Profits at the book publisher Penguin slumped by almost 50 per cent in the first six months, thanks in part to the runaway global success of E.L. James's Fifty Shades of Grey, which is published by rival Vintage Books, The Guardian reports. And together the runaway success of Fifty Shades and The Hunger Games helped cut sales at Penguin by 4 per cent to £441 million ($663 million), with its adjusted operating profit falling 48 per cent to £22 million. ''They have distorted the overall books market - Fifty Shades of Grey has sold more than 30 million copies,'' said Marjorie Scardino, the chief executive of Pearson, the parent group of Penguin. ''The US is the only place we are down. Those big bestsellers really did take a lot of air out of the market.'' Penguin US published 132 bestsellers in the first half of this year, compared with 157 in the same period last year, while the British operation matched its strong performance in the first six months of last year with 49 bestsellers. Ebook sales soared by a third and account for nearly one in five of Penguin's total revenue. In 2009 ebooks were just 2 per cent of total revenues, growing to 12 per cent last year. Scardino said that although the rate of ebooks growth was slowing, she did not have a view on when the increase in Penguin's digital book revenues would begin to flatten out. The publisher expects a better performance in the second half, with new titles from authors including Ken Follett, Jamie Oliver and Jeremy Clarkson. Pippa Middleton, sister of the Duchess of Cambridge, is also putting a book out.
Belief a weighty issue for faithful
We've long known that certain lifestyle choices lead to certain body types. Those of us who choose, for example, to sit on the couch eating pizza all day tend to be slightly less svelte than those who might prefer to eat a lettuce leaf before heading out to run a marathon. And now we learn even our religious leanings can (apparently) make a difference. A study of more than 9000 Australians comparing their religious beliefs and BMI (body mass index) has found ''religious denomination was significantly related to higher BMI'', with Baptist men, for example, larger than atheists. ''Baptist men had, on average, a 1.3 higher BMI compared to those reporting no religious affiliation,'' said Dr Michael Kortt of the Southern Cross Business School, who authored the study with Professor Brian Dollery of the University of New England. ''Among women, 'non-Christians' had, on average, a one-unit lower BMI compared to those reporting no religious affiliation while 'other Christian' women reported, on average, a one-unit higher BMI.'' Kortt stressed the study was ''restricted by its design'' and we shouldn't draw conclusions yet. ''Further research is required to fully understand the influence that religion may exert on BMI and what role religious organisations can be play in helping to combat the Australian obesity epidemic.'' At the very least it could lead to new weight-tolerance standards in church pews.
Thin blue flood line
It appears the NSW government has come up with the perfect way to get emergency services to respond quickly in times of natural disaster - just build their headquarters in the middle of the area most likely to be a disaster. In what the mayor of Blacktown, Alan Pendleton, has called ''a dumb decision''', the Minister for Planning, Brad Hazzard, has given the go-ahead for a police station to be built in Riverstone on a spot where locals say floods are very likely. ''Someday in the future it will go under water,'' Pendleton said. ''These are the people in charge of evacuating the area and the first thing they'd have to do is evacuate themselves.'' He said council engineers who had studied - and rejected - the site on Elizabeth Street, Riverstone, found the building would be at least two metres under water in a one-in-100-year flood. If a flood reached levels measured in 1867, there could be more than four metres of water surrounding the three-storey station. The decision was ''in direct contravention of the state government's flood plain management policy'', he said, and if anyone had applied to build a house on the site, they'd have been knocked back immediately. The minister, however, has other views. His experts found the chances of a flood were extraordinarily remote. ''The Department of Planning carefully assessed the proposal and concluded that earlier assessments had placed too great a weight on the risk of a one-in-250-year and an extreme one-in-10,000 year flood event in recommending to refuse the development application,'' a spokesman for the minister said. Here's hoping they're right … or at least that police uniforms include waders by then.
Flying the coop
If you're under five and reading this then, first, congratulations on your incredibly advanced literacy skills, and second, commiserations on the news two of your superstars are about to get a major makeover. Hoot and Hootabelle, the puppet owls that headline the ABC's mega-successful Giggle And Hoot TV show, are to be given new voices after the people who have been bringing them to life decided to move on. Puppeteer Hamish Fletcher and actor/singer Abi Tucker , who lend their talents to the owls, are leaving, in Tucker's case less than five months after joining. Rumours the pair were flying the coop to start a new production, or that feathers had flown over contract disputes (sorry, but the bird jokes had to happen) were quickly hosed down by the ABC, which said the fact that both were leaving ''purely co-incidental''. ''Having established the character of Hoot, Hamish informed the ABC many months prior that he planned to leave the show and return to live theatre at the conclusion of his contract,'' an ABC spokeswoman said. ''[And] having established and developed the personality and the voice of Hootabelle, Abi chose to move on in order to explore new creative endeavours. Changes of this sort are not unusual in the area of character development and puppetry, neither are they unexpected.'' New performers have already been selected and the new voices will be heard later this year. Good luck explaining that one, parents.
A big day for scholarships
Anna Dowsley has won the Lady Fairfax 2012 New York Scholarship. The prestigious award was announced last night at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, following a public recital by the six finalists. The winner receives a whopping $43,000 and the chance to study with New York's best vocal, language and movement coaches. The six finalists were Anna Dowsley; Stephanie Gooch; Naomi Johns; Lorenzo Rositano; Siobhan Stagg and Luke Stoker. Speaking on ABC Radio last night, Dowsley said she was keen to "work with the best coaches and tutors based in New York and try and audition for some … opera companies". Dowsley, who has worked in Germany and France, has never been to America. "My dream is to go overseas and work on international stages," she said.
Tweet street at the Olympics
Conservative MP Aidan Burley might have tweeted himself out of a job after he got stuck into Danny Boyle's opening ceremony.
@AidanBurley: ''The most leftie opening ceremony I have ever seen - more than Beijing, the capital of a communist state! Welfare tribute next?''
@AidanBurley: ''Thank God the athletes have arrived! Now we can move on from leftie multicultural crap. Bring back red arrows, Shakespeare and the Stones!''
Burley closed his account very soon afterwards.
Samuel L Jackson felt their pain when one gymnast after another fell, but found time to enjoy the following exchange with follower Paul Roberts:
@SamuelLJackson: ''Mikulak, USA, just missed the parallel bar & body slammed himself! DAMN!!!''
@MisterRoberts: ''Nobody fell better than you and The Rock in The Other Guys!''
@SamuelLJackson: ''I busted my ass pretty good in Unbreakable!''
After Ryan Lochte trounced Michael Phelps in the much anticipated 400-metre individual medley the pair nevertheless found a way to get all warm and fuzzy on Twitter:
@MichaelPhelps ''Congrats to @ryanlochte … Way to keep that title in the country where it belongs!!''
@ryanlochte ''Thanks.'' @MichaelPhelps ''I couldn't do it with out you. #USA''
But not everyone was getting on so well. US woman's football player Hope Solo railed against her former skipper Brandi Chastain after the latter's criticism of defender Rachel Buehler: ''Lay off commentating about defending and gking until you get more educated @brandichastain the game has changed from a decade ago.''
And, although the Olympics viewing figures in Britain were extraordinary, with 26 million tuning in, there were still those who thought it could be improved:
@snape ''More people would be watching the Olympics if Quidditch was played.''