Despite objections, 'If I Did It' is doing it

Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- It was derided as a cheap publishing stunt, a book that major publishers wouldn't touch and booksellers vowed to ignore. But four weeks after its release, "If I Did It: Confessions of the Killer," a book penned by O.J. Simpson and co-writer Pablo Fenjves, is a fixture on bestseller lists.

The book, which was wrested away from Simpson by the family of Ron Goldman in a Bankruptcy Court proceeding and published last month, has sold 68,000 copies, according to Nielsen Bookscan, which tracks about 70% of U.S. book sales. Beaufort Books President Eric Kampmann, who published the title, suggests that the actual sales figure may be a lot higher, more in the range of 100,000 to 120,000 copies, based on his firm's internal data.

But if sales figures have momentarily stilled skeptics, questions continue to hover over the book, which offers a "hypothetical confessional" by the former football star as to how he might have carried out the 1994 killings of Goldman and his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson. The Goldman family, which said it published the book to satisfy a Bankruptcy Court's order, has pledged that "a portion" of the proceeds will be donated to the Ron Goldman Foundation for Justice, a nonprofit organization that aims to "empower, inspire, motivate, and assist people who are victims of crime," according to a note on the book's last page. Yet the family does not know precisely how much of the proceeds will be made available or when, and the website for the foundation does not yet offer information about grants that may be available in the future.

Asked how much of the proceeds would be given to the foundation, Kim Goldman said in an interview: "I wish I could tell you. We have no idea, as candid and frank as I can be . . . I don't even know what my family and I earn [from the book] at the end of the day. And I'm not blowing off the question, I just don't know and I don't want to misrepresent."

Goldman said she wasn't surprised by the book's early sales, because "people have a morbid curiosity" about Simpson, who was acquitted in 1995 of the twin killings but later found liable for wrongful death in civil court. Others in the publishing world, however, said they were caught off guard by the early sales.

"It turned out to be the kind of book where people respond to a lot of media attention, and then it sells, until interest wanes," said Cathy Langer, lead buyer for the Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver. Kampmann added "there really wasn't a groundswell of revulsion we might have expected."

Denise Brown, Nicole Brown Simpson's sister, has remained bitterly critical of the Goldmans' decision to publish the book. She criticized "If I Did It" for the author's scathing written attack on her late sister, and said in an e-mail message that "if it were Ron the 100 pages was trashing, Goldman would never have published it. So I think that says it all. I believe our word is all we have and if that's no good then we have nothing."

Asked to explain the book's early success, many chalk it up to good timing.

Just before it was released, Fred and Kim Goldman, Ron Goldman's father and sister, appeared on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" to discuss the title. Although Winfrey herself voiced distaste for the book, that exposure greatly boosted sales, according to publishing industry observers.

Then, about the same time, Simpson burst back into the news after his arrest in Las Vegas in an armed robbery case, with 10 felony counts later filed against him. The combination helped propel the book onto several bestseller lists.

"If I Did It" went as high as No. 2 on the New York Times list until falling this week to the 13th spot. It is No. 7 on the Los Angeles Times bestseller list this week, and hit No. 4 on the Washington Post list soon after publication. Booksellers around the country report modest but continuing sales: Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena has sold 18 copies so far, according to promotional director Jennifer Ramos.

Many bookstores, including large chains, are keeping copies of "If I Did It" on their shelves. But few have put the book on display. Indeed, the title has attracted intense criticism at every stage of its path to publication. The title was originally part of a book and TV deal pushed by HarperCollins' maverick publisher Judith Regan. The company canceled the project amid a huge national outcry, including criticism from the Goldman family. The Goldmans' position changed, however, when they won control of the manuscript. The family -- which has been trying unsuccessfully to collect its share of a $38-million judgment against Simpson, a result of the 1997 civil court proceeding -- believes it was essential to remove the book from his control and prevent him from making money on the project.

The book includes a prologue by "If I Did It" co-writer Fenjves, an afterword by Dominick Dunne and a commentary, "He Did It," written by the Goldman family.

Although many critics have attacked her family for giving new life to such a tainted product, Kim Goldman said it was the right thing to do. She also rejected the idea that her family would somehow be able to collect its huge bankruptcy judgment from Simpson in the form of cash proceeds from the buying public.

"This book will not generate anything close to what he has been ordered to pay," she said. "At the end of the day, it's peanuts."

josh.getlin@latimes.com

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