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The Book Trade

June 15, 1986|ELIZABETH MEHREN

NEW YORK — 'THIN' WITHIN: It seems that "The Thin Man," Dashiell Hammett's fifth novel, was not his final work of fiction at all. Published in 1934, the work that served as the basis for MGM's "Thin Man" movies--featuring William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles--turns out now to have been followed by a 1935 story called "After the Thin Man." The story will be printed in New Black Mask, a paperback anthology of mystery fiction published four times yearly by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich/Harvest Books and edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli and Richard Layman. Hammett wrote the second "Thin Man" story while working as scriptwriter and script doctor for MGM. After MGM bought all rights in perpetuity to Nick and Nora Charles for $40,000 in 1937, the last three "Thin Man" stories were written without assistance from Hammett.

WHEN YOU'RE HOT, YOU'RE HOT. Several of the most lavish exhibits at the recently concluded American Booksellers Assn. convention were those of the producers of audiocassettes. Newman Communications, one of the largest and earliest producers, reports its business up 70% over 1985. But further growth is likely to be complicated by the appearance of many new producers, including book publishers once indifferent to the audiocassette, now rushing to publish their backlists in the newly popular medium.

"Give the Gift of Literacy," the theme of the convention, was taken up in a distinctive way by "Read-Along," an audiocassette innovation from Audio Language Studies. Read-Along consists of books abridged to two cassettes' worth of text each and accompanied by a word-for-word printed text of the abridgment. The importance of being read to in the process of learning to read has received increasing attention. Read-Along makes it possible for adolescents or adults with learning difficulties--not to speak of students of English as a second language--to be read to privately. Read-Along titles range from Grimm's Fairy Tales to "Octopussy."

AND WHEN YOU'RE NOT, YOU'RE NOT. Scientific American is for sale. Science 86 is kept solvent only by the determined subsidy of the American Assn. for the Advancement of Science. Discover magazine is reported to be losing money at Time, Inc. For all the importance of science and the attractive demographics of the science-interested public, general interest science publishing is struggling. Jonathan Segal of Times Books says that American publishers of science break even only by the aggressive sale of foreign rights.

Among science books in the broader sense, none are struggling harder than computer books, whose sales dropped drastically in 1985. What happened? Industry sources distinguish several phases: 1) badly produced computer books by people who knew computers but not publishing--the beginning; 2) well-produced and well-written books by people who knew both computers and publishing--the brief heyday; 3) hastily produced books by people who didn't know computers and sometimes didn't know publishing either--the bandwagon phase; 4) the sudden slowdown as sales of personal computers began to drop--the end.

WHOOPS!: Reports of a multizillion-dollar advance to Soviet dissident Anatoly Shcharansky are greatly exaggerated, Random House says. The figure was "nowhere near" the number mentioned in the Book Trade several weeks ago, the publisher said.

SALES TALK: Over at Atlantic Monthly Press, sold recently by zillionaire entrepreneur Mortimer Zuckerman to Chattanooga businessman/writer Carl Navarre Jr., the current mood, an insider said, is one of "cautious anticipation." One immediate change: Atlantic Monthly Editor-in-Chief Harold Evans has been named vice president and senior editor of Weidenfeld & Nicolson, and Random House supereditor Gary Fisketjon has been chosen as Atlantic Monthly Press' editorial director.

NANCY DREW REINCARNATED: As of August, when "Secrets Can Kill" and "Deadly Intent" will be published under the Archway Paperbacks imprint, Simon & Schuster's Juvenile Publishing Division is launching a new series of mass market paperback originals based on the Nancy Drew mysteries created by Edward Stratemeyer in 1930 and geared for 12- to 15-year-olds. To be known as "The Nancy Drew Files," the new series will feature more sophisticated stories than the familiar tales Stratemeyer published under the pseudonym of Carolyn Keene, and carried on by Stratemeyer's daughter Harriet Stratemeyer Adams after his death. Aimed at 8- to 11-year-old readers, the original Nancy Drew mystery series have sold more than 60 million books in the United States and Canada. A new title in "The Nancy Drew Files" will be published each month, accompanied by such public relations gimmicks as consumer sweepstakes, bookmarks, fan club mailings and giveaway booklets.

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