BookScan and Leona Helmsley made book news this week

CHARTING NEW GROUND How did Nirvana rise to fame in the early ’90s? With the help of SoundScan, the computerized sales-tracking service that turned the Billboard album charts around with numbers that showed indie bands were major forces. Now publishers are looking into BookScan, which promises to provide the same hard numbers about book sales. But will BookScan figures be taken into account by the best-seller lists, which weigh sales figures in different ways? ”I wouldn’t hold my breath,” says Bantam Doubleday Dell spokesman Stuart Applebaum, who calls the lists’ formulas as ”secret as the Coca-Cola recipe.” Publishers Weekly executive editor Daisy Maryles says, ”I think there will be some surprises, but I don’t think you’ll see a Grisham or any of the top sellers in a different place.” Many publishers are optimistic that BookScan — slated to debut in October — will make the biz more efficient. ”This is an industry that has very little information about where, geographically, individual products are selling,” says HarperCollins VP Joe Kiener, who thinks the service could be an essential marketing tool.

QUIP DRAW As if being jailed and widowed weren’t enough for convicted tax evader Leona Helmsley, the hotelier recently got a thorough picking-over from six best-selling women writers, including Barbara Taylor Bradford and Amy Ephron, in a roundtable moderated by Joan Rivers that’s scheduled to air on the Romance Classics cable network in September. Speculating on Leona’s romantic prospects, Rivers quipped that ”a date with [Helmsley] could drive Ellen DeGeneres back into heterosexuality.” So why subject the Queen of Mean to such scrutiny? ”If you think about it, her story… reads like a romance novel set across the glamorous backdrop of New York City,” explains the show’s executive producer, Marty Von Rudin, who previously assembled a panel on Princess Diana. Rudin says that Rivers is demanding that the next subject be a man — Donald Trump, perhaps?