A paperback version of the Senate’s recently released report on the CIA’s interrogation techniques is expected in bookstores before New Year’s Day.
The government posted the 528-page document for free online the week before last, and a PDF ebook version was almost immediately for sale on Amazon.com for $2.99. But Dennis Johnson, the co-publisher of Melville House in Brooklyn, said his $16.95 paperback edition will be better.
“A printed book is still pretty superior technology,” he said. “It’s portable, affordable, shareable, long-lasting – and in this instance, perhaps, a far easier way to read. . . . We’re working ’round the clock to turn the low-res PDF released by the government into something we can lay out and print. The enormous number of redactions (the heavy black lines over the text) makes that a trick, so we’ve got our editorial team slaving over that. Ours will be perfectly typeset and designed, whereas anything you’re seeing (now) are simply copies of the government’s low-quality PDF – essentially, a Xerox of a Xerox.”
Working this quickly poses special challenges for a publisher, particularly a small one such as Melville. Johnson said, “Our marketing team – both of them – have been doing outreach to booksellers, letting them know this is coming and how they can get it. As the book is being ‘crashed,’ there’s no time to get it in all the various seasonal catalogues and such, so retailers will be aware of it and have the capacity to order it. Our production department dropped everything to design the cover and do all the layout, which they’re doing piecemeal as the editorial team turns the PDF text into a workable document, while also begging our printer to let us cut the long holiday line to get the book printed and shipped to the warehouse, which will happen with remarkable speed.”
Lissa Muscatine, co-owner of Politics & Prose Bookstore in the District, said in a statement released yesterday that the book will be stocked there “as soon as it is out.”
Johnson expects to have a first printing of 50,000 copies available by Dec. 30. “I hope that teachers and professors and parents across the country are going to want this edition to read together and talk about.”
A few “famous political writers” were consulted to write an introduction to the report, but in the end Johnson decided against adding any additional material. “It should be just the text,” he said, “unfreighted by other opinions; a document for the left, right and middle.”
There is precedence for commercial publication of government reports. Most notably, in 2004, W.W. Norton published and distributed The 9/11 Commission Report, which was issued by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. Although that report was also available for free online, the book version became a best-seller and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Nonfiction.
Melville House is not paying anything for the text of the report because it’s a public document. Johnson notes, “In the past, the government has given preferential treatment to certain publishers, giving them early, exclusive copies of the report – even, in at least one instance, giving them money to help with the printing. But (California Sen.) Dianne Feinstein seems to have been opposed to that kind of preferential treatment this time, and that in turn seems to have turned off big publishers. Probably, the fact of the timing of the release also contributed to such a lack of interest by bigger houses. It’s hard to get a book in a bookstore in the days before Christmas.”