The combination of reams of content and access to an extensive distribution network finally persuaded executives at American Media Inc., parent company of the National Enquirer and Star magazine, to form a book publishing unit. AMI Books will release its first title, Sex, Power & Murder: Chandra Levy and Gary Condit, the Affair that Shocked America, later this month. Current plans call for the imprint to release one mass market paperback per month, although that frequency could increase "fairly soon," said Howard Kaminsky, a consultant for AMI Books whose long publishing background includes running several mass market houses.

Val Virga, president of AMI Books, said the idea of starting a book line had been talked about for nearly a decade before AMI president David Pecker gave the go-ahead earlier this year. The books will be based on stories that have appeared in AMI's magazines, particularly the Enquirer. "We have lots of research and materials that never make it into the magazines," Virga noted. The focus will be on true crime and celebrity-driven books. "These are really mass market books," Kaminsky noted.

Titles set to follow the Levy book include paperbacks on JonBenet Ramsey, Michael Jackson, Rosie O'Donnell and Liza Minnelli. Virga said books on O.J. Simpson, Princess Diana and the Kennedy and Clinton families are also in the pipeline. The books will be written by AMI staffers as well as by authors from outside the company. Distribution will be through AMI's distribution arm, DSI, which handles the distribution of the company's magazine to a wide range of mass merchandise, supermarket and newsstand channels. Virga said that initially the paperbacks will be sold in book sections, but that pairing them with the magazines was a possibility. DSI has taken 250,000 orders for the Levy book. Kaminsky said most titles will sell for $6.99.

Kaminsky said that while the early titles from AMI Books will be drawn from magazine stories, the company is planning to publish books based on original material, and that hardcover and trade paperback projects are being considered. AMI will look for other distribution partners when the hardcover and trade paperback titles are ready to be released, Kaminsky said.