While the bigger Random House, Inc. dominates the charts, a number of houses are getting fair play.

The unexpected announcement in March 1998 of the consolidation of two major publishing conglomerates-Random House Inc. and Bantam Doubleday Dell-provoked high anxiety in many sectors of the book business. A major concern was the sizable market share that the combination of the two companies would command, especially when it came to bestsellers. Since the merger did not become effective until July 1, we chose to keep the tallies for Random House and BDD separate for one last time. Thus, for 1998, the two houses ranked #1 and #2, respectively, in hardcover bestseller market share and #3 and #1, respectively, for paperbacks (see chart p. 65). Naturally, when the tallies are combined the picture changes. The new and larger Random House Inc. ranks #1 in both hardcover and paperback bestsellers. However, the dramatic difference in the combination is not the top ranking, but the greater distance between #1 and #2. In hardcover, RH and BDD divisions and imprints added up to 66 new bestsellers (i.e., those that debuted in 1998), holding 43% of PW's available weekly bestseller slots. That's about three and a half times larger than publisher #2, Simon &Schuster, with 22 new 1998 hardcover bestsellers and a 12.5% share. In paperbacks, the story is almost as dramatic. RH and BDD account for 64 new bestsellers, totaling 29.4% of the available spots. That's about twice as many as publisher #2, Penguin Putnam Inc., with 36 paperback bestsellers and a 14.5% share.

Consolidation and concentration of bestselling real estate in the hands of the mighty few is not new. In 1998, seven (and here we are counting RH and BDD as separate entities) corporations took 88.3% of all hardcover bestseller slots and 78.6% of paperback ones. The 1997 figures for the same group of seven was 87.6% for hardcovers and 87.4% for paperbacks. And it is not as if scores of companies get to divvy up the remaining spaces. In 1998, if you add five more corporations-Hyperion, Grove/Atlantic Monthly, Longstreet, the Von Holtzbrinck group and Norton-then the 12 firms controlled 98.6% of all available slots on PW's 1998 weekly hardcover lists. In paperback, four companies-Hyperion, Health Communications, West Highland (with a Beanie Baby top seller) and Von Holtzbrinck-totaled another 17.8% of market share. Add that figure to the 78.6% share owned by the top seven, and you have 10 companies controlling 96.4% of the paperback bestseller real estate.

By the Numbers

The tally for the titles that did make the bestseller charts improved slightly -- 312 in 1998, vs. 306 in 1997. All the gains were in hardcover nonfiction and trade paperback. There were 69 new hardcover nonfiction titles in 1998, the largest number in five years; the 1997 total was 61. In trade paperback, there were 53 books that made a first appearance, a hefty increase from the paltry 40 newcomers in 1997 -- the all-time low.

It was a bit tougher to get a book on the fiction hardcover charts-83 titles in 1998, compared to 88 in 1997. Mass market registered its lowest number in five years: 107 new books made a first appearance vs. 117 in 1997-the highest count in the last five years.

Getting to first place, too, proved a bit harder this year. Of the 312 books that landed on the charts, 52 actually reached the pinnacle. That total represents about 16.7% of the new bestsellers, compared to about 20% in 1997. However, in fiction, a record 17 novels enjoyed a #1 rank; that's roughly 20% of the fiction that hit the charts. One reason for the increased number of players here was the shorter runs of the novels that did reach the top. The longest tenure was seven weeks, achieved by Tom Clancy for Rainbow Six and by Tom Wolfe for A Man in Full; John Grisham had a six-week run at the top with The Street Lawyer. All the other fiction high rollers had a month or less to bask in the lead position.

In nonfiction, too, about 20% of the books that made it onto the lists enjoyed a stay in the #1 slot. Fourteen nonfiction books hit #1 in 1998, the same as in 1997. The only book to enjoy a double-digit tenure in this category was Doubleday's Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom, which held the #1 slot for a total of 12 weeks last year; it was also the only hardcover that never went off the list. Finance and diet were the next best performers, with Suze Orman's The 9 Steps to Financial Freedom from Crown and Ballantine's Sugar Busters! enjoying seven and six weeks, respectively.

In mass market, 12 books were in the #1 spot over the course of the year and two enjoyed lengthy tenures. Avon's Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution, the only mass market title to stay on the list all year, achieved the #1 spot 13 times and John Grisham made it to the top 12 times with Doubleday's The Partner. Nine trade paperbacks made it to #1, but the book that hogged the top slot on this list was Hyperion's Don't Sweat the Small Stuff by Dr. Richard Carlson; it was #1 for a total of 24 weeks. The next best performer was HarperPerennial's Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells, which had a 13-week tenure atop the charts. In third place was Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul II; it ruled for the last six weeks of the year. Even more impressive was the performance of all the Chicken Soup titles. Health Communications had 10 books in the series on the trade paperback charts during 1998, for a total of 108 weeks, giving the house a 14% market share for that list.

Commercial Fiction Rules

It's not surprising that everyone cheers when a first novelist and/or new author stakes out a few weeks on the charts. During 1998, there seemed to be fewer opportunities for new players, especially in hardcover fiction. There were only two debut novels that made a first appearance -- Christopher Reich's Numbered Account from Delacorte and NPR commentator Bailey White's Quite a Year for Plums from Knopf. The other first fiction that enjoyed significant runs in the course of '98-Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha (Knopf), Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain (Atlantic Monthly) and Arundhati Roy's God of Small Things (Random House) -- were all holdovers from 1997. There were also very few new names on the hardcover fiction list. Three bestsellers from abroad-Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary (Viking) Iain Pears's An Instance of the Fingerpost (Riverhead) and Booker Prize winner Ian McEwan's Amsterdam (Doubleday)-made first appearances on that list. It was also the first time that Lorrie Moore, author of Birds of America (Knopf), made it onto the national charts.

P try, a literary form that seldom hits the charts, boasted two bestsellers.The first, Ted Hughes's Birthday Letters (Farrar, Straus &Giroux), marked the first time that Hughes wrote about his seven-year marriage to p t Sylvia Plath and her subsequent suicide. The other was Jewel Kilcher's A Night Without Armor; this HarperCollins title enjoyed a 15-week run on PW's charts. (Meanwhile, the 24-year-old singer's debut album, Pieces of You, sold 10 million copies worldwide.)

Even with these and other first-timers, last year's fiction slots were dominated by the usual suspects. Making competition even keener, many top-selling veteran novelists were especially prolific. Anne Rice had two new bestsellers, Pandora and The Vampire Armand, as did Mary Higgins Clark with You Belong to Me and All Through the Night. Robert Parker had two also -- Sudden Mischief and Trouble in Paradise; and Nora Roberts had two new hardcover fiction bestsellers, Homeport and The Reef, plus eight in mass market. And Danielle Steel had three new fiction leaders -- The Long Road Home, The Klone &I and Mirror Image, as well as her first nonfiction bestseller, His Bright Light.

The Name's the Game in NF

The hardcover nonfiction list, too, held few surprises-most of the sales activity involved books by or about well-known personalities. Princess Diana was the subject of two bestsellers -- Morrow's The Day Diana Died and St. Martins's Death of a Princess: An Investigation -- and two focused on Jackie Kennedy Onassis -- Just Jackie: Her Private Years from Ballantine and Morrow's Jackie After Jack: Portrait of the Lady. Michael Jordan and Bill Bradley penned bestsellers, as did Bob Dole, Christopher Reeve, Newt Gingrich, Steve Martin, Drew Carey, Cokie Roberts, Marilu Henner, James Carville and Jimmy Carter. Jimmy Buffett and Dave Barry made turning 50 an occasion for a bestseller. In the last month of the year, Peter Jennings's The Century and Tom Brokaw's The Greatest Generation were topping the national charts.

President Clinton's sexgate scandal was an opportunity for a wide variety of quickie bestsellers in the latter half of the year, including three simultaneously published editions of The Starr Report (from Pocket, Prima and Public Affairs). Other books critical of the President's behavior included Spin Cycle: Inside the Clinton Propaganda Machine by Washington Post reporter Howard Kurtz, The Death of Outrage: Bill Clinton and the Assault on American Ideals by former Secretary of Education William Bennett (both from Free Press) and Regnery's High Crimes and Misdemeanors by Ann Coulter, a constitutional attorney and legal affairs correspondent for Human Events, a national conservative newsweekly. The first quarter of the year saw a proliferation of Titanic titles in the wake of James Cameron's movie, which won a slew of Oscars and grossed $1 billion worldwide.

Getting Oprahized

In 1997, Oprah's Book Club picks dominated the trade paperback charts. Five of her nine choices were among the longest-running trade paper bestsellers for that year, earning a combined total of 132 weeks on the charts; the nine picks led the trade paper charts for a combined tally of 21 weeks. The numbers for her 1998 trade paper choices were much softer. While Oprah's selections included three hardcovers and a series of children's books, the five trade paperbacks -- Alice Hoffman's Here on Earth; Edwidge Danticat's Breath, Eyes, Memory; Pearl Cleage's What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day; Chris Bohjalian's Midwives and Billie Letts's Where the Heart Is -- had a combined tally of 45 weeks on the charts and only three appearances in the #1 spot. Her three hardcover picks -- Toni Morrison's Paradise, Wally Lamb's I Know This Much Is True and Anna Quindlen's Black and Blue -- fared better; their combined bestseller tenure was 62 weeks, seven in the #1 spot.Gains and Losses

Both Random House Inc. and Bantam Doubleday Dell were the big winners in market share for hardcover bestsellers. The gains were made not by getting more titles on the charts but by keeping their bestsellers in play longer. Note that 15 of the 29 longest-running bestsellers of 1998 came from the imprints and divisions of these two companies. In total, the 15 books added up to 25.7% of the hardcover bestseller share; the rest of their market share in 1998 -- 17.3% -- came from their other 51 bestsellers. At the same time, Random House Inc. (and here we are not counting BDD imprints) was the big loser in market share for paperbacks, dropping 12.5%. Here the cause was fewer bestsellers, as well as much shorter runs for those paperbacks that made it onto the charts.

It would take a sizable merger -- perhaps a combination of Simon &Schuster, HarperCollins and Time Warner -- to topple the behemoth Random House Inc. from its assured post as the majority bestseller shareholder in 1999. Meanwhile, the key to gaining market share is not only getting lots of books on the charts, but working diligently to keep them there. It's a truism, perhaps, but it works.