In a week in which publishing mogul S.I. Newhouse Jr. announced stunning plans to get out of the book business, he can draw comfort again from the recognition being earned by some of the magazines that will remain part of his family's core interests.
The Newhouse-owned Advance Publications Inc. is selling Random House and its sister book companies to Bertelsmann, the German media conglomerate, in a deal valued at around $1.3 billion. Details of the transaction were circulating on Monday, and so were this year's nominations for the National Magazine Awards.
The New Yorker, the jewel of Newhouse's magazines, leads with seven nominations in seven categories, including reporting, feature writing, fiction, public interest, essays and criticism, single-topic issues, and general excellence.
In general excellence (among magazines with circulations of 400,000 to 1 million), the New Yorker is competing with Conde Nast House & Garden, which Newhouse's Conde Nast Publications relaunched in 1996.
In general excellence (circulation of over 1 million), two other Conde Nast magazines, Vanity Fair and Vogue, are among the five nominees. Vanity Fair also is nominated, along with Conde Nast Traveler, for essays and criticism.
After the New Yorker, Harper's Magazine and Rolling Stone tied with five nominations apiece.
Perennial honoree Harper's has a comparatively modest circulation of 218,000, which belies the magazine's substantial reportage, literary merit and thoughtfulness. (Witness longtime editor Lewis H. Lapham's evocative, fly-on-the-wall account in the April issue of attending a recent "Millennium Evening" inside the embattled White House of President Bill Clinton.)
For Rolling Stone, nominations in the categories of general excellence, special interests, reporting (two nominations) and single-topic issues go a long way to recall the perception-vs.-reality case that the magazine has made in ad campaigns. That is, the perception that Rolling Stone is nothing but a long-haired rocker has long since been outdated by the reality that the 1.25-million-circulation monthly is serious about journalism, politics, rock music (of course) and more.
Another monthly with bragging rights this spring is Worth. The personal-finance magazine, which was launched in 1992 and now has a circulation of 526,000, earned four nominations--in special interests, public interest, essays and criticism, and single-topic issues.
The Oscars of the magazine business will be awarded by the American Society of Magazine Editors on April 29 in New York.
Taking It From the Source: One of the tougher trends for magazines in the past 10 years or more has been the dramatic falloff in the sale of copies at newsstands and checkout counters. The growth of cable TV and other media saturation are among the factors blamed for the decline, as magazines work to grow their mail-subscription bases while still trying to hook single-copy buyers with increasingly provocative covers.
And few magazines know the street as well as the Source ("the Magazine of Hip-Hop Music, Culture & Politics"), whose April issue offers a rough-edged interview with Snoop Doggy Dogg in which the rap artist recalls the really bad blood that prompted his news-making exit from Death Row Records. Ten years after publisher David Mays, then a Harvard University undergraduate, founded the publication as a two-page newsletter, the grown-up and glossy Source is drawing industry attention because of its circulation growth, especially at newsstands.
The Source's paid circulation in the second half of 1997 grew an impressive 21% from a year earlier, averaging nearly 371,000 copies per issue and prompting the magazine to raise its circulation guarantee to advertisers to 400,000 copies a month.
This new 1998 rate base trails that of Vibe (600,000), whose end-of-1997 circulation was almost 532,000. The Source outdraws its main rival on newsstands.
Hip-hop is hot-hot. Vibe, whose editorial reach extends beyond the music, was among the 10 hottest magazines of 1997, and the Source was listed among the "10 hot up-and-comers" in Adweek's recently published annual roundup. It's based on gains in revenue, circulation, and the views of media buyers and consultants.
Meanwhile, the Source's circulation growth appears to have triggered a defensive offensive from Vibe. Advertising Age reported last week that Vibe is preparing to spin off Blaze, a hip-hop magazine aimed at an audience 16 to 24 years old, the same crowd targeted by the Source. Blaze will launch in August and rev up to 10-times-yearly frequency next year.
"My reaction to Blaze is that I'm actually not too unhappy about it," Mays said this week. "It sends a good signal out there that hip-hop is a very important, influential market that's being recognized by the mainstream for its staying power and its effect on a generation of young people."
And the Source has a more imminent spinoff of its own. The Source Sports will launch as a quarterly in May with a premiere issue featuring the Hip-Hop NBA All-Star Team, a look at the Latrell Sprewell / P.J. Carlesimo dust-up and other stories.
The Source has had a sports section all along. "Outside of music, sports is our readers' biggest interest," Mays said. "I see the spinoff as a natural complement to what we've been doing."
He added that he expects the Source's circulation to exceed 500,000 by next year.
Serious Religion at Vintage: Vintage Books, a division of Random House known for reissuing literary fiction and serious nonfiction in handsome, oversized paperbacks, has inaugurated a line of influential religious texts. The first four titles in the series of Vintage Spiritual Classics, each introduced by a contemporary commentator, are "The Rule of Saint Benedict," "The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi," Thomas a Kempis' "The Imitation of Christ" and "The Desert Fathers," a collection of stories, translated by Helen Waddell from medieval texts, about those early Christian ascetics who communed with God far beyond the cities of North Africa and Asia Minor.
No sideline for Vintage, the series is being backed by the publisher with ads in newspapers and magazines, both secular and religious; with counter displays designed to hold the first four books; and with the publication of reading group guides.
"The Book of Job" and "The Confessions" of St. Augustine will follow in the fall.
Paul D. Colford is a columnist for Newsday. His e-mail address is email@example.com. His column is published Thursdays.