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George Makes It Through the Thick Jungle of Competition

May 23, 1996|PAUL D. COLFORD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

To describe a few highlights of George's June/July issue is to wonder how this magazine of politics lite could have come so far so quickly.

Demi Moore, that great political theorist, is the cover girl (costumed like Martha Washington) and beats the by-now-deafening tympany heralding her new flick, "Striptease," as she answers questions about sexual power. In a striking bit of marketing synergy that other magazines would resist, her interviewer is Carl Hiassen, who happens to be the author of the novel "Strip Tease."

In other articles, Jon Stewart, former talk-show host and enduring Gen X poster boy, presents the "transcript" of a Scrabble-playing boys' night out with Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Bob Dole and Strom Thurmond. And the singer Gloria Estefan, party affiliation unknown, answers at length George's recurring question of what she would do as president: "I would encourage us to be a fearless nation, moving forward into the new century with an ever-growing respect for all life."

Celebrity puffery, sure, but George's co-founder and editor in chief, John F. Kennedy Jr., told us to expect as much when he attracted reporters from around the world to the magazine's launch event in September. He explained that George would be "entertainment-driven," as well as political, and would cover the arts from a political perspective. The magazine's motto, after all, is "not just politics as usual."

The news this week is that George's focus appears to be working just fine. Well ahead of schedule, the magazine will switch from bimonthly to monthly frequency starting in August. According to George's president, Michael J. Berman, after only five issues the publication is nearing a circulation of 500,000, between the roughly 200,000 mail subscriptions (an outstanding sum so soon after start-up) and an average newsstand sale of more than 250,000 (also impressive, exceeding the single-copy sales of both Time and Newsweek).

George, which is not a member of the Audit Bureau of Circulations, has swiftly surpassed the circulations of the more traditional political magazines, such as National Review (200,000) and the New Republic (100,000). George is published by the entrepreneurial George Publishing Co. and managed by the giant Hachette Filipacchi Magazines.

"As co-founder, am I surprised by what has happened? No," Berman said. "As a businessman who heard all the stories about how we were going against convention for a political magazine, yes, I'm pleasantly surprised."

To be fair, George is hooking readers, and then getting them to mail in those subscription cards, by offering not only Demi Moore and Howard Stern on the covers, but also some rigorous journalistic fare.

In the new issue, bare-knuckles reporter Robert Sam Anson pauses from the book he is writing about the Walt Disney Co. to take apart power journalist Bob Woodward and his method of operating, a piece that is sure to circulate widely in news circles. There's also an inside account of how President Clinton's speech writers work with their boss and a takeout on the sugar barons of Florida and their far-reaching political clout.

As Berman put it, "The idea was that our readers would not be typical, political-magazine readers. We would give them much of what they already know, with the covers and party shots and all that, and once they're inside we would excite them with new material."

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Early Highlights of Fall: "The Run of His Life," a book about the O.J. Simpson case being written by Jeffrey Toobin, who covered the story for the New Yorker, is scheduled for publication in October by Random House. The publisher's fall catalog states, melodramatically: "Due to the highly confidential nature of the material, we are unable to comment on the contents of the book at this time." Meantime, Marcia Clark's memoir is expected at the end of this year or in early 1997, according to Viking Penguin. The timetable may allow Johnnie Cochran to have the last word. His memoir is tentatively scheduled for release next spring from Ballantine. But a representative of the publisher says it may come out this fall depending on when the manuscript is delivered.

On Alfred A. Knopf's fall list are John Updike, writing on golf ("Golf Dreams"), and Joan Didion, whose first novel in 12 years is "The Last Thing He Wanted," a tale of arms dealing, politics and romance set in the United States and the Caribbean. Robert Gottlieb, the former president of Knopf and former editor of the New Yorker, is listed as the editor of a big book on jazz that Pantheon plans to publish in November. "Reading Jazz: A Gathering of Autobiography, Reportage and Criticism From 1919 to Now" will run 960 pages and cost $40.

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Afterwords: Newsweek on Wednesday introduced a Spanish-language edition, Newsweek En Espanol, for distribution throughout the Americas. The magazine, published in Miami by Ideas & Capital under a licensing agreement with the weekly, is available at select newsstands in the United States.

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

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