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A Broadway Opening That May Be in for the Long Run

May 16, 1996|PAUL D. COLFORD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The transformation of the Times Square area is well underway as triple-X theaters and Runyonesque honky-tonks give way to the new Virgin Megastore, theme restaurants and grand plans by the Walt Disney Co. and Conde Nast magazines to occupy still other properties. In addition, high above the neon dazzle, Broadway Books has had its Broadway opening.

Broadway Books is the fourth general-interest publisher in the Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, which is based in the gleaming tower at 1540 Broadway that its parent media giant, Bertelsmann A. G. of Germany, calls home in North America. Broadway's stylish logo shows a capital B emerging from behind a diagonal line, symbolizing the northwest-to-southeast cut of Broadway across the grid of Manhattan.

"To open on Broadway is the ultimate debut and success," William M. Shinker, the president and publisher of Broadway Books, told a festive gathering of authors and industry people the other night. "I also think that Broadway is the quintessential American street."

Shinker illustrated the company's spiritual connection to the eclectic thoroughfare 44 floors below by describing a litany of titles that Broadway will publish during the next 18 months. Starting in August, the books will include "Bare Knuckles and Back Rooms," a memoir by Republican strategist Ed Rollins; "Picture This," a photographic diary by Tipper Gore, and "Let's Pave the Stupid Rain Forests & Give School Teachers Stun Guns," a polemical trade paperback by the pseudonymous Ed Anger of the Weekly World News.

The months ahead also will bring new novels by Dennis McFarland, Richard Price and Tim O'Brien, as well as Charles Murray's "What It Means to Be a Libertarian," an as yet untitled memoir by sportscaster Bob Costas, a biography of Louis Armstrong by Laurence Bergreen and eight cookbooks.

Jack Hoeft, the chairman and chief executive officer of Bantam Doubleday Dell, said he had conceived of the new division in order to strengthen the publishing group's hand in nonfiction and to increase its market share in trade paperbacks, those oversize softcovers that have become increasingly popular among book buyers. "One area we never did as well in was nonfiction, despite the success of Norman Schwarzkopf's autobiography [published by Bantam] and other books," Hoeft said. "And when it came to trade paperbacks, HarperCollins was one of the companies performing quite well."

As a result, when Shinker resigned in 1994 as publisher of HarperCollins, where his nonfiction hits included John Gray's megaselling "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus," Hoeft approached him to head Broadway Books. One of Shinker's first moves was to hire John Sterling, the former editor in chief of Houghton Mifflin, as Broadway's vice president and editor in chief. Plans call for Broadway eventually to put out 150 books a year, half in hardcover and half in trade paperback.

In the retail marketplace, it's widely assumed that only the most discriminating buyers differentiate between publishers. So the news of Broadway's launch may not resonate far beyond the industry.

At the same time, as the industry undergoes consolidation, and the less-profitable imprints within big publishing houses function no more, it's remarkable that one of the giants is aiming for even greater diversity.

Lightning Rod: The runaway success of Dennis Rodman's "Bad As I Wanna Be," which will debut Sunday on the New York Times' national bestseller list at No. 1, is a classic example of consumer interest wildly exceeding booksellers' expectations.

Delacorte Press went to market on May 1 with only 150,000 copies because retailers had been ho-hum about the publisher's sales pitches, figuring that this would be just another jock memoir. Instead, swift sales have sent Delacorte back to press again and again, bringing the number of copies in print two weeks later to 650,000. Rodman's flamboyance on and off the basketball court, including his published recollections of a steamy affair with Madonna and one-on-one interview with Oprah Winfrey, helped move more than 20,000 copies last week in the Barnes & Noble chain alone.

'3001': A Space Break: Arthur C. Clarke is 78 now, still pondering the heavens from his home in Sri Lanka and extending his imagination as far.

The novelist, who created with director Stanley Kubrick the film classic "2001: A Space Odyssey," is writing the fourth and concluding installment in his space series.

Ballantine's Del Rey Books division will publish "3001: The Final Odyssey" in the fall of 1997. The book will, in Clarke's words, "discard many of the elements of its precursors, but develop others--and I hope more important ones--in much greater detail."

Progress on the novel had been stalled by the explosion in 1986 of the Challenger space shuttle, which was to have put the Galileo space probe on a course to Jupiter and provide information that Clarke had to wait to obtain.

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

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