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The Diana Coverage Isn't Over Yet

September 18, 1997|PAUL D. COLFORD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It seems impossible to believe that Princess Diana will appear far less often on the covers of magazines that have found reason to showcase her golden portraits time and again. But before Diana Mania gives way to a closer interest in her two sons and her enduring impact on the British monarchy, mass-market publications have been serving up pages and pages of coverage--with more to come--in response to public interest whose scope has stunned many editors.

Last week's issue of People, the first in the magazine's history to run no words on the cover and the 44th to feature the princess, was available in far greater quantity because of anticipated demand for the annual feature on best- and worst-dressed celebs. Still, distribution of the 3.3 million copies was selling out in spots around the country, prompting People to keep its so-called draw again this week at 3.3 million copies, instead of returning to its customary run of 2.4 million.

This week's "Goodbye, Diana" cover package runs 49 pages. People's report on her funeral includes among its myriad details that Prince Charles wore a blue Savile Row suit to the service because his ex-wife had helped him choose it and, in the words of an expert on the royals, "It was a lovely, silent compliment to her."

And after all this ink, People has yet to weigh in with its own tribute issue. That will be available on newsstands only beginning Monday. The planned print run of 2.3 million copies will be the largest for a People tribute--bigger than the ones for such figures as Jerry Garcia, Audrey Hepburn and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

"Diana is certainly the biggest story of the year--no question about it," said Maynard Parker, the editor of Newsweek, which has put out two cover stories on the princess and a stand-alone commemorative issue since she died. Newsweek had printed 1.5 million copies of "Diana: A Celebration of Her Life"--the ad-free tribute issue went on newsstand sale two weeks ago--and this week certain wholesalers were running out of the $4.95 keepsake. Parker was in discussions about whether to print more.

"I think I have pretty good fingertips on this, but on that Saturday night (of the car crash), I would have been a bit surprised by what has happened," Parker added. "For a public reaction of this kind you really have to go back to the Oklahoma City bombing or the Persian Gulf War."

Last week's Time, dated Sept. 15 and labeled a "commemorative issue," was still being racked this week alongside the new issue, which features America Online chairman Steve Chase in a cover story on AOL's purchase of CompuServe. However, copies of this week's Time that were sent to newsstands still trumpet the Diana story--an extra flap-over on the cover features a grainy image from the Ritz Hotel's security camera taken on the fateful night under the line, "How Diana Died."

Time and Newsweek, whose single-copy sales average only 182,000 and 154,000 copies a week, respectively, may have published their biggest newsstand sellers of all time since her death, according to John Harrington, a magazine-industry veteran who publishes the New Single Copy, a weekly newsletter for distributors.

"When you see what the public is doing in response to Diana's death, it really does drive magazine sales," Harrington said. "It's not a real creative business--it's very event-driven and personality-driven."

And the monthly magazines have yet to deliver their own coverage.

Meanwhile, the National Enquirer, Star and Globe first felt the sting of a backlash against their issues that were in place on the weekend Diana died, Harrington said. Anger over the paparazzi's alleged role in her car crash led to denunciation of the tabloids by certain stars and a refusal by a few store chains to display the papers. Rosie O'Donnell, back from vacation last week, told her TV audience to peruse the tabs while waiting in checkout lines--then return them to the rack before reaching the cash register.

Sales figures are hard to come by because of delays in reporting the numbers by wholesalers. "But I'd be surprised if, in the long run, the backlash had a major impact on the tabloids' sale," Harrington added. Indeed, partly in response to the backlash, the tabs have softened their Diana coverage to a reverential tone--for example, from the Enquirer's "Di goes sex-mad" before her death to last week's "Farewell to the Princess We All Loved."

Dan Schwartz, editorial director of the Globe, said that people who read the tabs are not the same people who watch "Larry King Live" and other broadcasts where celebrities have gathered to knock the supermarket papers and their often intrusive coverage. Nevertheless, Schwartz added, the tabloids have held off dishing the dirt "out of respect for Diana and the feelings for her. The Globe's latest cover says: "Princess smiles down from heaven on her brave boys."

* Paul D. Colford is a columnist for Newsday. His e-mail address is paul.colford@newsday.com. His column is published Thursdays.

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