Tabloid sensitive to profit margin in Simpson book

July 08, 1994|By Leigh Jackson | Leigh Jackson,Knight-Ridder News Service

They strive so hard for good taste, these Globe guys.

Upstairs, six Remington statues, a fake Rembrandt and assorted paintings line a hallway of hand-painted Chinese wallpaper and matching plush teal carpeting.

Downstairs, 20 reporters, who normally dish La Liz, Michael Jackson and the Kennedys, are digging for dirt on Nicole Brown Simpson's trophy-wife life, sordid death and the No. 1 murder suspect: her ex-husband, football legend O. J. Simpson. By the time Mr. Simpson takes Los Angeles cops on a slow-speed chase to nowhere, the whole country is obsessed.

And Globe Communications Corp., publisher of the supermarket tabloid the Globe as well as the National Examiner and cheesy detective magazines, has its first book.

Two hundred thousand copies of "Juice: The O.J. Simpson Tragedy" hit the stands Wednesday, joining 500,000 copies of St. Martin's Press' "Fallen Hero: The Shocking True Story Behind the O.J. Simpson Tragedy" by Don Davis and 450,000 of Pinnacle Books' "O.J. Simpson: American Hero/American Tragedy," by Marc Cerasini.

All three books are pitched at an impulse-buy price of $4.99.

Instant books are not new. Avin Mark Domnitz, president of the American Booksellers Association, recalls quickie books on John Kennedy's assassination, the 1968 riots, the Persian Gulf War.

But through the miracles of modern technology, book publishers have been able to keep quicker pace with the same kind of back-stabbing, money-grabbing attempt at trash that the rest of the media enjoys.

"I did [serial killer] Jeffrey Dahmer in a month and that looks like forever now," said Mr. Davis, who wrote the St. Martin's Press book on Mr. Simpson in one week.

Of course, the cost of speed is built-in obsolescence.

"These books are really a hybrid between newspapers and a book. They're long magazine articles with covers. They have a life of one, two or three days and then they're gone," said Mr. Domnitz.

Since its foray into book publishing, everyone at the Globe is talking sensitivity and perspective and respectability. "This is a serious book," notes Phil Bunton, Globe editor.

"Bill was a little nervous at first," said Nancy Hayfield Birnes, who with her husband William edited and designed the book. "O.J. is such a big celebrity that if we're wrong, we're going to look really insensitive."

Globe folks also talk "price points" and "best seller." The Globe is poised to print new editions in two days, with plans to reach beyond the tabloid's 1.5 million weekly readers.

This is, after all, the Juice.

And the book is, after all, a real book, a far cry from the Globe's 10-inch stories on movie-set spats and celebrity drug problems -- legally vetted, double-sourced, with real paperback covers, 225 pages and 32 pages of black-and-white photos.

"It's a panic," burbled Terry Raskyn, a Globe vice president and the book's main honcho.

Ms. Raskyn, whose background is 20 years in radio and television news, knew, as she says, "bupkus" about publishing a book until she was approached by the Birneses, owners of a Los Angeles book packager. They pushed the book idea two days after Mrs. Simpson's body was found. After being turned down by seven publishers, they approached the Globe's Ms. Raskyn, who bit after watching Mr. Simpson's chase on television.

"It was a gut feeling. That chase took the story from one level to outer space," said Ms. Raskyn.

The book was churned out so quickly over the course of one caffeine-fueled weekend that the Birneses have not yet signed a contract.

Last Friday afternoon, writers Larry Browne and Paul Francis walked into their carpeted Florida newsroom to discover that they would be the new book's authors. Editor Bunton provided a detailed outline. Other reporters filed notes and ghost-wrote chapters, and modemed them to Los Angeles for editing. In the (( middle of an Atlanta wedding that weekend, lawyers checked incoming chapters for libel.

"The worst moment was after working all day and night Friday," said Mr. Browne. "We had one chapter finished."

But by Monday morning, Mr. Browne and Mr. Francis finished -- 400 manuscript pages worth.

By Tuesday they were done, and the exhausted writers were back to what they knew -- putting out an issue of the Globe that will feature the "shocking" and "true" story of Mr. Simpson. And shill the book.

Does this quickie book explosion add up to exploitation?

"Yeah, I had those qualms late at night. Was I trying to make money off people's pain and suffering?" Mr. Cerasini said. "But for a week's work, I think I did pretty well."

"I'm a little late on the ghoul train," said Mr. Davis. "Television covered this thing like a rug live, and for rating points."

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