The Alchemist's Revenge

St. Paul's Llewellyn Publications was New Age before New Age was cool. Now it's enormously lucrative, too.

          Weschke's local notoriety was such that in 1986, perennial fringe candidate and Lyndon LaRouche supporter Andrew Olson vowed that his first official act as governor of Minnesota would be to get rid of Llewellyn, which he described as the "leading purveyor of witchcraft and satanism in this country." His number two priority was a slightly taller order: Shut down Cargill Inc.

          These days Weschke, at 66, talks about his business as any small publisher might--in terms of sales, marketplace trends, marketing. Having long ago traded in his flowing robes for a business suit, he's dismissive of the old days. "I don't think anyone ever thought of me as one of the crazies," he says. "I came from an establishment family who spent four generations here. I went to the St. Paul Academy and lived on Summit Avenue for a time. I never went after publicity; it always came to me. But it didn't do much for Llewellyn to have my face on television, so we hired a publicist to get the attention on our product."

          In addition to publishing books at the rate of about 60 new titles a year, Llewellyn also publishes Fate magazine, which it acquired in 1988. The Reader's Digest-sized compendium of the unknown was recently retooled to fit a more traditional magazine format. An in-house Spanish arm was also launched; it released four titles this year and plans 10 for 1997.

          Llewellyn remains the undisputed king of New Age publishers, despite an increasing number of forays into the market by bigger houses. "Our major competition today," affirms Weschke, "is not another niche publisher. It's HarperCollins. But even though they have more money than we do and publish about 200 titles a year in our field, they don't have the focus. Nor can they relate to the author the same way that a niche publisher can.

          "We've had feelers put out to us over the years," says Weschke of would-be buyers. "Investment bankers show up at our booth at the American Booksellers Association convention each year. But the answer is always the same--I'm not interested."

          Llewellyn remains a family business through and through; it is currently run by Weschke and his wife, Sandra, and son Gabriel is finishing up a masters in publishing science. The fate of Llewellyn by the time he settles into the business depends in large part on cultural fashion. Will New Age passions survive the millennium? "I don't think it's a fad," says Benson. "I think people are always going to be interested in expanding their consciousness."

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