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Reason No. 10 to Buy This Book: Because It's Cool

October 06, 1995|PAUL D. COLFORD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

How's this for a title: "David Letterman's Book of Top Ten Lists and Zesty Lo-Cal Chicken Recipes." And don't forget the "special bonus" inside--plans from master carpenter Norm ("This Old House") Abram showing how to make an end table.

The nutty $16 hardcover collects more than 150 of the Top Ten Lists featured on CBS' "Late Show With David Letterman," such as "Top Ten Signs You Bought a Bad Computer" (No. 10: "Lower corner of screen has the words 'Etch a Sketch' on it") and "Top Ten Rejected Disney Movies" (No. 1: "Swiss Family Buttafuoco").

It's the latest comedy offering from Bantam Books, which on Monday laid down an estimated 375,000 copies in stores. As the cover explains, "It's like watching TV--with the added danger of paper cuts."

If Bantam has its way, the Letterman book will approach the super sales achieved by the house's three other comedy hits--Jerry Seinfeld's "Seinlanguage" (Bantam Books, 1993) and Paul Reiser's "Couplehood" (Bantam Books, 1994), both of which have more than a million copies in print, and Ellen DeGeneres' new bestseller, "My Point . . . and I Do Have One" (Bantam Books, 1995), whose total has grown to more than 500,000 copies. Howard Stern's "Private Parts" (Simon & Schuster, 1993) and Tim Allen's "Don't Stand Too Close to a Naked Man" (Hyperion, 1994) are two other examples of comedy publishing sensations.

By TV standards, these numbers are paltry. In the week ending Sept. 24, for example, NBC's top-rated "ER" drew 37.5 million viewers. However, by bookselling standards, Bantam's million-plus figures represent huge, money-making successes.

"When you have a success with comedy, or a pop-culture title, you connect with an audience that wants that information in book form," says Irwyn Applebaum, Bantam's president and publisher since 1992. That is, even though most of the Top 10 lists in the new Letterman book already have generated laughs on TV, Bantam believes that fans will still find the printed collection funny and stupid.

What may help spur sales, besides the authors' enormous name recognition, is the proliferation in recent years of chain super-stores and the increasing availability of books in Price Clubs and other steep-discount outlets. The super-stores, many of which feature coffee bars and browser-friendly sofas, are ringing up big business around the country, and the discounters represent a newfound avenue to consumers. As Applebaum put it, "These outlets are reaching an audience that may never have gotten into the habit of visiting traditional bookstores."

*

Committed Readers: Ten years have passed since Advance Magazine Publishers Inc., owned by the Newhouse family, purchased the New Yorker. Three years have passed since chairman S.I. Newhouse Jr. named Tina Brown editor in chief, prompting reams of media coverage about the overhaul she has implemented at the landmark outlet of James Thurber, E.B. White and John Updike.

So how's the New Yorker doing?

Estimated ad revenues in 1994 of $77.4 million were up 9.7% over 1993. The estimated ad total through the first eight months of this year--$43 million--was up nearly 10% over the same period in 1994.

In addition, the magazine recently reported to the Audit Bureau of Circulations an all-time high circulation of 833,672 (over 628,000 when Brown took over) so that the weekly has decided to raise the circulation it will guarantee advertisers to 725,000 (from 700,000), effective Jan. 8. This means the New Yorker will raise ad rates accordingly, while giving advertisers a handsome six-figure bonus above the magazine's so-called rate base of 725,000.

According to Thomas A. Florio, president of the New Yorker, the magazine has added new subscribers to a base consisting of those readers who have been on board since before Brown started to shake things up. Florio said the magazine's success in converting first-time subscribers to a higher renewal price and its higher than 70% renewal rate among longstanding subscribers dramatically exceed industry averages. Translation: Readers are committed.

At the same time, what hangs over the New Yorker is a belief entrenched in media circles that the magazine, which had three times the number of ad pages during the 1960s, has been losing gobs of money. In 1991, the New Yorker reportedly lost $10 million. More recently, skeptics in the industry have speculated that annual losses may go as high as $15 million.

Florio scoffed at the doomsday guesswork, saying the growth in subscriptions and increases in newsstand and subscription prices "have dropped a significant amount of cash to our bottom line." In addition, Florio said, a restructuring of the company, combined with production advances, has helped reduce business and editorial costs.

"We expect to break even by the end of 1996," he said.

* Paul D. Colford is a columnist for Newsday. His column is published Fridays.

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