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The 'King of All Media' Faces Down Bill Gates

November 24, 1995|PAUL D. COLFORD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Love him or hate him, when it comes to book sales, Howard Stern has set the bar high. The radio broadcaster, whose "Miss America" reached stores Nov. 7, sold more copies in the first week than Colin Powell and O.J. Simpson did in their first weeks combined.

Sales of "Miss America" leveled off last week at Barnes & Noble, but not before an estimated 4,000 fans kept the self-proclaimed "King of All Media" signing copies for 7 1/2 hours Saturday at the chain's Carle Place, N.Y., store. The book remained B & N's top seller for the second week.

Who are Stern's main competitors in this busy fall publishing season? Powell and Microsoft chairman Bill Gates.

"The Road Ahead," Gates' view of where the information highway is leading us, goes on sale today. It is receiving an 800,000-copy first printing from Viking Penguin and the kind of multimedia marketing push not seen since Microsoft's Windows 95 software captured retail and media attention in August.

The elements include extensive advertising for the book, a provocative excerpt in the Nov. 27 issue of Newsweek (now on sale), a Gates appearance on "Nightline" last night and a series of media stops by the author starting next week. In addition, Viking is putting promotional teasers on a Bill Gates web site on the Internet (http://www.penguin. com/road/ahead), including an audio clip, an excerpt and information about the CD-ROM included with the $29.95 book.

Retailers were reporting a buildup of interest from customers, who have been asking for the book for weeks. Copies arrived in many storerooms days ago, but were withheld from sale in keeping with today's uniform "lay-down" date--a date set and enforced by publishers of big books to maintain a level selling field among competing stores, some of which may have received copies sooner than others.

Written with Microsoft executive Nathan Myhrvold and journalist Peter Rinearson, "The Road Ahead" is being published a year behind schedule. Gates was paid more than $2.5 million by Viking Penguin.

"It reminds me of the Iacocca book," said Bob Wietrack, Barnes & Noble's senior merchandise manager. Former Chrysler chairman Lee Iacocca's autobiographical "Iacocca," published by Bantam in 1984, sold 2.6 million copies in hardcover.

"Between what Viking Penguin is doing and what Microsoft is doing for the Gates book, this will be huge," Wietrack said. "It's going to be a race between Powell and Gates for the No. 1 seller of the season."

The assumption is that Stern's numbers, though surging now, with 1.4 million copies in circulation (up from the 1 million initially printed by ReganBooks), will not sustain a long run on the bestseller list.

Powell's "My American Journey," bumped from the top spot on the national bestseller lists by "Miss America," continues to sell strongly despite the former general's recent decision to sit out the 1996 presidential campaign. "People are more interested in him now, I think," Wietrack said. "You really want to know more about the man. . . . It seems as if people are looking for heroes."

Wietrack predicted that "My American Journey," like Barbara Bush's "Barbara Bush" and H. Norman Schwarzkopf's "It Doesn't Take a Hero," will remain on the bestseller list for six months to a year because the Powell book works not only as history but as the biography of an admirable figure.

Random House, which introduced "My American Journey" on Sept. 17 with a 950,000-copy volley, reported this week that there are now nearly 1.6 million copies in print.

*

On the Racks: Forbes' annual ranking of the 500 largest private companies in the United States appears in the business magazine's Dec. 4 issue. Among privately held media firms, Advance Publications (the Newhouse family's empire of newspapers, the Conde Nast magazines, the New Yorker and Random House book publishing) ranks highest, No. 23, with estimated annual revenue of nearly $4.9 billion. Other contenders include Cox Enterprises, No. 37, $3.4 billion; the Hearst Corp., No. 48, $2.3 billion; Ziff-Davis Publishing, No. 216, $813 million; Baker & Taylor (the giant book distributor), No. 232, $785 million; Bloomberg Financial Markets, No. 292, $650 million, and Cablevision Industries, No. 477, $408 million . . . .

Hoping to flee the rat race? Want to downshift? Read the December issue of Working Woman. This not-for-women-only issue is titled "Get a Life." In it, Anna Quindlen sorts through the conflicted responses that greeted her decision last year to give up her popular New York Times column and write novels full time--"The time we are afforded to find happiness and satisfaction cannot be spared or wasted." Management guru Tom Peters explains why he's taking a year off. Barbara Ehrenreich examines the search for a "simpler life."

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

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