- Associated Press - Monday, June 6, 2016

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - The effects of the unexpected success of the best-selling book, “Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography,” will be felt for years at the South Dakota State Historical Society, and its Press, as well as at the private nonprofit foundation formed to support the state-funded society.

At a quarterly meeting in Pierre, the Historical Society’s board of trustees as well as the board members of the South Dakota Historical Society Foundation were provided with details about “Pioneer Girl,” the Pierre Capital Journal (https://bit.ly/1TV2ivP ) reported.

A copy of the report obtained by the Capital Journal shows the Historical Society Foundation expects to see a net of nearly $800,000 from “Pioneer Girl,” by the end of this year, which is something for the 20-year-old Press that doesn’t break even on most of its books.

“People call “Pioneer Girl” a runaway success,” said Jay Vogt, the Historical Society’s director. “We might never have a publication as successful as this particular one. And I give all the credit to Laura Ingalls Wilder.”

The 1930 autobiography of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the wildly popular “Little House” books, had languished, unpublished in Wilder’s lifetime and after. Not till Nancy Tystad Koupal, director of the Society’s Press, swung a deal to publish it. It burst on the scene in November 2014 and kept selling more than Koupal or anyone figured it would. Earlier this year, she ordered a ninth printing of 5,000 more copies, which would bring the total copies to 165,000 of the nearly-500-page hardcover that retails for $40.

It took five years to produce and delays disappointed many fans who had to wait a long time for their ordered books to arrive, Koupal told the trustees.

But the Historical Society Press wasn’t built to handle such demand, she said, and it simply took a while to do this unprecedented publishing feat.

One upside was that the long wait seemed to light a fire of unslaked demand, she said.

She and other Press staff workers continue to work in marketing the book, including an e-book edition and selling translation rights for a Japanese language edition, with a French edition also possible.

It’s meant a windfall of sorts for the Press and the Historical Society.

Most of the books published by the Press - which contracts out the actual printing to firms across the country - sell 1,000 copies or less and few break even. The biggest seller before “Pioneer Girl” sold 15,000 copies, Koupal said.

But it’s not as much money as people might think, because the book business has lots of expenses, Koupal told the Capital Journal.

Most copies of the book are sold at big discounts to the big distributors such as Amazon and Walmart, and marketing a book that makes the New York Times best seller list isn’t cheap, Koupal said.

The figures she shared with the Society trustees and Foundation board show that sales income from “Pioneer Girl” from April 2013, when the first orders could be made, through March 8, 2016, totaled just under $3 million. Including some grants and donations collected as the project began, to fund it, and sales projected through the end of 2016 show a total expected revenue of $3.4 million from the project.

But total expenses by then will total $2.6 million, including about projected $300,000 from now until Dec. 31.

That means the Press, through the Foundation which handles the non-state-appropriated finances of the Society and Press, will end up netting $791,452 by the end of 2016 on “Pioneer Girl.”

Meanwhile, the Press plans to roll out several more books related to “Pioneer Girl,” through 2020, Koupal told the trustees.

The first one will be a collection of essays from nine experts on Wilder and children’s literature and history giving a pretty academic look at how Wilder cooperated, or not, with her daughter in writing the Little House books. “Pioneer Girl Perspectives” Exploring Laura Ingalls Wilder,” is slated for release in 2017.

Meanwhile the other work of the Press goes on, Koupal said.

Last month, Koupal ordered the presses to roll on the newest publication from the Society Press, which also might find lots of popular interest due to a recent Oscar-winning movie.

“Hugh Glass: Grizzly Survivor,” by retired history professor James McLaird of Mitchell, is supposed to be in stores perhaps later this month and orders can be made now online at sdshspress.com

It’s a history of the tale of mountain man Glass who was famously attacked by a grizzly northwest of Fort Pierre about 150 miles in 1823, a tale that roughly was told in “The Revenant,” starring Leo DiCaprio and scored big at the Oscars this spring.

The Press last year also published “Controlled Recklessness: Ed Lemmon and the Open Range,” by Pierre writer Nathan Sanderson, about the cattleman who helped build the South Dakota town with his name, as well as the region’s cattle industry.

The Society also has many other irons in the fire. One of its biggest projects is digitizing of the state’s newspapers and of many archived photos and documents.

In 1982, the Historical Society Foundation was formed to help the Historical Society with supplementary funding to what it receives each year from the legislature.

The legislature appropriates about $5.2 million a year to the Society and that has remained relatively stable in recent years.

The Foundation, through donations mostly, raises a much smaller amount than that, but it’s something and it means some staff positions at the Society which wouldn’t be there otherwise, Foundation board members say.

Recent filings with the IRS show the Foundation declared annual income ranging from roughly $550,000 to $750,000 from 2011 through 2013. It can vary quite a bit simply based on donations from individuals and organizations, said John Teupel, the Spearfish realtor who is chairman of Historical Society Foundation.

At the quarterly meeting in April, it was announced that the Foundation will hire, for the first time, a development director to focus solely on raising funds. Foundation President Michael Lewis, an ex-banker, has been doing fundraising as well as administration during his three years. But he’s reducing his role at the Foundation to part-time by the end of the year, as he nears retirement. Meanwhile, other restructuring of jobs at the Foundation will involve others doing more administrative work, Lewis and Teupel told the Capital Journal.

Three candidates were interviewed in Pierre for the development director position last month. The idea of a full time development director has been percolating for three years at the Foundation and isn’t directly a result of the success of “Pioneer Girl,” Teupel and Lewis said.

But the Foundation board made the decision to make the new hire about six months ago and will help use and continue the book’s success, they said. The idea is to provide more resources for the Historical Society going ahead, Teupel said.

Koupal says the plan is keep some of the “Pioneer Girl” money as an ongoing fund to help the Society. She emphasizes that the mission of the Press, like other public presses such as those connected to universities, isn’t necessarily to make money on every book, but to tell the stories about South Dakota that should be told.

For the first time, the Society, through its foundation, is sitting on a nest egg of funding it’s not used to having and it’s leading to discussions about how to use it, say Vogt, Koupal and Foundation leaders.

“We really have to take advantage of it when we have a really good one,” Vogt said.

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Information from: Pierre Capital Journal, https://www.capjournal.com


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