The most sought-after manuscript in publishing? The Jan. 6 report.
By Alexandra Alter and Elizabeth Harris
As soon as the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol released its exhaustive report late last week, at least a half-dozen publishers sprang into action, each vying to put out the definitive edition of the document, and to get it out fast.
The publishing houses signed up these projects without knowing how big the job would be: They did not know how many pages the final report would have, if it would include graphics and maps, or if it would have a lot of redactions, which can be complicated to handle in print.
Now that the document has arrived, they are rushing to capitalize on public interest and to beat their competitors, knowing that several other companies are producing books that are nearly identical. And they are doing this while facing the immense bottleneck at printing presses and warehouses that is created by holiday demand for books.
“Everybody, not just us, is trying to do their damnedest to be first to market, but also every publisher has their own angle and spin on it,” said Doug Jones, publisher at Harper Perennial, which is putting together an edition with an introduction by MSNBC’s chief legal correspondent, Ari Melber. “Each one has their own audience.”
Publishers did what they could in advance, including commissioning the introductions from prominent journalists and politicians that will set their various versions apart. Random House’s edition has a foreword from Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Macmillan’s features an introduction by David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker, and an afterword by Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a member of the House Jan. 6 select committee. Hachette’s edition includes reporting and analysis from the staff of The New York Times.
Extrapolating from the dramatic presentation put on by the House committee during its televised hearings, which were watched by tens of millions of viewers, publishers are hopeful that the Jan. 6 report will present a compelling narrative — more page-turner than legalistic document — and appeal to a broad audience. After an 18-month investigation, the committee on Monday accused former President Donald Trump of inciting insurrection, conspiracy to defraud the United States, obstruction of an act of Congress and one other federal crime, referring him to the Justice Department for potential prosecution.
“The committee did a magnificent job in the public hearings; they were really riveting, they had a storytelling sense of how to put together a larger narrative,” said Dennis Johnson, co-founder of the independent publisher Melville House. “That speaks well for their ability to put together the larger narrative in the text.”
Several publishers are aiming to have the e-book ready within days, and the first print editions available in about a week; others are planning on early January releases, hoping to time publication to the anniversary of the attack on the Capitol.
For publishers, which usually plan books years in advance, these quick-to-market titles can be logistically daunting. Most of them have already created their covers, bought paper and edited the introductions as they wait for the full report. Next comes a mundane task: repeatedly refreshing the commission’s website to get the report in hand.
As soon as the text is available, publishers send it to their typesetter. The typesetter quickly creates an e-book file, as well as versions for Amazon and Ingram, which can print books on demand. Another version goes to a book printer that handles a larger number of copies.
“It’s like turning on several production faucets at the same time,” said Sean Desmond, publisher of Twelve, an imprint at Hachette. “It gets tight.”
The rewards can be substantial, however. While a quick turnaround has additional costs, like on-demand printing, government reports are in the public domain, so publishers don’t have to pay to use the material.
And they can sell quite well. Various editions of the Mueller report — including one from Simon & Schuster in partnership with The Washington Post and another from Skyhorse, an independent publisher — have sold about 475,000 print copies, according to NPD BookScan, which tracks the sale of most printed books in the United States. The 9/11 Commission Report, also published by multiple houses, has sold 1.1 million copies. In both cases, almost all of those sales came within the first year of publication.
Some bookstores are ordering multiple editions of the Jan. 6 report, unsure of which version will prove most popular. Barnes & Noble has ordered all major editions but is taking more copies of the edition from Hachette, which will have the foreword by the Times. Politics and Prose, an independent store in Washington, D.C., is also ordering several different editions.
Besides competing with one another, publishers also have to contend with the inconvenient fact that a free version of the report will be available online for anyone who wants to read it. Still, executives are betting that many readers, and institutions like schools and libraries, will want to have a printed and bound version for posterity.
“Even before the public hearings, we decided that given the facts that precipitated this investigation, that this was likely the most important congressional investigation in history,” said Mark Warren, executive editor and vice president at Random House. “For the record and for history, it was important to publish its findings.”
Here are details on some of the most anticipated versions.
For the edition published by Celadon, a Macmillan imprint, Remnick wrote the introduction and Raskin, the epilogue. “The committee’s work here is to establish the historical record,” Remnick said in a statement. “The New Yorker and Celadon’s work is to remind people that we cannot afford to look away.”
Skyhorse, an independent press, is publishing two versions, with analysis from widely differing points on the political spectrum. One has a foreword by Darren Beattie, who was a speechwriter for Trump and who disputed his defeat in the 2020 election. The other has an introduction by Elizabeth Holtzman, a former member of Congress who served on the Judiciary Committee during President Richard Nixon’s impeachment inquiry. Tony Lyons, the president of Skyhorse, said that “while Holtzman argues for the DOJ’s obligation to indict Trump, Beattie provides a blueprint for the incoming Congress to investigate the bias of the report.”
Published by Twelve, an imprint of Hachette, this version will include over 80 pages of reporting, eyewitness accounts and analysis from the staff of the Times, including a timeline of events and maps that show the paths taken by those who breached the Capitol.
In late September, after Melber, a MSNBC host, announced on his show that he was teaming up with HarperCollins on an edition of the Jan. 6 report, the book sailed to No. 1 on Amazon. Preorders have been so large that HarperCollins is planning a first print run of 250,000 copies, and is aiming to release it in early January. On his show, Melber plugged his version but also urged viewers to read the report in whatever format they preferred, “including downloading it online.”
Random House’s edition of the report will feature an introduction from Schiff, who has had a front-row seat to the House investigation. “Congressman Schiff’s perspective on the state of American democracy is unique, given the events of the Trump presidency and Schiff’s role in coming to the defense of our institutions and our Constitution,” said Mark Warren, who edited the foreword.
Melville House, a small press, has a long track record of publishing public documents, including the Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture and the Mueller report. Its edition of the Jan. 6 report presents the unvarnished report, without an introduction. “Any introduction gives it a certain bias,” said Johnson, Melville House’s publisher. “People should have access to the primary document.”