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Hot Sellers, Shake-Ups, Power Plays

December 09, 1994|PAUL D. COLFORD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; He is a columnist for Newsday

This was a year when many more players in the wide world of print came to share the vision of a so-called information superhighway, which someday may carry text and video traffic from home to home.

More magazines and newspapers staked a place in this wired future by offering on-line extensions of their news-gathering operations. HarperCollins and other publishers launched interactive divisions to develop CD-ROMs and book spinoffs that need no stitched binding.

However, even as the electronic horizon came into view, a look back at 1994 shows bestsellers, magazine shake-ups and corporate power plays were still the big stories among ink media. Here are some of the year's greatest hits:

Crimson Ink: By now stores could set up separate sections to hold books about Diana, Charles and the dysfunctional royal family. There were five major titles in the burgeoning genre in 1993, and this fall brought five more, including Jonathan Dimbleby's authorized bio, "Prince of Wales" (Morrow).

Harper's Harvest: Conservative magazines such as the American Spectator and National Review enjoyed newfound visibility and circulation surges as voices of opposition to President Clinton. Celebrity confessions in Vanity Fair and other glossies continued to generate pickup coverage in newspapers. But which mag walked off with an industry-leading total of three National Magazine Awards? Old, reliable Harper's--for essays and criticism, feature writing and fiction. Its ad revenue through October was up 19.2% over the same period last year.

Movers and Shaken: Richard E. Snyder, the tough chief executive of Simon & Schuster, survived internal squabbles and changes in corporate ownership from Gulf + Western to Paramount Communications Inc. But soon after Viacom Inc. swallowed Paramount, Snyder was fired--and the book biz rumbled at the exit of its most powerful player. . . .

Howard Kaminsky, another publishing heavyweight, resigned for family reasons as president of the Hearst Book Group, which includes William Morrow & Co. Having suffered months of uncertainty and author defections as Hearst considered selling it, Morrow began to regroup under a new publisher, Liz Perle McKenna, and a new editorial director, Will Schwalbe. . . .

At Random House, it was whispered the company would fold Villard Books, one of its many divisions. But the publisher of David Halberstam and Robert Fulghum received a new lease when Random House Executive Editor David Rosenthal added to his duties as Villard's new publisher--and signed boxing champ George Foreman to write an autobiography.

Exit a Legend: After 31 years as editorial director of the Conde Nast magazines (Vogue, Glamour, Vanity Fair and 10 others), the influential Alexander Liberman, 81, was succeeded by a 35-year-old upstart, James Truman, British editor of Details.

Exit Another Legend: John Mack Carter, editor in chief of Good Housekeeping for two decades, stepped down to concentrate on magazine development at Hearst Corp. Succeeding him at the 5-million-circulation giant was Ellen Levine, who brought spark to the pages of Redbook.

More Spanish Read: No single development generated greater interest from readers of this column than the belated but growing evidence that New York publishers want to reach the Hispanic market. Example: Dell's publication of Danielle Steel's "The Gift" in a special Spanish edition. Vintage Books, joining with Grupo Santillana of Spain and Latin America, said it would release 36 fiction titles in Spanish next year.

Death, Resurrection, Limbo: A market-research study done for Hearst Magazines, publisher of Country Living, found that 46% of the population embraces a country lifestyle. But Gruner & Jahr USA Publishing still decided to fold Mary Emmerling's Country after seven issues . . . RIP, too, to Lear's magazine . . . Spy magazine returned from the grave under new ownership . . . Mouth2Mouth--the flashy mag for older teens--put out two test issues and waited to hear if Time Inc. Ventures would give it a full-blown launch.

Old Faithfuls: People magazine turned 20 . . . American Heritage marked its 40th anniversary with an engaging (January, 1995) issue that lets Walter Cronkite, Richard Reeves and a chorus of other voices size up the past four decades . . . Seventeen turned 50 . . . The Daily Racing Form ("America's Turf Authority") and Billboard each began their second century.

Start-ups Awaited: They include George, a political mag being planned by John F. Kennedy Jr. and a partner, and This Old House Magazine, being developed by Time Inc. Ventures and WGBH Boston, producer of public television's "This Old House" series.

The "Liberal" Media?: Rush Limbaugh was hired by the New York Times to appear in a TV ad . . . Times Books, a division of Random House, announced last week that it would soon ship about 100,000 copies of "Contract With America: The Bold Plan by Rep. Newt Gingrich, Rep. Dick Armey and the House Republicans to Change the Nation."

* Paul D. Colford's column is published Fridays.

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