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Jan. 6 report isn't dominating the sales charts like prior government reports

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Since the release of the January 6 committee report, several publishers have raced to make the free government document available as a book. This isn't the first time a government report has gotten that treatment. The 9/11 Commission report and the Mueller report were both bestsellers. So how does the January 6 report compare? Here's Andrew Limbong, host of NPR's Book of the Day podcast.

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.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING

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 maths 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: 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOOKER T AND THE MGS' "SOUL DRESSING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Andrew Limbong is a reporter for NPR's Arts Desk, where he does pieces on anything remotely related to arts or culture, from streamers looking for mental health on Twitch to Britney Spears' fight over her conservatorship. He's also covered the near collapse of the live music industry during the coronavirus pandemic. He's the host of NPR's Book of the Day podcast and a frequent host on Life Kit.