Who Gets the 9/11 Report Profits?

The publisher’s printing at least 800,000 copies. Where will all the money go?

The 9/11 Commission Report, released last Thursday, is selling like hotcakes. The $10 book is Amazon.com’s top-selling title, and publisher W.W. Norton has already ordered another 200,000 copies, on top of a first printing of 600,000. Who will receive the profits from the report’s blockbuster sales?

A very lucky, as-yet-undetermined charity—assuming that the report actually makes a profit. Despite the report’s rapid climb up the best-seller list, there’s no guarantee that Norton will ever make a dime off this particular deal. The 81-year-old publisher struck an unusual publishing deal with the 9/11 commission back in May: Norton agreed to issue the paperback version of the report on the day of its public release. (An indexed hardcover edition will follow.) Norton did not pay for the publishing rights, but had to foot the bill for a rush printing and shipping job; the commission did not hand over the manuscript until the last possible moment, in order to prevent leaks. The company will not reveal how much this cost, or when precisely it obtained the report. But expedited printings always cost extra, making it that much more difficult for Norton to realize a profit.

In addition, the commission and Norton agreed in May on the 568-page tome’s rather low cover price of $10, making it that much harder for the publisher to recoup its costs. (Amazon.com is currently selling copies for $8 plus shipping, while visitors to the Government Printing Office bookstore in Washington, D.C. can purchase its version the report for $8.50.) There is also competition from the commission’s Web site, which is offering a downloadable copy of the report for free. And Norton also agreed to provide one free copy to the family of every 9/11 victim.

If and when Norton crosses the break-even barrier, the publisher has vowed to donate all further proceeds to charity, although a specific recipient has not yet been selected. The terms of the publishing deal preclude the report’s authors—that is, members of the commission—from receiving any royalties for their work.

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Explainer thanks James Ruffin for asking the question.