What Do Mein Kampf and 50 Shades of Grey Have in Common?

The answer to a riddle so vexing comes courtesy of Chris Faraone writing for Vocativ: Both benefitted big-time from the advent of the e-reader. Faraone writes:

Mein Kampf hasn’t made The New York Times nonfiction chart since its U.S. release in 1939, the same year Germany invaded Poland, and its print sales have fallen steadily ever since. But with a flood of new e-book editions, Hitler’s notorious memoir just clocked a banner digital year. One 2012 English-language version is currently the number one Propaganda & Political Psychology book on Amazon. Another digital selection is a player in the Globalization category.

If that sounds familiar, it mirrors the trend of erotic fiction. Faraone notes that 50 percent of erotica readers say they prefer to read in digital — where nobody has to know what they’re reading — compared to just 10 percent in print.

All those sales, despite that Hitler’s rant can be acquired for free.

Besides the iTunes and Kindle-compatible versions, hundreds of txt and pdf files are available for download from thousands of online sources. More than a dozen free English-language versions of Mein Kampf have been downloaded in excess of 100,000 times from the nonprofit Internet Archive alone.

One of the top sellers of the book is a California-based company, Elite Minds Inc. The company doesn’t peddle Hitler very hard, though. Elite Minds President Michael Ford tells Faraone, “I have not heavily promoted the book and decided, for the most part, to let it spread among those who have a true historical and academic interest naturally.”

Check out the full story at Vocativ.

It should be noted — and Ford alludes — that morbid curiosity and historical interest are probably at the heart of these sales. This was true even at the time of World War II, as the Los Angeles Times recounted in 1988. That story goes a little something like this: Early printings of Mein Kampf in America were abridged, omitting major parts of Hitler’s hateful plan for world domination.

In 1939, a foreign correspondent returned home in the late 1930s, worried about the changes he had seen in Germany while he was away. Part of what he had experienced included reading Mein Kampf in German. At home, he stumbled across the thinner version of the book.

The writer — Alan Cranston, who would go on to serve as a U.S. Senator representing California — thought the country should see the entire text to see what Hitler was cooking up — not to mention, that Hitler shouldn’t collect royalties on the book in the U.S., as he was at the time. So, he began bootlegging copies of the full translation.

Houghton Mifflin, Hitler’s American publisher, sued later that year, eventually halting the printing of Cranston’s full translation. But not before Cranston had sold half a million books at 10 cents a pop — with zero royalties going to Hitler.