The latest wave of demand in book and magazine publishing gives mixed signals about the American state of mind, but a theme emerges -- economic insecurity. People want financial advice.
A recent newspaper ad for "Nothing Down," a book on real estate investment by Robert G. Allen, drew a higher response than Simon & Schuster has had on an ad in years.
The ad quoted Mr. Allen: "Send me to any city in the United States. Take away my wallet. Give me $175 for living expenses. And in 72 hours I'll buy you an excellent piece of real estate using none of my own money."
This is a sign of the times, according to Sam Meyerson, the book's editor at Simon & Schuster. Money advice is selling big. "Books that come out are just snatched up," he says.
Americans may have more money to spend than ever before, according to publishers, but they find it more confusing to know what to do with it.
"There is no established way for people to learn to manage their own money," explains John Crandell, the publisher of Money magazine. "You can go to Harvard Business School to learn to manage money, but where can you go to learn to manage your personal finances?" Money, published by Time Inc., increased 20 percent in newsstand sales last year.
At the bottom of the trend, publishers and editors agree, is inflation: People are trying to maintain their standard of living while the dollar loses value.
But there are optimistic twists to the phenomenon.
One is that more people have more money to invest earlier in life than in previous generations. Mr. Crandell -- who says Money is aimed at the young, middle-income people destined some day to read Fortune (a more upper management-oriented sister publication) -- notes that many young people are "getting a lot of money quickly."
"Young MBAs come out of school and immediately command a salary," he explains , "then marry an accountant or a young lawyer, and they are soon bringing in $50 ,000 a year. Twenty-five years ago there were relatively few families with disposable income."
Likewise, the readership of Changing Times, perhaps the most venerable of the advice magazines, is both younger and better off than it used to be, speculates Sidney Sulkin, the editor. "And more and more, people who are better off want advice. Before [in the 1950s] they didn't have any problem dispensing with their money."
Sanford Goodkin of the Goodkin Research Corporation would add another element to explaining this new hankering after financial wisdom. More than a reaction to inflation, he feels that the two-income household and the older median age in the country, among other factors, "have made us a more serious population with more interest in economic news.
Financial news "now is more important than the sports pages, and it's kept around the house longer than the sports pages," he says.
Mr. Goodkin, of Del Mar, Calif., is a small entrepreneur in the publishing industry. His monthly newsletter, the Goodkin Report, has been aimed at real estate investors, but he is responding to demand and expanding its range to investment generally.
"I don't think the world needs one more cynic or one more pessimist," he says. Confusion and negativism run rampant on the economic front, according to Mr. Sanford. "People who have always made it on their own, now simply don't have any faith in the future." He tries, in his own publication, to be more optimistic.
In book publishing, business and money books have blossomed into something of a new field in the past year. "Fine business books have always been written," says Dennis Hadley, national sales manager of Random House, "but there's a broad audience for them now."
Nearer dead center of the mainstream, Sylvia Porter's "Money Book," published by Avon, now has 768,000 copies in print.
Random House has published five books in the past year offering investment or tax advice for the general public.
However, according to Grant Ujifusa, the editor of several of Random House's recent money books, his firm isn't working on any more books of this sort right now.
"I think inflation is embedded in the economy," he says. "But whether we can continue to sell books to it is another matter."