Carried by its Chicken Soup franchise and two Dave Pelzer titles, sales at the privately held Health Communications Inc. rose 15% to 17%, to approximately $95 million, in 1998, company president and publisher Peter Vegso told PW. The goal for the company, which has about 110 full-time employees, is to break the $100 million mark this year, Vegso said.

As it has since 1993, HCI's list will be led by new Chicken Soup titles, including Chicken Soup for the Couple's Soul, which was released last month with a one-million-copy first printing. In addition to HCI's usual extensive promotional plans, Couple's Soul is enjoying a further publicity boost as part of Diet Coke's eight-week "The Story Begins with Diet Coke" promotion that began February 1 (Marketing, Feb. 1). As part of the promotion, Couple's Soul will be featured on more than 50 million cases of Diet Coke, and 8.5 million cases will include a 32-page sampler. The first half of 1999 will also see the release of A 6th Bowl of Chicken Soup for the Soul, due out in April with an 800,000-copy first printing.

40 Million Served

Through 1998, HCI sold nearly 40 million Chicken Soup titles in the U.S., led by the original Chicken Soup for the Soul, which has sold 7.5 million copies since its release in 1993. And although new editions of each original Chicken Soup title has sold fewer copies than the previous book (A 5th Bowl has sold 817,291 copies), Vegso said HCI d s not intend to decrease its involvement with the series. He acknowledged, however, that HCI will increasingly depend on finding new Chicken Soup niches, noting that the publisher has only one "sequel" planned for the fall, Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul.

HCI has done well with teenage Chicken Soup titles -- the first edition of Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul (1997) has sold 4.2 million, and the edition published last year sold 1.7 million copies. HCI is planning Chicken Soup titles aimed at college students and singles, but its big book for the spring is Chicken Soup for the Golfer's Soul, which will have a million-copy first printing this May. Vegso hopes the golf title will attract more male readers to Chicken Soup, since the overwhelming majority of the series buyers have been women.

Broadening the Base

HCI's commitment to Chicken Soup d s not mean that the company is uninterested in broadening its publishing base and will release its first fiction title this year. Vegso has not forgotten that Chicken Soup authors Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen had been rejected by more than 30 publishers, and he promised that HCI will continue to support first-time writers. The company's success has also prompted HCI to increase its list for 1999 to nearly 50 titles, compared to 35 titles released in 1998. Its backlist now includes more than 350 titles.

Among the strategic initiatives planned for 1999 are adding 35,000 square feet to HCI's distribution facility and expanding its marketing channels, including greater use of the Web as a selling vehicle. Vegso also hopes to modify HCI's international publishing efforts. The company recently sold rights to eight Chicken Soup titles to Random House U.K., and Vegso said he would like to find publishing partners in other countries. And while HCI's growth to date has been internally generated, Vegso would not rule out acquisitions in the future.

HCI's publishing program includes doing the majority of its printing in its own production plant at its Deerfield Beach, Fla., headquarters, and offering moderate advances. Its strategy has yielded "very nice margins," Vegso said, and he expects the company's hot streak to continue this year. "There is no reason not to be optimistic about 1999," Vegso declared.