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A Bold Move Meant to Increase Its Voice

February 09, 1996|PAUL D. COLFORD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Village Voice tried to throw a body blow this week in the battle among New York City's weekly publications by announcing that it will be available free of charge in Manhattan starting April 10.

Leonard Stern, chairman of the Hartz Group, owns the Voice and also LA Weekly and OC Weekly--which are distributed free--through the Hartz subsidiary, Stern Publishing.

Voice Publisher David Schneiderman said the bold move would more than double the Voice's circulation in Manhattan--to 150,000--while attracting advertisers to offset the loss of local newsstand sales. The Voice will continue to sell for $1.25 a copy outside its Manhattan base, bringing total circulation to an estimated 200,000.

"This is a preemptive strike into the future," Schneiderman said. "The plan is to increase circulation and grow market share. We'd like to reach a circulation of a quarter-million."

The Voice, whose mix of progressive politics, extensive arts coverage and voluminous classified ads has made the paper a feisty fixture of New York life, has dipped in circulation to 118,000 during recent years as the New York Observer, the New York Press (a freebie) and the new Time Out New York have emerged as competitors.

*

Novel Ideas: If publishing requires equal measures of author inspiration and marketing perspiration, then the efforts behind two new books--one by the little known David Foster Wallace, the other by mega-seller Stephen King--illustrate the idea.

In Wallace's new novel, "Infinite Jest," Little, Brown and Co. recognized months ago that it had a challenge. The novel is a sprawling (three pounds, 1,079-pages) cautionary tale set in a future where television no longer exists and time is sold to brand names (such as "The Year of the Tucks Medicated Pad").

Not only would this be a hefty tome at a stiff price ($29.95), but the author's name would hardly spark instant recognition beyond those connoisseurs of literary fiction who remember his well-received novel "The Broom of the System" and his short-story collection "Girl With Curious Hair," both published years ago.

Little, Brown's marketing and publicity departments rose to the challenge by sending out a series of postcards designed to generate the first murmurings of that most desirable of commodities--buzz. Booksellers, industry people and reviewers received, at three-week intervals, cards that progressively revealed the title and author's name.

Besides wanting to get the buzz buzzing, the publisher worked to highlight the Generation X pedigree of Wallace, who is 33, lives near Bloomington, Ill., and teaches English at Illinois State University.

And let's not forget that there will be the requisite New York book party and a nine-city author tour.

Sales? Too early to tell.

Buzz? You bet. Newsweek calls "Infinite Jest" a "truly remarkable novel." In New York magazine, Walter Kirn says: "It's as though Paul Bunyan had joined the NFL or Wittgenstein had gone on 'Jeopardy!' The novel is that colossally disruptive. And that spectacularly good."

By contrast, Stephen King needs no drumbeat. But after turning out bestseller after bestseller, King has no less clever a marketing eye. "The Green Mile" is a serial thriller.

Part 1, called "The Two Dead Girls," goes on sale March 25 in the form of a 100-page paperback priced at $2.99. Five more paperback installments will follow from Signet at monthly intervals.

King got the idea from Charles Dickens, who released many of his popular tales in a serial manner. Fans in New York used to wait on the docks for ships carrying his latest installment from England.

"As a writer, I get to keep an otherwise impossible measure of control and pace over the reader, letting the anticipation build and allowing time for the reader to imagine the possibilities to come next month," King says in a letter to booksellers. "As a reader, I've always treasured that magical, unturned page."

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

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