," the throbbing hands, deafening roars and straining skulls, the horrors of the western front never really jump out at the reader.

I hate when that happens.
NEWS | Bull Run battlefield bypass okayed * Groups unveil more Shenandoah Civil War markers * SC case tests ownership of Civil War-era letters


Book sales and new thinking: Davis and Gallagher

[If you are joining us late, we are tracing the decline of a school of thought that used mass market sales to leverage itself into a position of doctrinal dominance.]

William C. Davis and Gary Gallagher are names that Civil War readers recognize immediately. A few years ago, I would say these two professors seemed to be racing for title of most prolific author; lately, Gallagher's production has slowed while Davis keeps chugging along. With a minimum of one new book out per year, these two have a pretty big footprint among Civil War readers

Known as a specialist in Confederate matters, Davis's occasional treatments of Union issues show him to be a close adherent of the Centennial doctrines of Nevins, Williams, et al. He has made it a particular point to write "as beautifully" as Bruce Catton, which can be a major irritant:

As they left Farmville behind, the Kentuckian rode past Lieutenant Joseph Packard, an artilleryman without a command now, who observed that "his calm, buoyant manner was very impressive." Breckinridge, it seemed, was one of those born to shine in a crisis.

In commercial reach, William C. Davis seems to outrank James M. McPherson in that, unlike McPherson, Davis seems to have easy access to trade publishers. The problem with Davis, as with Sears, is that his backlist performs feebly, endangering his reprint potential; and unlike Sears, his frontlist is not generating impressive numbers by trade standards. This points to both declining interest and reduced influence.

Davis's Honorable Defeat appeared in paperback in May of 2002 via Harcourt and last year sold about 1,000 copies (156, Ingram) a viable quantity for university presses but a setback for a commercial operator.

His book Look Away came out in paperback in April, 2003 via Touchstone, a marque of Simon and Schuster: from April to December it sold 1,650 copies or so (270, Ingram),

Switching publishers this way suggests a pattern of disappointing relationships. His focus on Southern topics dilutes his ability to spread the gospel of Catton, and his sales record suggests a reduced profile in the years to come.

Gary Gallagher switches between Union and Rebel topics, with an emphasis on Southern fare. He is very much part and parcel, ideologically, of the American Heritage editorial line of the 1950s-60s.

Gallagher's Fighting for the Confederacy is still in print in hardback after a 1989 release by the University of North Carolina Press. And it sold 59 copies last year through Ingram (by trade house projections that might possibly be about 360 total – this would be quite a decent showing for an academic house with low print runs). The paperback version was released in March of 1998 and sold 270 copies through Ingram last year (a possible total of 1,620 – quite good for a university press).

The same publisher brought out his Wilderness Campaign in hardcover in 1997; Ingram sold 19 of those last year which might represent a total sale of 120. Lee and His Army appeared in 2001 (hardcover) and Ingram sold 86 of those, which may represent, at best, global sales of 525 or so units. Lee the Soldier, a reference work, sold five copies in hardback through Ingram last year and the paper edition sold 26 through that channel. This was via the University of Nebraska Press and multiplying by six may (or may not) produce an inaccurate sales estimate.

Gallagher's latest book, a review of Lost Cause historiography, is most suited to the scholarly press treatment but was brought out by Stackpole in October of this year, Stackpole being a specialty house with a Civil War line and trade house aspirations. It will be interesting to see if Gallagher can transition from storytelling and anthologizing to historiography and make it pay.

Gallagher, in sum, is a university press writer who suffers from weak backlist performance and occasionally good frontlist earnings and who has now decided to experiment with the non-commercial topic of historiography. This cannot be a comeback strategy for any author with a pop history following.

Neither Davis nor Gallagher writes consistently from the Union perspective, so their commercial results are not tied to the old Centennial doctrine of history. They are both, however, upholders of that consensus to the extent their topics allow, and both are well known among the ACW reading public. They circulate, give speeches, write blurbs for books, and make the symposium scene. As they become less bankable, opportunity to support Centennial doctrine declines.

We have reached a point in time where, in combination with Sears and McPherson, these writers represent a wholly inadequate commercial bulwark for defending the doctrinal traditions of the mid-20th Centrury against the spread of new thinking in Civil War studies today.

Tomorrow: the end of this thread and what it all means.

[If you had trouble with any industry terms or concepts in this post, please read this. To understand the point of this exercise, read this.]

Vidal's new Civil War play set for Duke premier

"On the March to the Sea is a play whose universal themes of betrayal, honor and integrity in time of war resonate now more than ever."

USA Today's top selling books of 2004

USA Today's top 100 bestsellers included exactly one Civil War title. Coming in at 92, it's the novel Cold Mountain. That's it.

Let's look at this title using today's sales data from Ingram, B&N and Amazon.

The Cold Mountain's paperback edition, offered by trade giant Random House, sold about 60,600 copies so far this year (10,096, Ingram); last year it did around 92,800 (15,458, Ingram). The hardback, brought out by The Atlantic Monthly Press, sold about 7,700 so far this year (1,282, Ingram) and some 14,500 last year (2,407, Ingram).

I will go out on a limb and say that the movie and DVD releases must have helped book sales somewhat, but they were not long-lived enough, not "hot" enough to generate ongoing bookbuying at this level.

Oddly enough, Barnes & Noble gives the paperback a sales rank of 8,092 and Amazon ranks it at 1,954.

This is what the bottom of the top 100 looks like in terms of commercial success. Compare and contrast with our nonfiction Civil War book sales thread.
NEWS | Savannah takes down Lee and Jackson paintings * Group wants to rebury Southern governor * Historic Vicksburg tourist center burns again


Book sales and new thinking: Sears

[If you are joining us late, we are tracing the decline of a school of thought that used mass market sales to leverage itself into a position of doctrinal dominance.]

In the ravaged commercial landscape of Centennial doctrine (the consensus of Allan Nevins, T. Harry Williams, Kenneth Williams, Bruce Catton, and the editorial board of American Heritage, among others ), there remains one giant remnant of past success: Catton protégé and American Heritage staffer Stephen Sears.

His Gettysburg, issued in the middle of last year, closed out 2003 with almost 30,000 hardbacks sold by his trade publisher Houghton Mifflin (4,804, Ingram). Let me point out that a first edition press run of 30,000 – 50,000 copies is the print order placed for a best-selling author. Sears certainly lived up to his publisher's expectations with this volume.

It is when we push past new sales of new titles that we see an unusual picture. Unlike the mutually-reinforcing strength of Stephen Ambrose's releases, there is marked decay in Sears' backlist.

Start with the book that made his reputation, George B. McClellan, the Young Napoleon. Kept in print by the smaller trade house Da Capo, this paperback sold about 270 copies last year (44, Ingram), not enough to justify a reprint when the stock runs out. His reference work, the Civil war Papers of George B. McClellan (also issued by Da Capo) sold about 120 copies last year (20, Ingram).

Sears' account of the Peninsula Campaign, To the Gates of Richmond is in print courtesy of the trade house Houghton Mifflin and about 600 copies of this softcover moved last year (98, Ingram) - a quantity not sufficient to maintain the interest of his commercial publisher. His Antietam title, Landscape Turned Red, enjoys healthier sales through Houghton at nearly 1,500 purchases in 2003 (244, Ingram). Although decent as a university press showing, this sales level is not going to result in a reprint in the trade sphere.

When you get into more eccentric editing projects, the Sears magic fails entirely. His extensive revision of Douglas S. Freeman's monumental study Lee's Lieutenants was issued in 2001 by Scribner and sold just 522 copies last year (87, Ingram). It has never been released in paperback and it is not competing with any full edition of Freeman. (As nearly as I can tell, the Freeman version was last reissued in 1971.) Sears' American Heritage work tends to be out of print entirely (see, for example, here, here, and here).

He appears, therefore, to be a "must read" author within Civil War circles, one who can move the entire first printing of a hardback in six months but who cannot sustain sales year-over-year. Where his George B. McClellan once crossed Civil War boundaries to reach a general audience intrigued by this Victoriana, Sears' appeal is now less universal.

As the only remaining member of that Centennial entourage whose work is commercially viable, Sears lacks shoulders on which to raise up new followers. He is not an influential professor, nor the head of an historian's guild, and he seems to get out and about very little. Considering the old doctrine, his views admit the most variety (and deviance) of any of that set; and when he chooses to defend himself, he takes to the semi-private world of Civil War glossies, where the readers are already friendly to his Centennial notions. Sears will occasionally help a friend get published (Edwin Fishel, for example), but that seems to be the extent of his outreach.

This is not the stuff, personally or commercially, needed to sustain an orthodoxy. As the single best-selling author still representing a coherent 1950s/60s viewpoint, Sears can keep the ideology public and respectable, but he lacks the horsepower needed to restore its momentum.

Tomorrow: a wrap-up surveying the public's appetite for work by the Centennial doctrine's lesser lights.

(If you had trouble with any industry terms or concepts in this post, please read this. To understand the point of this exercise, read this.)

Mea culpa and Merry Christmas!

A reader writes:
I went on the CWPT web page today and found the fundraising info within a few minutes. Although I appreciate someone keeping an eye on "big preservation," you seem to be parsing your words (ala Clinton) by not indicating that the info was to be had elsewhere on the CWPT web site. See this page.

I tend to check for news under "Newsroom" and Civil War Preservation Trust put this Chancellorsville funding appeal under "Land Preservation."

Thanks for the input. Will check twice before I begin carping.

Got input? I generally try to make myself difficult to reach, but let me commemorate this holiday season by inviting your curses (and corrections) on a one-time special event basis: you can contact me via drotov at cw-book-news dot com.

Everyone's getting into the picturebook business

Now, it's David Hackett Fischer's turn.

Spotsylvania plan draws preservationist ire

Spotsylvania County is drafting an incentive program offering "cash and lower property-tax bills for not turning ... properties into strip malls and subdivisions." Oddly enough, the enabling language had historic eligibility removed; it's a farm-friendly draft with a provision for battlefields "as delineated by the National Park Service."

Local preservationist Caroline Hayden is on the warpath.
NEWS | Plantation home for sale * Tenn. cemetery gets new Rebel statue * SC marker designates site of Civil War fortification * Publishing company sells "educational graphic novel" of the Civil War


Gettysburg not a decisive battle, says Goss

Thomas Goss, author of The War within the Union High Command, has taken some trouble to refute the idea that Gettysburg was a decisive battle.

The Gettysburg fan base is not a collection of advanced history readers who are going to be able to digest this study, nor do advanced history readers need to be told what they already know. Which makes you wonder who are the readers of Military History magazine, in which this appeared.

If Goss's article is a pop culture outbreak of the new truth, rather than an argument with old truth, none of this matters. Could Goss be restating, in a comforting way, what the dullest buff has at long last figured out? Military History's letter column will tell the story.

Book sales and new thinking

We'll look at Stephen Sears and his commercial successes Monday, not tonight, and conclude this thread Tuesday with an overview and recap. I baited, I switched, I'm sorry.

Chancellorsville and fundraising disconnects

Now that Civil War Preservation Trust is on the hook to Tricord for $3 million in the Chancellorsville battlefield land deal, now that its chiefs have told the press they are in fundraising mode, no trace of relevant information appears on the website's news page. No deal details, do donation appeals. Not as of today. It's business as usual.

A little bit of fundraising info is available from CWPT ally Central Virginia Battlefields Trust. CVBT says:

This unparalleled opportunity involves all of us who are devoted to saving America’s Civil War battlefields. What this means, though, is that some of you who receive this letter will also see literature on the same topic from other preservation groups. That duplication is inevitable as we all strive together toward a common objective. There is no cause to worry about these multiple approaches. Pick any one of the pleas and join us in this noble endeavor.

The only way one can find out what CWPT is up to in any particular preservation project is if it is working with CVBT, in which case CVBT spills some of the info on its website. Note this CVBT caveat:

As always, your donations [to CVBT] will be directed to dirt and grass, not paid staff.

That distinction is important to me. One could even have (uncharitably) said "directed to dirt and grass, not secretive, out-of-control paid staff."

Photo of the Week

Historian and re-enactor Brian Pohanka is honored to receive a chunk of Phil Kearny's bathtub.

No kidding.

Sperryville bookstore patrons: what do they want?

Just a few miles south of Front Royal and few miles west of Manassas sits The Old Sperryville Bookshop, which is actually a new bookshop with an old name.

In reviewing its top selling books of 2004, I noticed that no Civil War titles made the list. In fact no history made the list, apart from the various recent reminiscences.

File under "Hmmmmm."
NEWS | Connecticut restores Civil War painting * Monocacy National Battlefield moves its visitor center to higher ground * Legendary Civil War cannon comes home * Detzer to appear on C-Span * Memphis to celebrate Civil War veteran interrment on Memorial Day


Book sales and new thinking; vestigial Cry

[If you are joining us late, we are tracing the decline of a school of thought that used mass market sales to leverage itself into a position of doctrinal dominance.]

In profiling James McPherson commercially, we saw a pattern yesterday of minor titles issued through a university press achieving good results.

For instance, the paperback issue of Crossroads of Freedom appeared in March for the first time and sold 6,000 copies through December 15, a nice performance, though not indicative of great demand.

A few counter examples suggest themselves: hoary old Gods and Generals, in hardback, sold around 5,400 copies last year and looks to do better this year. Killer Angels sold nearly 4,500 copies. David Hackett Fischer's immense, non-narrative, analytical study of early American folkways, Albion's Seed, sold 3,300 copies last year in paperback, despite having appeared in this edition in the early nineties. A most telling comparison is with the first Civil War book written by Jay Winik, a Washington policy analyst who reviewed the effects of Rebel and Union war-ending policies in a piece of pop history called April 1865.

Winik plays in McPherson's back yard: big-picture pop history with all the political and social trimmings. Appearing in spring, 2001, April 1865 sold about 2,125 hardcover copies last year (353, Ingram) and in softcover it sold 15,660 copies (2,619, Ingram). Winik, despite his success, remains utterly unknown to the general Civil War reader. And yet, he is not a phenomenon. He is an outsider who delivered a popularized interpretation of how the war ended and the public responded to it with steady interest. McPherson, whose oft-stated goal has been to popularize history, cannot play in the same leagues as Jay Winik. That is important to Civil War historiography.

Which brings us to the source of the wind in McPherson's sails.

According to a recent Baltimore Sun article, Battle Cry of Freedom, which appeared in 1988, has sold 600,000 copies. Anyone reading this blog would be more than delighted with that sales level for themselves, myself included, but I am compelled to bring some business perspective to this. This number (600,000) is how many copies of Hillary Clinton's last book sold in the first week after publication. The 600,000 neighborhood is inhabited by Customers For Life, Seven Keys to a Healthy Blended Family, Return of the Jedi Storybook, Small Time Operator, (an accounting and tax guide for small businesses), and of course "the classic Led Zeppelin history" Hammer of the Gods. The Barnes & Noble brick and mortar bookstores sold 900,000 copies of a Harry Potter book in one day.

All this is to say that there are phenomena and then there are phenomena.

The hardback edition of Battle Cry of Freedom sold 1,200 copies or so last year (200, Ingram). This year, it is positioned to do only half as well. The paperback was re-released late last year. This year it has probably sold about 9,700 copies (Ingram, 1,612 through Thanksgiving). Both editions were competing last year with the Illustrated Battle Cry of Freedom, a picture book based on the original text.

Oxford's hardbound Illustrated Battle Cry of Freedom has not made it to softcover. It was released in October last year and ran up sales of about 4,700 (771, Ingram). This year, January through Thanksgiving, it sold only about 1,700 copies (280, Ingram). Aimed at the lowest common denominator among bookbuyers, this reworking seems to have laid an egg. My own theory is that it was a loss-leader designed to stimulate interest in the McPherson brand and its core commodity. It is possible that those reissue sales levels of the all-text paperback - 9,700 or so copies - owe something to marketing the Illustrated edition. If I am right, the picturebook deployment was defensive, aimed at shoring up declining market interest.

The other sign of trouble for McPherson, was his one-off relationship with trade house Crown in 2002 after a nearly unbroken string books from Oxford. For him to have approached Crown at all, I think Oxford must have refused Crossroads, or refused the terms associated with it. And as noted yesterday, Crossroads seems to have failed Crown making both a beginning and end to McPherson's career as a trade author.

Can McPherson's championing of the Centennial body of Civil War doctrine survive another decade? I think not if the main engine of his influence is spinning just 10,000 sales per year in its most popular edition.

McPherson has given up teaching (no students to provide a book sales base) and he has given up presidency of the AHA (no more punishment and reward for agreeable historians). His newest output includes guidebooks (Hallowed Ground), picture books (Illustrated Battle Cry), and reworkings of old themes into anniversary commemorations (Crossroads of Freedom). These outreaches to mass audiences are reaching comparatively small audiences.

This author is making a comfortable living but is no longer in position to decisively champion the work of Williams, Williams, Nevins, and Catton. The school of thought he rejuvenated with his commercial success is fading with his own decline in popularity.

We all are familiar with his prestige; but that prestige is vestigial.

Tomorrow: Stephen Sears.

(If you had trouble with any industry terms or concepts in this post, please read this. To understand the point of this exercise, read this.)
NEWS | PA monument to be rededicated * Civil War signs placed around WV Eastern Panhandle * Civil War funding tax lives on * Battles over Wilson's Creek sites continue


Book sales and new thinking: the fading Cry

[If you are joining us late, we are tracing the decline of a school of thought that used mass market sales to leverage itself into a position of doctrinal dominance.]

James M. McPherson has said that he was not especially interested in the military side of the Civil War until his former professor, C. Vann Woodward, arranged for him to receive a commission to write a Civil War volume in the multivolume Oxford History of the United States.

In the early 1960s, McPherson had landed his first (and only) academic job at Princeton, thanks to the influence of C. Vann Woodward; from then through the 1980s, McPherson's output included work such as The Abolitionist Legacy: from Reconstruction to the NAACP, Region, Race, and Reconstruction: Essays in Honor of C. Vann Woodward, Ordeal by Fire: the Civil War and Reconstruction, and such unconventional items as How Lincoln Won the War with Metaphors.

As a learner trying to catch up with the current "best thinking" in Civil War studies, and as a writer tasked to prepare a mainstream American history series with views to the broad public, McPherson, in the late 1980s wound up aggregating great packets of Centennial Civil War doctrine.

On the one hand, McPherson was a youthful contemporary of the Williamses, Catton, and Nevins and their followers; their views were not strange to him, they represented great personal commercial success … and popularization of scholarship, a cause dear to his heart. On the other hand, he was old enough to recall the many high quality interpretations of the ACW that were displaced by the Centennial's leading pop historians.

McPherson well understood that he was making major historiographic choices with his OUP project: "I don't think there is any such thing as objective history, and most informed, thinking members of the public realize it." He would take sides and the non-Centennial viewpoints would disappear as if they didn't exist.

But what the hell: the stakes were low – he was writing a mere series filler – and acknowledging the dominant doctrines would not irritate anyone who could retaliate. It might even make new friends.

Battle Cry appeared in 1988 and won the Pulitzer the following year.

The public that had been saturated with a uniform, single set of editorial and historical judgements since the 1950s opted for this single volume, a "Reader's Digest" summary of everything they thought they already knew about the Civil War. It was a nice bit of marketing Kismet for Oxford University Press.

With television producer Ken Burns entering the mix shortly thereafter (as videographer of McPherson's aggregated Centennial views), the Nevins/Catton/Williams interpretations would enter an Indian summer of at least 25 more years.

Nothing has worked as well for McPherson since and his book sales tell an interesting story.

Before going into numbers let me say that where McPherson's publisher is Oxford, we are dealing with neither fish nor fowl. Oxford is a colossus among university presses but the mightiest such is but a small fry among the ranks of trade publishers. Therefore, in applying the Ingram x 6 calculation to arrive at his sales figures, we will definitely be overstating those sales because Oxford is distributed in fewer channels than commercial titles. Keep this in mind when considering my generous estimates below.

McPherson's Gettysburg anniversary title, Hallowed Ground, a hardcover recently issued by trade house Crown, sold about 5,150 copies last year (856, Ingram) and as of Thanksgiving, sold some 1,125 this year (186, Ingram). This is a pretty strong showing for a brand new author trying to move a first printing of 5,000 – 10,000 books. It must be a disappointment to Crown, however, and I note that no paperback is available. Hunch: it won't be a Crown paperback when it does appear.

McPherson's Antietam anniversary book, Crossroads of Freedom, did, however make it to paperback. Published by Oxford in hardback in July, 2002, it sold in the same numbers as Hallowed Ground (856, Ingram again; are the exact same readers returning to the stores?). This year, as of this evening anyway, sales are way down near 1,300 (217, Ingram). These are, by the way, handsome numbers for any old university press. I don't know if they satisfy mighty Oxford.

The paperback version of Crossroads appeared in March, and with less than a year's exposure, has sold about 6,000 copies, from March through mid-December. This, again, would be strong for anyone else, but for McPherson it is not so good. Neither the hardback nor the paperback sales levels here would interest trade publishers.

I would like to look at one older title now, For Cause and Comrades, which appeared in July of '98. Also issued by Oxford, the hardback is still available and sold 150 copies or so last year (25, Ingram). This year Ingram has sold just three copies. In its paperbound version, it did better, selling around 2,500 copies (415, Ingram) in 2003, which if an accurate calculation on my part, should please the publisher, given the age of this title. There was a little overreaching at Oxford, however; a large print edition of this book was manufactured and it sold around 200 copies last year (33, Ingram).

If I had to characterize McPherson's current sales profile, I would say he has found a niche: he is with a press that can scale its efforts to match his (non-commercial) sales levels. He earns a good royalty income, one which Oxford won't mind paying as long as his advances are standard and his contract is vanilla.

How likely is that? It depends. If Oxford sees McPherson as a star on the verge of issuing a major new work, then its expectations will bloat his advances, inflate the number of books printed, and cause misery and disappointment in their relationship. On the other hand, if the suits view him as a writer whose steady stream of minor works benefit a little bit from the immense past success of Battle Cry, then they may guage their project outlays within reason and preserve harmony.

In such a situation, the ancillary success of the little works hinges on how Battle Cry is doing. If it is doing poorly, then the outlook for the lesser titles is not good, not with this publisher.

Tomorrow, we'll look at the many various iterations of Battle Cry and try to untangle the sales story told in those numbers.

(If you had trouble with any industry terms or concepts in this post, please read this. To understand the point of this exercise, read this.)

Some corrections

* I mentioned that Allan Nevins' ACW work was out of print. I should have specified that this comment does not include work edited by Nevins, such as Diary of Battle. A number of his forewords and introductions live on, as well.

* When I said that Mosier's the Blitzkrieg Myth had no jacket blurbs, I was referring to the original hardback edition. The paperback has these:

Mosier's reassessment of the war and how it was won marshals some strong evidence and is solidly argued. And it will no doubt have historians up in arms for years. - Washington Post Book World

This provocative book tosses military history hand grenades on almost every page, challenging just about every generally held notion about WWII. - Forbes

Mosier makes many excellent points almost unknown in popular historical writing and all too seldom noted even in scholarly and technical studies. - Washington Times

Those are some damn fine blurbs. I'd by two copies of any ACW title with recommendations like those.

The Willard's current owners discover history

What do you know? The Willard is unveiling a "history gallery."

Part of that history should state that this Willard's is not the Civil War's favorite hotel anymore. That old hostel has been renovated out of existence.
NEWS | Brockton chops down Abolitionists' "Liberty Tree" * Officials hear details for four-county Civil War driving trail * Naked slave statue gains defenders


Book sales and new thinking: A stillness in Catton country

[If you are joining us late, we are tracing the decline of a school of thought that used mass market sales to leverage itself into a position of doctrinal dominance.]

Bruce Catton was Allan Nevins' most important collaborator but unlike Nevins, Catton's sales levels earned him a household name.

His stint as editor of Nevins' American Heritage magazine came at the height of his success in books; in this position, he was uniquely placed to use the editorial policy of a popular periodical to shape Civil War doctrine and to help that doctrine's friends. Shape it he did, of course, issuing judgements on subjects with a finality that suggested (but did not demonstrate) thorough research and deep consideration.

If the opinions of Catton were viewed as a large electric board sporting thousands of switches, one for each judgement rendered, one could say that surprisingly few switch positions have been changed since his passing. Many books today represent nothing more than elaborations on themes and ideas originally presented by Catton. His intellectual debtors, however, tend to do better than he is doing now, commercially.

The top three Catton books on Amazon, ranked by sales, are A Stillness at Appomattox, This Hallowed Ground, and Never Call Retreat.

A Stillness at Appomattox – It's maintained in paperback in its 1990 edition by Anchor, a trade house. It sold nearly 2,250 copies last year (375, Ingram), a level not sufficiently rewarding for trade publishers. It is unlikely to be reissued in the mass market given these figures.

This Hallowed Ground – It was last issued in August of '02 in hardcopy by a non-trade outfit called "Book Sales." Book Sales may be a discount specialist as the tome is now listed as an out of stock "Special Value." The book is also available in paperback from Anchor, which sold nearly 2,350 copies in 2003 (388, Ingram).

Never Call Retreat – I am unable to find an active, in-print edition of this work; it is in third place among Catton sales on Amazon based on traffic in used copies; hardbacks are going for $1.79 and up as of tonight.

To round out the picture, let's randomly consider two more famous Catton reads: Grant Takes Command and Grant Moves South. Castle, a non-trade reprint specialist, was the last to issue editions of these works. Grant Takes Command sold 11 copies through Ingram this year and this might represent 66+ sales in all channels if the rule of thumb for book sales can be applied to Castle. It sold no copies last year. Grant Moves South is out of stock indefinitely, according to wholesaler Ingram.

To give you a sense of what these numbers might mean, consider two recent Grant authors, Jean Smith and Edward Bonekemper.

Smith issued his book Grant through Simon and Schuster in April 2002 and garnered around 1,400 hardcover sales in 2003 (233, Ingram). This is weak by mass market standards (and 2004 is shaping to produce half that figure in sales) but compared to the demand for Catton at present, Smith, an author unknown to Civil War readers, is almost in the same trade sales neighborhood.

Bonekemper's Grant book, A Victor, Not a Butcher, was issued this year in April by Regnery, a smaller trade house, and as of Thanksgiving had sold about 4,800 hardback copies (796, Ingram). Bonekemper is even less known than Smith and is producing almost double the number of hardcover sales that Catton's most popular work currently enjoys in paper editions.

There has been an unmistakable decline in commercial demand for Bruce Catton's material; the body of opinion that he crafted, currently steered by those of his admirers still publishing, is now running on fumes.

Tomorrow: James McPherson.

(If you had trouble with any industry terms or concepts in this post, please read this. To understand the point of this exercise, read this.)

Chancellorsville deal closed

The Chancellorsville battlefield land sale contracts have been signed with 16 days to spare, including both the Mullins/Tricord deal and the Tricord/Civil War Preservation Trust deal.

After a long series of posts on this subject, I'll do a final analysis after the dust settles.
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Book sales and new thinking: the colossus

[If you are joining us late, we are tracing the decline of a school of thought that used mass market sales to leverage itself into a position of doctrinal dominance.]

Allan Nevins and Bruce Catton were journalists who turned to history writing, introducing newswriter values to this field: keep the story moving; don't get caught up in digressions; structure your tale with heroes, villains, setbacks and triumphs; and, above all, maintain a consistent editorial line.

Nevins was a tyro, first founding an historical society to propogate his view of what history should be (lambasting "dry as dust" scholarship) then founding a successful magazine, American Heritage, which built up his association and employed its members. Nevins was able to leverage the commercial success of his books, magazines, and his associates into a genre-wide Civil War "policy" that shaped, and still shapes, how the war is presented to the public. His editorial line on the Civil War came to be synonymous with commercial success; dissenters could suffer rough handling at the hands of reviewers from the Nevins camp, and certainly publishing houses would look at any new ideas that could not pass the Nevins test with deep suspicion.

Nevins' great collaborator, Bruce Catton, after establishing himself as a war interpreter in the Nevins line, became a kind of enforcer of this view of events once he took over the reins of American Heritage; Stephen Sears was a junior staffer who assisted Catton at that magazine.

As this Nevins-engineered consensus developed across the field of Civil War studies, James McPherson, a political/social historian new to the Civil War gained a commission from Oxford University Press to aggregate all the current "best thinking" on the subject (e.g. Williams', Nevins' and Catton's thinking); he would write a book covering the ACW era as part of a larger American history series. (This assignment, like McPherson's Princeton job, was arranged by his former Johns Hopkins professor, C. Vann Woodward, a scholar suspicious of Nevins popularizing tendencies but comfortable with McPherson's). McPherson's book was Battle Cry of Freedom, a work-for-hire effort that encased the dominant historical sensibilities of the 1950s and '60s and that has never been seriously revised.

The eight volumes of Nevins' own opus Ordeal of the Union began appearing in 1940, creating an commercial space in which Kenneth Williams, T. Harry Williams, and Catton's efforts could thrive. The last edition of this set appeared in 1992 in paperbacks issued by Simon & Schuster. Ingram reports it as being out of stock indefinitely. There are no small press editions of this work that I know of. Nevins' book War for the Union is also out of print.

As nearly as I can tell, there are no Civil War titles in print by Nevins whatsoever. However, his Pocket History of the United States is still in print and last year sold about 1,250 copies (206, Ingram). This figure is low and not commercially viable for a mass market paperback publisher (Pocket Books); it seems to be the last literary vestige of a towering publishing career.

It strikes a reader of my generation as remarkable that there is no longer any market for Allan Nevins' own ACW writing. And this weakness (repudiation?) shows in the sales of many of his followers.

Tomorrow: Bruce Catton.

(If you had trouble with any industry terms or concepts in this post, please read this. To understand the point of this exercise, read this.)

Alternative history

Glenn Reynolds is recapping alternative history novels he likes over at InstaPundit today.

New Bivouac Banner

A new edition of the Bivouac Banner magazine has been posted here. By Monday, I intend criticizing at length one of its new articles, "South Mountain: Three Gaps, One Battle."

Franklin battlefield dispute simmers on

The letters to the editor keep coming the in Franklin battlefield dispute.

Tactically, the preservationists are in a bad spot; they are acting opportunistically and their opponents have zeroed in on that.

The Franklin country club that became available for purchase triggered a scramble for preservation funding; as there is no master plan for assembling the pieces of the battlefield, the preservationists are depicted as hypocrites who would discomfit their neighbors by repurposing land tangential to the actual field while allowing commercial development on the battlefield proper.

This new letter improvises a new riff on that melody:

I have heard a rumor that someone is trying to get a zoning change for the empty actual battlefield land next to Moody's Tire. What will be built on this land? Is anyone foolish enough to think a zoning change has been requested to build a battlefield? Save the real battlefield land.

John Mosier: Coming to a Civil War near you?

Having dispensed with The Myth of the Great War and The Blitzkrieg Myth, I wonder how long John Mosier can keep his hands off the Civil War.

The thing about these contrarian books that impress me on a business level is that they were sold by an unknown author to a major (trade) publisher (HarperCollins), one who has a deep catalog of military titles. The Blitzkrieg Myth, in particular, is bound to antagonize every WWII writer in the HarperCollins stable. My hunch is that a few have written nastygrams to complain.

There is, in fact, a little comedy awaiting anyone who might handle this volume and who can read the publicity tea leaves. If an author is completely bereft of friends with published books on the same topic, the publisher might roust out a few volunteers of its own to blurb a new work. You will notice that Blitzkrieg is completely blurb free.

And yet here it is, on a booksellers' shelf near you. Good for HarperCollins; good for Mosier; good for the future revision of Civil War history.
NEWS | Memorial site and Civil War battlefield dedicated in Kinston * Restoration of Gettysburg battlefield is a labor of national love * Civil War reenactor prevails in fee dispute with New England town * Town pins hopes on Civil War battle between Union Indiand and Rebel Indians


Book sales and new thinking: the matrix

[If you are joining us late, we are tracing the decline of a school of thought that used mass market sales to leverage itself into a position of doctrinal dominance.]

Professor T. Harry Williams enjoyed a phenomenal writing career, turning the public's WWII-era fascination with Lincoln into a Civil War publishing avalanche. Some of his work is eclectic and currently rejected by the dominant historiography: P.G.T. Beauregard: Napoleon in Gray, for instance; also Lincoln and the Radicals, which when it appeared as a reissue in the mid '60s, contained apologies for sins against ACW doctrine in its introduction.

Williams' most influential (and doctrinal) works are represented by Lincoln and His Generals and McClellan, Sherman and Grant.

Used copies of the 1952 Knopf hardback and the 1952 Vintage paperback editions of Lincoln and His Generals are still circulating, however, this title is now maintained in hardcopy by the specialty publisher Diane and in softcover the rights are retained by Vintage; in fact, the Vintage softcover out - if it is still out - is the 1967 release(!); Ingram sold zero copies this year and zero last.

Williams recapitulated key ideas from Lincoln and His Generals in a work called McClellan, Sherman and Grant. This appeared during the Centennial in a Rutgers Press edition, not making it into commercial channels; it is currently maintained as a student edition under the Elephant marque of Ivan R. Dee, an eclectic independent house tilted towards textbooks. Dee's Ingram sales of this book totaled 22 in 2003, from which number I will not try to estimate a total figure.

As readers of T. Harry Williams well know, his main points about Union generals, Lincoln's management of the war, and his interpretations of military and political events mesh closely with the current orthodoxy because he is co-author of that orthodoxy. His contemporary, Kenneth Williams, also shaped how we view the Union side of the war as a single story, and Kenneth's Lincoln Finds a General snugly complements the other Williams' works. Issued by Macmillan in 1949, Lincoln Finds a General ran to a surprising five volumes at a time when trade publishers were rejecting Bruce Catton's manuscripts with advice that the public wanted no Civil War titles.

Lincoln Finds a General is available in a 1985 Indiana University Press edition only nowadays, one that sold just 13 copies through Ingram last year (I won't project total sales in this case either).

Civil War interpretations were eclectic when Williams and Williams published, but they represented two threads in a matrix that included contemporaries such as Nevins, Catton, and many others, a matrix out of which doctrine would be shaped. (I discussed the evolution of this process last year: see here, here, here, here, and here.)

What is interesting to me is that the people who devour the opinions of Williams and Williams second-hand (say, through McPherson, Sears, Gallagher, or Davis) have no interest in the source. When we get downstream to where commerce flows deeper and faster we will need to recall that the springs that once produced this running water have completely dried up.

Monday: The current sales profiles of Nevins and Catton, the next two points of the doctrinal matrix.

(If you had trouble with any industry terms or concepts in this post, please read this. To understand the point of this exercise, read this.)

Abe on Parade

The parameters for the Abe on Parade public art exhibit in Springfield have been narrowed substantially. The anything-goes paint-your-own prefab sculpture concept has been reinvented as this:

... the hands and faces of the all of the statues will be the color of skin, with the artwork limited to the coat and pants. The effort also is adhering to historical or natural themes for the artwork, and all designs must be approved by a mayoral committee.

No artist protests yet.

Ingram and the fudge factor

A friend who's been published in the trade presses continuously since the early 1970s has written to say "A quick review indicates that a factor of 6 to 8 would be about right. I'd have to check my royalty statements to get an exact fix..."

He's talking about the factor used to multiply Ingram's sales figures to get the total (non-Ingram + Ingram) sales count. In our series on book sales, I've been multiplying the Ingram sales figure by six; know that this may be a little low and multiply by seven if you wish.

(This note will be added to the publishing overview posting.)

"Confederate Boulevard" renamed in Little Rock

... and just in time for the opening of the Clinton Library.
NEWS | Slave trading and Civil War hospital site approved for housing development * Harpers Ferry National Historical Park will acquire 100 acres * Park volunteers save Fredericksburg manor from closure


Book sales and new thinking: more context

We've been setting up some context for our review of Civil War book sales, the purpose of which is to correlate current commercial success (or lack of same) to a specific, dominant historiography.

Yesterday we looked at the figures for a couple of non-ACW Stephen Ambrose titles by way of background information. Ambrose was, of course, a popular historian, entirely narrative-driven, with plenty of venerable backlist titles still active in the marketplace.

I think Shelby Foote is worth mentioning now in terms of a certain commercial dynamic. The currently available three-volume paperback version of Foote's opus, The Civil War, was most recently released in December of '86 by Vintage, a trade publisher, and last year sold about 2,900 copies (474, Ingram). Three things are remarkable here: the edition is nearly 20 years old, it represents a three-volume set listing at $75 (of which the publisher earns 50-60%), and it is essentially "unsupported" by other nonfiction Foote writings.

Thus, where Simon & Schuster could expect a stream of "hits" from Stephen Ambrose, with each new title supporting his backlist, Foote's Vintage sales have had to stand on just two legs. And although 2,900 copies sold per year might be a little low for a trade papberback, the higher per unit prices could sustain it as an interesting commercial proposition into the near future.

In absolute terms, Foote's Civil War is a remarkable nonfiction publishing success story, one we will revisit when the time comes to discuss McPherson. (If you want to tantalize yourself a little between now and then, consider which you think more successful, Foote or McPherson.)

The astute reader notices I have left off talking about Foote's novels. I do not understand the commercial interplay between his novels and his history, so I have left that out of the picture. Do let us talk about ACW novels now, but not Foote's.

Michael Shaara's Killer Angels is still available in hardback and paperback editions. The current hardcover dates from May '01 and was brought out by the trade publisher Ballantine. Last year it sold nearly 4,500 copies (749, Ingram), and that is a strong showing for even a new trade release, as I said yesterday about the sales of Ambrose's Undaunted Courage. The papberback, also by Ballantine, sold about 85,000 units last year (14,167, Ingram) and that is a sustained publishing phenomenon.

To give you an idea of how strong that is, when I was studying the book publishing industry over 30 years ago, Ayn Rand's novels were held up as paragons of backlist strength. They still tell an exemplary sales story but The Fountainhead, in paperback, sold "only" 40,600 or so copies last year (6,766, Ingram) – currently a little soft compared to Killer Angels. (Of course, Rand's run has lasted so much longer.)

Jeff Shaara has met with similar success. His Gods and Generals, in Ballantine hardcover, did about 5,400 in sales in 2003, a number (again) representing the sellout of an entire run for a new hardback release. In paperback, sales were near 46,000 (7,646, Ingram), topping the perennial favorite Rand by almost 6,000.

These figures are not offered to validate the worth of these books but to benchmark success for our discussion of ACW publishing.

Tomorrow, we'll visit a few bigs from the Centennial school of thought that so dominates Civil War interpretation today.

(If you had trouble with any industry terms or concepts in this post, please read this. To understand the point of this exercise, read this.)

Guelzo on Booth: a return to Natural Rights?

Lincoln Scholar Allen Guelzo reviews American Brutus and comes to this incredibly Jaffa-esque conclusion:

For Booth's ultimate target was democracy itself, just as it had been the ultimate target of Calhoun and Hammond and Fitzhugh and all the other apostles of power who concluded that power rather than liberty was the only reality in this world.

Philosophies of history are important (and fun) but not always good history.

Harry Jaffa was Guelzo's teacher but in his recent Lincoln book, Guelzo seemed to be mainstreaming himself, doing that pop history thing of thoughtfully presenting the most blindingly obvious ideas and analysis.

Well, have at this review. Unfortunately, the paragraph above is all the philosophy of history we get here, but there is some assasination historiography in the piece. And when have you last read a review with footnotes?

Word of mouth guidebooks

Author Clint Johnson has put together a slideshow of his personal trips to Carolinas ACW sites; this, he accompanies with instructions on how his audiences can retrace his steps.

As long as there is no guidebook for Civil War sites in the Carolinas, this appears to be an interesting alternative. Think of it as a book tour sans book.
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Book sales and new thinking: some context

Here is a randomly-chosen guidepost for non-fiction sales: Stephen Ambrose. I've chosen a couple of Ambrose books on which to orient ourselves.

Ambrose was a pop-history writer who enjoyed great success. Although he started his career with a Civil War book called Halleck, he spent the remainder of his writing life on other matters. Since we need to compare ACW book sales data to analagous information, Ambrose strikes me as fitting because he is very like a Civil War pop historian in his approach and appeal.

Ambrose's book Undaunted Courage is about Lewis & Clark. It was most recently issued (or reissued) in hardcover in February of '96 by trade publishers Simon and Schuster. Eight years later, it is selling at a rate of about 5,400 copies per year (896 in 2003 per Ingram). The entire first press run on a new trade nonfiction title will be from 5,000 up, so this level of annual sales is very satisfactory for trade backlist.

The paperback edition of this work appeared in June 1997, also via S&S. This is a "quality pb" listed at $17. In 2003, it sold about 46,800 copies (7,794 Ingram). To the publisher, this represents $374,400 at wholesale pricing and is a strong showing - especially seven years after its appearance (or reprinting) in this format.

I did not choose Courage to represent Ambrose because I thought it would show strong sales - quite the opposite, I find Lewis & Clark to be dreary. So let's take another, more typical Ambrose offering: D-Day.

D-Day was last (re)issued in hardcover in June of '94. Ten years later, Simon and Schuster is selling 1,450 copies per year (241 in 2003, Ingram). This might be just strong enough to deserve (in terms of trade press economics) a further hardback printing, should current stocks run out. However, S&S is liquidating its stock; Barnes & Noble, for instance, has discounted the $30 list price to about $5 retail. Interesting that the annual 1,500 sales mark might be a liquidation threshold for this trade publisher.

The softcover edition of D-Day now circulating dates from April '95 and last year sold over 10,600 copies (1,767, Ingram). This is a good showing for quality paperback backlist list priced at $17, particularly impressive almost 10 years after release.

Keep Ambrose's numbers in mind as a baseline example of trade press success as we go through the sales figures of our various dominant Civil War authors this week and next. I'll introduce many more reference points as we go along, but Ambrose provides an anchor for the analysis to come.

Tomorrow, we'll extend the context just a little by looking at the successes of Foote and the Shaaras. After that, we'll be in position on Friday to begin our review of the current sales performance of the co-founders of the current dominant historiography, Nevins and Catton.

(If you had trouble with any industry terms or concepts in this post, please read this. To understand the point of this exercise, read this.)

Why honor Iraq War newsmen at Crampton's Gap?

Would someone please explain to me why it was necessary to memorialize fallen Iraq War journalists at Crampton's Gap battlefield given that dead combat reporters already have a memorial in downtown Washington D.C.?

I just ran across this website yesterday and was surprised to see that not only were the same newsfolk honored in both places, but that some of the same VIPs attended both ceremonies.

In the endless piling on of additional public uses for "protected" battlefield land, in the rush to multipurpose "hallowed ground," we have finally achieved total redundancy and complete meaninglessness in one corner of Crampton's Gap battlefield.

May I recommend, for simplicity's sake, a single purpose for consecrated ground?

Confusion may have engendered this mess but nihilism sustains it. Nihilism ("What difference does it make?") and entropy.
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Tariffs, Blockades, and Inflation: The Economics of the Civil War

This looks like an interesting (and short) book, written by what appear to be doctrinal Libertarians. The perspective is definitely "alternative" -

The Civil War retarded economic development, but because of the exclusive focus by historians on the abolition of slavery, it has been viewed as a national benefit instead of a national disaster.

There is a long review here.

Publishing - an overview

We have done very little on the topic of ACW publishing as a business in this blog, so I've created this post as an industry overview or backgrounder for the discussions to follow. I'll link back to it in future posts.

This industry divides along the lines of trade (mass market) publishers, scholarly (university) presses, and specialty houses (including smaller trade presses). The bigger press runs (the higher numbers of copies printed) are in trade publishing; scholarly and specialty will have lower runs but will keep books in circulation longer.

The publisher's catalog consists of all books in print, whether or not they appear in that marketing publication we the public call "a catalog." Items in the catalog are classified as frontlist, midlist, or backlist. The definitions for these terms vary from house to house and from wholesaler to retailer. The Council of Literary Magazines and Presses offers some, which I have shortened below.

Frontlist: Books published in the current season receiving marketing emphasis.

Midlist: Books published in the current season receiving secondary sales efforts. " Independent publishers, which usually publish fewer books per season, generally do not make a distinction between front- and midlist."

Backlist: "Books published previous to the current season that are still in print. Traditionally, the strength of a publisher’s backlist is the indicator of both editorial and commercial success."

The publisher is the manufacturer and generally distributes "product" through wholesalers. One of the peculiarities of American publishing is that there are only two major wholesalers: Baker & Taylor and Ingram. These channels are supplemented by independent wholesalers, mail order, Web sales, direct store placement, etc.

Commercial success is measured in book sales and book sales are the most closely guarded secret in this business. The only way to estimate book sales that I know of involves taking one nugget of verified information and multiplying it by a factor that translates into something like a real picture.

Specifically, estimators take Ingram's publicly disclosed book sales for any known title and multiply it by a factor to arrive at total sales through all channels. The best-loved factor I have seen is six. I have heard of people using higher factors but have never seen a higher number defended in public as producing realistic outcomes.

Of course this estimating process applies to trade titles; specialty and scholarly titles, having fewer (and different) distribution channels will not conform to this model.

Aside from the publisher's own comments. I know of no public sales information apart from Ingram's.

Example: If Ingram says a title sold 650 copies in 2003, I may refer to my own sales estimate of 3,900 (650 x 6) for that title. I will try to identify the Ingram core of the estimate parenthetically - (650, Ingram) - so you know where the number is coming from. You'll see me round up a little bit too, in the author's favor.

If you know of a better way to estimate trade sales, please contact me c/o cw-book-news.com. If you have a non-trade estimation system, I'd love to hear about that too.

I'll close by saying pointing to a great article on backlists from the retail viewpoint. Note especially the in-store stocking ratios for frontlist and backlist.

Postscript (12/10/04): A friend who's been published in the trade presses continuously since the early 1970s has written to say "A quick review indicates that a factor of 6 to 8 would be about right. I'd have to check my royalty statements to get an exact fix..." He's talking about the factor used to multiply Ingram's sales figures to get the total (non-Ingram + Ingram) sales count. In our series on book sales, I've been multiplying the Ingram sales figure by six; know that this may be a little low and multiply by seven or even eight if you prefer.

(This post may be expanded to support future publishing business topics.)