Peril and profit

Panel's Findings

Private firm is set to publish final report by 9/11 commission

The Business Of 9/11

May 30, 2004|By Stacey Hirsh and Meredith Cohn | Stacey Hirsh and Meredith Cohn,SUN STAFF

The final report of the Sept. 11 commission is coming out in paperback this summer to be sold in bookstores nationwide, and with its release the government is reverting to a decades-old practice of using a private company to print its very public documents.

The government has hired New York publishing firm W.W. Norton & Co. Inc. to print hundreds of thousands of copies of the report to be sold in chain, independent and online bookstores around the country. The book will be sold for $10 and is set to be published about July 26.

With the release date close to two major political parties' conventions, the final report of the Sept. 11 commission has heavy implications for the presidential campaign and for Americans' continued concerns about terrorism.

The government's zeal for speed in publishing the report has led to a somewhat unusual deal with a private publisher. Several experts said that, if awarded properly, the contract might be a valid and even applaudable method of reaching the vast number of Americans interested in the findings.

"The occasion for this is a national trauma where the government wants to get out an explanation to the people as broadly and as quickly as possible," said Matthew Crenson, a Johns Hopkins University political science professor.

Norton will publish 500,000 copies of the commission's report of several hundred pages, the commission announced this month. The panel says it hopes the release of the Norton version will be simultaneous with publication of the report by the Government Printing Office and on the Internet, a commission spokesman said.

Al Felzenberg, the spokesman for the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, said the panel wants the report to be accessible to the general public. Several other commissions have had their reports published in paperback, he noted, such as the Pentagon Papers (1971), transcripts of the Nixon White House tapes (1974) and Kenneth W. Starr's 1998 report on the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

"This is not unheard of," Crenson said. "It's the kind of thing that government commissions do when they're investigating an event or a series of events of great public trauma."

A big job

In 1968, the Kerner commission published a commercial addition of its report about the nation's race riots virtually simultaneously with the government release of the report, Crenson said. That commission was also printing something of huge public interest, and it felt the Government Printing Office couldn't handle a publication job of that magnitude, he said.

Random House Inc. published the Pentagon Papers and the 1964 Report of the Warren Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy shortly after their government releases, company spokesman Stuart Applebaum said. The Warren Report was on sale 80 hours after the commission document came out publicly. More than 1.5 million copies sold for $1 each within a couple of months of release, Applebaum said. More than 1 million copies of the Pentagon Papers were sold in the weeks after its release.

Government documents such as the Congressional Record were typically printed by private companies in the early 1800s, said Michael Kent Curtis, a professor of law at Wake Forest University.

"This is sort of a reversion to the way it used to be long ago," Curtis said.

The Sept. 11 commission will not receive payments from Norton for the book, and Norton will not receive money from the government. A Norton spokeswoman said it is unclear if there will be profits from the publication because of the extraordinary expense of publishing so quickly at such a low price. No decisions have been made about what to do with the money if there are profits, Norton spokeswoman Louise Brockett said.

The company plans to give a copy of the report to a representative of each family of a victim of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The U.S. government will own the copyright to the book.

Norton was chosen based on affordability, accuracy, availability and longevity, the commission said. The company will ensure that the book is available for generations, Brockett said.

"We are very confident that we were chosen because of specific criteria: affordability," Brockett said. "We pledged to publish this as a $10 trade paperback which ... is a very, very competitive, low price for a trade paperback. We are determined to publish it completely accurately, meaning that this will be the final report of the 9/11 commission."

Norton has published several books edited by Philip D. Zelikow, executive director of the Sept. 11 commission and director of the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia. But Felzenberg, the commission spokesman, said Zelikow waived royalties to those publications. Felzenberg also said that other publishing companies that were not chosen have published books edited by Zelikow.

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