In his annual letter to employees, Hearst president and CEO Frank Bennack Jr. said that the 1998 financial performance of its trade book group improved over the previous year.

Elaborating on Bennack's comments, Hearst Book Group president William Wright told PW that sales at Morrow and Avon both grew at double-digit rates. While Bennack reported that Morrow had "notable sales growth" in 1998, Wright said Avon's revenues increased at a faster rate than its sister publisher. The strong performance of the two companies pushed total group revenues to record levels, Wright noted, adding that earnings in the year were "up significantly" for the entire group. PW estimates that sales in the Hearst Book Group are now more than $200 million.

According to Wright, every imprint at the company showed growth in 1998. During the year, Hearst had six titles reach PW's bestsellers list, and 12 hit the paperback charts. The group also had a healthy increase in backlist sales, "which gave a major boost to the bottom line," Wright observed.

Among 1998's best performers at Morrow were The Day Diana Died and We Are Our Mothers' Daughters, both of which hit the top spot on the New York Times bestsellers list. Morrow's cookbook division had a good year, led by Emeril Lagasse's TV Dinners, while the Hearst Books imprint, which publishes books carrying Hearst magazine brands, doubled its output and saw sales and earnings increase by a corresponding amount.

Helping boost sales at Avon was Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution, which is now the longest-running bestseller in Avon history. Other strong performers in the year included What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day (an Oprah's Book Club pick), Serpent's Tooth, Dream a Little Dream and Petals on the River.

Avon added three imprints in 1998 (Bard, Twilight, Spike) and will launch two more this spring: WholeCare, which will be devoted to health, and an Avon Books for Young Readers fiction imprint, Tempest. A history imprint, Post Road Press, will debut in spring 2000. Wright noted that the creation of new imprints is aimed at lessening Avon's dependency on the romance field.

The group will publish a total of approximately 1000 titles in 1999, a minor increase over 1998. "We're going to be looking to improve the depth of our list rather than significantly expanding it," Wright said.

Collingsworth Back

Eden Collingsworth, who had been president and publisher of Hearst's former imprint Arbor House in 1983, has returned to the company as director of cross-media business development. In the newly created post, Collingsworth will be responsible for identifying and pursuing opportunities to develop new business using multiple media platforms, said James Asher, Hearst v-p and chief legal and development officer and to whom Collingsworth will report.