For Publisher of 9/11 Report, a Royalty-Free Windfall

Anonymous Patron writes "The NYTimes Reports the best-selling book in America is a bookseller's dream - it involves no author royalties, has minimal advertising or promotion costs and is in such demand that in some places there are not enough copies to go around. In short, it is a potential fountain of profits for its publisher and bookstores.W. W. Norton & Company, the publisher of the authorized edition of the report, said on Monday that an estimated 350,000 copies had been sold at retailers across the country, and that all the 600,000 copies in the book's first printing had been distributed to wholesalers and retailers. With a list price of $10, the 9/11 Commission Report probably generates revenues of about $5 a copy for Norton, according to executives at rival publishers."


I thought the federal government could and did publish its own documents?

I don't know as the GPO made a sweetheart deal but the article implies that the private publisher did get early access to the report from the commission before any other private publisher did.

I've actually applauded some of the privatization efforts by Bush in the past but since the GPO did publish a copy it seems like what got privatized was the distribution. That seems silly since the IRS is perfectly capable of sending out tax forms to every library in the nation. It doesn't seem that big a stretch that the GPO could've supplied copies to all the bookstores and not just relied on requests by mail.

Also I probably shouldn't be attributing this to Bush or labeling it as privatization, I'm guessing this same type of thing happened when the Starr report came out. Still dumb though.

OK, actually, I can't PROVE that there are two editions, but the prices are different ($8.50 plus shipping for GPO, $10 for Norton), the pagination is different (the GPO version seems to be 70+ pages longer), and the Norton paperback has an ISBN of 0393326713, while the GPO offering has an S/N of 041-015-00236-8.

(And I don't think the GPO would be allowed to undercut the retail price on a Norton book, would they?)

Hold on. The Government Printing Office has printed its own paperback version of the report. It's also selling it, for $8.50--but if you want it mailed, it winds up costing a little more than the commercial paperback. If you live in DC, you can walk into the GPO bookstore and buy the GPO version for less than the commercial paperback.

They've also released it as a series of PDFs, for those who want all or part of it "for free" (of course, at typical paper and toner prices you'll spend more than the cost of the paperback in printing it out...)

I question whether GPO made a sweetheart deal (as Greg seems to imply) with one publisher, and would love to see evidence of that. I suspect the files were put up as PDF as soon as they were ready, and that the publisher had the rapid-print systems to get it out and distributed.

I don't think it's at all clear that the GPO would have made windfall profits by mass-producing the report and putting it in bookstores, quite apart from the howls of pain that would raise about unfair competition from a government-subsidized company. The GPO isn't set up to distribute to thousands of bookstores on a rapid basis, and may not be set up to handle the deep discounts and returns policy needed for such distribution.

I just don't think there's a conspiracy or controversy here. The GPO did what the GPO was supposed to do. A publisher with fast turnaround did what publishers are supposed to do. The fact that the source material is public domain is a good thing. There should be more public domain material for smart publishers (and others) to exploit. But that's another discussion.

This is an administration that favors the private sector where it makes sense, and also where it makes no sense at all. They've been trying for four years to break "the GPO monopoly" on government printing and publishing. That this results in the US government not getting the windfall from the land-office sales of the 9/11 report is no surprise.

It looks like they made a deal with the commission to get a jump on other private publishers (other publishers are coming out with their own versions). If the GPO had done the work and been the one to get the first edition out they might have made enough to pay for the commission that created the report.

Sure, and the GPO did publish its own version--but if it's a product of the Federal Government, it's automatically in the public domain.

This private publisher moved very fast to get the report in print and out to retail bookstores, and priced it so that it's cheaper to buy the commercial version than to order the government's version from GPO. Good for them.

It could be outsourced, the thing to do these days as we privatize a way. Discount prices for now, but look to the future. Thar's gold in them thar hills.

The Sunday SF Chronicle had a half-page story about the 9/11 publication, which clarifies some points:

There are indeed separate Norton and GPO editions. (There's also a partial edition with commentary, which came out in June, from another publisher.)

The Norton deal was the winning bid, not a sweetheart deal; returns no profit to Norton (according to the story, any profits after cost recovery will go to charity); and was based on their ability to get the book printed and out to the stores on an extremely tight schedule: The PDFs were finalized on Saturday, the books were available on Thursday--and were in thousands of bookstores by noon EDT on Thursday. For a 560-page book with 600K-copy first run, that's pretty impressive, and something GPO couldn't do.

(Of course, real credit for getting this done so fast goes to Donnelly, the printers, and UPS, the delivery people; Norton put the whole thing together.)

Looks to me like a good example of public-private cooperation. And, of course, with public-domain PDFs already available, anyone can also print their own copy "for free" (if you can print 560 pages for less than $10!).

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