Pete Kendall's Socio Times: A Socionomic Commentary

The summer reading season is in full swing, but for publishers, the competition for blockbuster books that could shape the culture may already be settled.

Two of the most closely watched U.S. fiction releases this year have been "The Historian" and "The Traveler." Both are by writers whom publishers plucked from obscurity and made big bets on. Plenty of copies of both books are now lying on hammocks or are tucked into beach bags across the country.

But only "The Historian" has emerged as a breakaway hit, and their differing fortunes show how relatively small differences -- the personality of an author, for example -- can have a big impact on the bottom line for publishers trying to create a best seller.

Both were written by debut novelists, both were aggressively marketed and both are genre books: "The Historian" is a vampire tale, while "The Traveler" is a science-fiction novel. This summer, as Labor Day fast approaches, Elizabeth Kostova's "The Historian" is the season's hottest adult-fiction book, with 915,000 copies in print in the U.S. after six printings.

By comparison, "The Traveler," a futuristic tale by John Twelve Hawks, has 200,000 hardcover copies in print in the U.S. after three print runs.

What made the difference? Marketing played a big role. Because Ms. Kostova, a Yale graduate, is an engaging speaker, her publisher sent her on a five-city prepublication tour in January to meet with the big chains, independent retailers and various media.
Striking a chord with the independent booksellers, in particular, helped reach the influential readers who help set reading trends among the public.
The Wall Street Journal, August 12, 2005


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Differences Shaped a Battle Between Two Books
Category: MEDIA
By: Pete Kendall, August 17, 2005

The Tone of the Culture Is Changing
Can you feel it? The change in cultural expression that we predicted is coming to pass. Horror movies are pouring out of the studios. “Film noir” has turned ultra-violent. The latest Star Wars film is rated PG-13.
The Elliott Wave Theorist, May 2005

A falling trend quenches the desire for science and scientific exploration. Science fiction writers have already spotted the emergence of this trend in the “present depressing state of the field.” “Incredibly, young people no longer find the real future exciting,” said one author at the latest World Science fiction awards. “They no longer find science admirable. They no longer instinctively lust to go to space.”
The Elliott Wave Financial Forecast, March 2003

This article has it backwards: books don't shape the culture. The culture shapes the popularity of its books. The Historian is the breakaway hit and The Traveler is descending the reading lists because the trend in social mood now favors magical thinking and scary thoughts about blood sucking vampires over spaceships and the shape of the future. The overiding difference is that it's a bear market in social mood.
Additional References

EWFF, June 2005
Another big underlying dynamic, an emerging religious fervor, is also in line with a shift from practical to magical thinking, which HSB identifies as opposite poles of a bull and bear market, respectively. Practical thinking manifests itself in a reverence for science.  A fading veneration for science is evident in several science fiction endpoints. First recall The Elliott Wave Theorist’s classification of Star Trek as a bull market icon. Back in 1992, EWT noted that the show hit the airwaves at the end of Cycle III in 1966 and lasted through a secondary peak in 1968, which included all-time highs for the small-cap shares:
It became popular again during the bull market of 1982 to date both in movies (along with “E.T.”) and on TV (Star Trek, The New Generation). The essential message of Star Trek is that all the creatures of the universe are a brotherhood. This ethic is a reflection of the most extremely positive social mood in a few centuries. When the bear market in stocks takes hold, Star Trek will go off the air and the movie sequels will cease.

In May 2005, the Star Trek TV and movie series flamed out. Once again, it is happening after a long peak in which the most speculative stocks are the last major market sector to make it to substantial new highs. The Star Trek’s experience during Cycle V reflects the fact that it is also a peak of two larger degree trends. At the Cycle-degree peak of 1966-1968, Star Trek’s TV run covered three seasons. Star Trek reappeared in movie form in 1979, near the start of the bull market. Star Trek returned to TV a few weeks after the peak of 1987 and lasted 13 years. In 1968, fans successfully petitioned the studio to add the third season. This time, they tried to do the same thing, actually raising $3 million toward a continuation, but the trend is just too exhausted. Producers decided that the audience just isn’t there. In terms of content, Star Trek “darkened over the decades,” says a USA Today columnist. In the final version, the “universe is a hostile place filled with malevolent and treacherous aliens. Forget exploring strange new worlds. The underlying message now is survival.”

The other brilliant science fiction success of the bull market, Star Wars, also completes its run in May 2005. As it does, it reflects the same darkening tone. By all accounts, the latest episode, Revenge of the Sith, is the bleakest of the six movies. From a socionomic perspective, the ingenious aspect of the most successful movie franchise in history was the decision to show the last three episodes of the sequel (Episodes IV-VI), which were the most upbeat, at the beginning of the bull market and the first three (I-III), easily the most bearish, from 1999-2005 as the Dow crashed through and then clung to the channel shown on page 2. In this way, Star Wars reflected the tenor of social mood and reaped the benefits of enormous popularity. Talk about timing, the original Star Wars debuted in July 1977, two months after the Dow Transports’ Primary wave 1 peak. The last episode comes two months after their March high, which appears to be the end of Primary 5 and the Transports’ long bull market from October 1974.

The first rule of great directors appears to be the same one that many tape readers ascribe to: “Don’t fight the trend.” Ron Howard’s latest effort, Cinderalla Man, a Depression-era boxing film, is a “step toward showing his grittier side and changing his image as a director who prefers light commercial fare to edgy filmmaking.” In another fascinating mood twist, Steven Spielberg, the director of E.T., will bring an alien attack of Earth to theaters this summer. Back in the bull market, Spielberg said he’d never make a sci-fi film featuring hostile aliens. But he’s making War of the Worlds now because 9/11 made him realize the relevance of H.G. Wells’ “frightening vision of the future.” War of the Worlds is considered by many sci-fi buffs to be the genre’s first great work. If Spielberg’s version succeeds, it may also be the last science fiction classic – for a while, anyway.

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