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A Return to Tough Times for Ms. Magazine


Hold on to the September-October issue of Ms. magazine because it may be the last--at least for a while.

The feminist magazine founded by Gloria Steinem and others 26 years ago has entered a state of uncertain flux.


Word had filtered out in mid-August that the magazine's owner, MacDonald Communications Corp., might not publish the bimonthly's November-December issue.

And that is, indeed, the case as MacDonald negotiates a possible sale of Ms. to a group that includes editor in chief Marcia Ann Gillespie and Steinem, who is a consulting editor.

Gillespie did not return a phone call, and Steinem's office referred this reporter to Jay C. MacDonald, president and chief executive of the Manhattan-based company. MacDonald's spokeswoman, Christina Duffney, said this week that her boss has set a deadline of Oct. 13 for a deal to be worked out.

MacDonald is the knight who appeared after an anxious few months in 1996 and bought Ms., Working Woman and Working Mother magazines from the embattled Lang Communications. A key investor in Lang wanted a healthier return on its dollar.

Although MacDonald proclaimed in 1996 that he valued his three new magazines as well-established brand names on which to build his company, his group purchase amounted only to an interim rescue of Ms. The ad-free magazine with the forceful editorial focus was an awkward fit for a company that has come to concentrate on products and services for business women.

"From the beginning, Jay planned to keep Ms. in the MacDonald Communications family with the intention of breaking it off eventually," Duffney said. "It was agreed upon in the beginning of this year that we should get things moving. Jay said then that the September-October issue would be the last one he would publish."

A sale to Steinem and company may be near, Duffney added. Afterward, though, it's possible there would be a lag before publication resumes.

"Ms.' existence from the beginning has been a struggle," said Mary Thom, a contributing editor and the author of "Inside Ms.," a history of the magazine reissued in paperback last month by Henry Holt & Co. The magazine's owners through the years have included a foundation and an Australian company.

Publication was suspended for a time when Lang bought Ms. in 1989. Advertisements--which were never easy to come by, given some of Ms.' outspoken views--were dropped in 1991 as the magazine decided to rely on the continued support of committed readers, whose subscriptions would cost a pricey $45 for six issues a year. Single copies sell for $5.95.

Circulation, which rose to 500,000 in the years after Ms. launched, now hovers around 200,000.

"It was breaking even, but you still have to invest in the magazine to keep up the subscription base," Thom said. One circulation come-on, Daffney noted, is a reduced $35 subscription offer found on postcards blown into the current issue.

It features Alice Walker on the cover and an interview with the author about her new novel, "By the Light of My Father's Smile" (Random House). There is also an interview with the radical scholar Angela Davis, a report on the growing number of women in prison and a piece on gay women in college and professional sports, "where closeted coaches are teaching closeted athletes how to play the game."

Gillespie, the editor in chief, has written an introductory essay that might almost pass for Ms.' coda. She concludes: "Young women have choices and opportunities that they take for granted but that would not exist if it weren't for feminism."


Starr Reports Fly: The three paperback editions of independent counsel Kenneth Starr's initial report, all of them titled "The Starr Report," rank among the biggest sellers in the country since their release last week. Additional printings prompted by continuing demand have raised the total number of copies in print to 1.7 million.

Business has been so good that two of the three publishers--Pocket Books and PublicAffairs--both announced Monday that they would produce abridged editions of the 2,800 pages from Starr's office that were released that morning. Pocket also will publish a 1,344-page unabridged edition. The new paperbacks are expected in stores by the weekend or early next week.


How to Make Money: Just as President Clinton's woes have given a bestseller boost to several books, so too has another ongoing story--the gyrations in the stock market, which helped break out a few money titles besides Suze Orman's long-distance seller, "The 9 Steps to Financial Freedom" (Crown).

Among the top nonfiction sellers at, the online bookstore, are Marc Friedfertig and George West's "The Electronic Day Trader," which offers strategies in the wisdom-defying practice of dipping in and out of stocks quickly online. McGraw-Hill started out in May with 14,000 copies of the book and now has 70,000 in print.

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