January 28, 2023

The Jan. 6 report was set to be a major boon for publishers, but a week out sales have been relatively thin compared to other blockbuster government reports.


When the January 6 committee report dropped, a number of publishers were vying to be the first to release it as a book. You can now buy versions of this otherwise free government document from Penguin Random House, Macmillan, Skyhorse and other publishers. And, you know, some government reports do have a track record of becoming splashy bestsellers. Think the 9/11 Commission report or the Mueller report from 2019. So how is this one faring? Well, Andrew Limbong, host of NPR’s Book Of The Day podcast, has more.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: You, me and the various publishers waiting with bated breath got the 845-page report all at the same time.

GUY OLDFIELD: It was 9:45 p.m. on the 22 of December.

LIMBONG: That’s Guy Oldfield, the senior director of production for Macmillan Audio. He was in charge of getting the audiobook version together as soon as possible.

OLDFIELD: The planning for this project started much, much earlier in the year.

LIMBONG: He’d already lined up nine of his experienced, most efficient narrators and paired them up with nine of his sharpest audio editors. And they got to work reading and recording the mammoth report.


LISA FLANAGAN: Chapter 1, The Big Lie, read for you by Lisa Flanagan. Late on election night 2020, President Donald. J. Trump addressed the nation.

OLDFIELD: It really was just a kind of a math puzzle, and we figured it out.

LIMBONG: They figured it out fast, too. Oldfield and his team got the nearly 24-hour audio book mixed and mastered by Christmas Eve morning. So with that sprint of effort behind him, was it all worth it?

OLDFIELD: We didn’t set ourselves any particular expectations. We really weren’t certain. But having seen the sales numbers, it was well worth the effort. It really, really was. To be out there and to be out there first – definitely worthwhile.

LIMBONG: It’s still pretty early, but as of this recording, the audiobook is 94th on Audible’s top downloaded 100 audio books. On the print side of things, well, here’s Kristen McLean, the primary industry analyst for NPD Books Group, which tracks book sales. She compared the first-week sales figures from the January 6 report to both the 9/11 Commission report and the Mueller report.

KRISTEN MCLEAN: First-week sales for the January 6 committee are definitely weaker than what we saw for the first week of either the Mueller report or the 9/11 report – less than half of the sales volume for this report compared to, say, the Mueller report.

LIMBONG: McLean says these first few weeks are big indicators.

MCLEAN: Typically, these types of reports have strong first weeks, and then they taper off within three weeks of the launch date in terms of the total volume sold.

LIMBONG: McLean says this big drop-off between the January 6 report and the 9/11 Commission report is that it’s just entering a different America. Our politics are more polarized. Our media landscape is much more diffuse. But for Guy Oldfield, the director of production for Macmillan Audio, the chance to make the January 6 report into an audiobook was a chance to be a part of history.

OLDFIELD: I’m a student of political science, and I could tell that this is a document that generations of Americans are going to go to and back to and consume and study for years to come. And it is – I don’t want to sound, like, cliche, but it really is living history. And I think an audio version just makes it all the more real.

LIMBONG: And just because the January 6 report isn’t dominating the sales charts like the 9/11 report did, there’s still incentive for publishers to put out free government documents.

MCLEAN: They’re not paying in advance to an author for this information, right? They may be paying an advance to someone to write a foreword. But beyond that, every unit that goes out the door has a profit margin attached for that publisher.

LIMBONG: For instance, according to McLean, one document that’s consistently on the bestsellers list for political science is the United States Constitution. Andrew Limbong, NPR News.

Copyright © 2023 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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