SINCE 1872 Publishers Weekly has been the central clearinghouse for the book industry: everything is in there, from news about paper stock and ink to profiles of specialty bookshops around the country, along with the indispensable prepublication reviews, articles about trends, announcements of personnel shifts, etc. Like some favorite maiden aunt, it's always been dowdy but full of good advice. Now, with a new publisher, Bruce W. Gray, late of The Atlantic, four months at the helm, there are going to be some changes made. A few will even be felt as soon as the issue of January 28.

But wait. "I am not," Gray emphasized to "Book Report," "going to be throwing the baby out with the bath water!" It's the format he's sprucing up--the maiden aunt getting a more stylish wardrobe--while the "thrust" of the magazine will stay the same. "You'll see a little more white space and it'll look more like a consumer magazine, say, Business Week." New columns are planned, including one to be called "Talk of the Trade" by former Book World columnist Leonore Fleischer and another to be contributed by guest writers (authors, editors, booksellers and so forth) modeled after Newsweek's "My Turn." Most interestingly, there will appear once a month a survey, commissioned from Gallup by PW, of 1,500 people as to what books theyare buying, reading, being made aware of, etc. "At the end of each year," says Gray, "we'll have had a sounding board comprised of 18,000 people."

Other changes will involve moving the traditional PW interview away from the magazine's front. Instead, as Gray describes it, readers will open PW and find such features as a "digest" of publishing news ("people who are pressed for time, like publishing executives, can get this wrap-up in short, breezy items"), statistical and business data, letters to the editor and a weekly calendar. This section, he points out, will "fast-close" just before distribution time.

PW's current circulation is a seemingly low 38,000, but what in the magazine biz is called the "pass around readership" is probably 10 or 12 times that, since many people in an office may read a single copy. PW is a part of the R.R. Bowker Company, which itself belongs to the Xerox Publishing Group. Bruce Gray is publisher of one of Bowker's four divisions, which includes Library Journal, School Library Journal and PW.

Six years ago, Bowker started up a periodical, Bookviews, aimed at the readers and book purchasers out there in the general public. Unfortunately, it was not a success and folded rather quickly. There has, however, for the past year, been an effort going on in the PW circulation office called the "Serious Reader" campaign. What this means is that potential subscribers outside the publishing industry are being solicited for the first time.

Says circulation director Douglas Wilson, "We're testing reader-oriented media ads. The results are still coming in, but so far seem favorable." The advertisements for PW ("Now you can judge a book before its cover can even be seen") have appeared in periodicals such as Writers Digest, The New York Review of Books and The New Republic. Some direct-mail appeals are also being made, to lists bought from Barnes & Noble and other bookselling operations. The price: a heftyish $53 for the introductory, one- year offer. But "serious readers" are what they're after, not those folks whose only reading is in the supermarket check- out line.

What's more, Gray and Wilson have plans for trying out newstand sales and getting PW into selected bookstores, with New York, Boston and Washington the target cities. Individual copies will cost $2, while the special (and very fat) fall and spring announcement issues will probably go for $4.95. Also in the works, says Gray tantalizingly, may be a publishing-industry newsletter and perhaps another book magazine aimed at a broader public still. Meanwhile, admitting that he could be termed "the driving force," Gray affirms that the new old PW, with the editorial changes, is going to "better serve its primary markets--booksellers and publishers." After 111 years, they still come first. REPORT FROM THE ROAD

"ARE YOU THE ALFRED GINGOLD who went to P.S. 166?" This is the kind of question the newly famous get asked. And, yes, for those of you whose braids he might have dipped in the inkwell, the author of the number-one best-selling trade paperback, Items From Our Catalog (Avon), did attend P.S. 166 in Manhattan. Gingold, who until now has been accustomed to appearing on playbills, not title pages, has been enjoying his runaway publishing success in Tampa, Florida. That's not where he lives-- he's a New Yorker by birth and inclination-- but where he took a job, acting in a regional production of Lanford Wilson's two-character drama, Talley's Folly.

"I knew the book would be coming out," Gingold told "Book Report." "And I didn't want to just be waiting around. The packager of Items, Jeff Weiss of Cloverdale Press, had told me it would be like a six-week opening night, waiting for reviews and to see if it's going to go. But it turned out to be only a two-week opening night, it took off so fast!" There are currently 730,000 copies of Gingold's parody of the L.L. Bean catalogue in print; before Christmas, says Avon publicist Becky Robertson Flinn, they were going back to press every few days.

Between radio interviews and carrying one-half a play, Gingold should be hoarse, but the excitement of fathering a best seller is better than soothing syrup. Besides which, the reviews of his performance in the local papers have been favorable, as well. "Actually," he confesses, "I'm more scared going out in front of 200 real, live people than in front of the TV cameras that made me visible to millions." And his performance on the Today show--which he describes as a conscious attempt to present himself as a "character"--sold not only books but, to the "despair" of the Avon direct-mail department, has brought orders from all across the country for the "items" themselves.

Comments Becky Flinn, "Right now about nine out of every 10 orders we're getting are for Alfred's book, and of those nine, about two are people wanting to order something he describes in the Catalog." "In fact," she goes on, "we've had to hire a free-lancer to help handle it all." According to Gingold, the morning he went on Today a woman from -- "needless to say" -- California called Avon after phoning all over the country trying to buy a "Tuna Case." That, for those of you who haven't seen the book, is a cozy sheepskin outer garment designed to fit a can of tuna fish. It's one of the more popular "items"; ditto the "Evening Pack," which Gingold says is "a handbag with shoulder straps, to hold everything from a snakebite kit to your diaphragm."

The "Mr. Peanut" suit, which is one of the catalogue originals (and there are only originals, 160 of them) Gingold himself held on to, was, at Halloween, almost enough to break the heart of a friend's little daughter, who begged and begged to be allowed to go trick-or-treating in it. "In Baltimore," Gingold remembers, "a woman followed me from one stop to the next, trying to talk to me about a list of 19 novelty inventions she herself had thought up. Thinking mine were real, she wanted to know where I'd gotten them manufactured."

After Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and L.A., how're things working out in Tampa, where the run of Talley's Folly may or may not be extended? "Well," Gingold answers ruefully, "I would have thought that after People magazine, they would have sold more than 50 tickets for a Sunday performance. After all, they've got a twofer, an actor and an author." And, lest you doubt it, they're selling books in the lobby--but there's a mark-up above the cover price of $4.95! Gingold explains, "It's a painless way of making a contribution to the well-being of American regional theater." In New York, it's not at all uncommon for out-of-work actors to seek employment in bookstores, but less common for boffo authors to tread the boards to keep busy.