Iraq Study Group Report Published for Sale

'The Iraq Study Group Report'

Vintage Books, a division of Random House, is publishing the Iraq Study Group's report on U.S. strategy in Iraq. Like some other notable official documents, including the report on the Sept. 11 attacks, it may become a surprise sales hit.

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DEBORAH AMOS, host:

The report issued today by the "Iraq Study Group" is an official document. That means it's in the public domain. You can read it for free on the Internet including at NPR.org. You will also be able to buy a copy in the bookstore.

Another government report, the "9/11 Commission Report," set the trend - a surprise bestseller that even got a nomination for a national book award.

NPR's Neda Ulaby found that a government study can be a hot publishing property.

NEDA ULABY: Vintage Books, a division of Random House, is a tony New York publisher that bid against other companies for the "Iraq Study Group Report's" first publication rights. Senior Editor Andrew Miller says Vintage won in part because it could turn the book around in just a few days.

Mr. ANDREW MILLER (Senior Editor, Vintage Books): This is a process that normally takes eight or nine months, and I guess, we did it in about two and a half weeks. I don't think we've ever done anything, any close to this quick.

ULABY: Miller learned of the winning bid right after last month's midterm elections. While he anxiously waited for the top-secret report to arrive on a computer file, Miller threw himself into a whirlwind of new work challenges, like finding a copy editor with a security clearance and choosing a cover for a book he had not read.

Mr. MILLER: They gave us a general outline that didn't have any substance in it but enabled us to do a rough typeset design. So we had a bunch of things in place. And then when the file actually came in last Friday, we were able to flow it into the design.

We had to make some changes, went back to the typesetter on Friday afternoon, around 6:00. And then was proofread overnight. Some corrections were made Saturday morning. We sent it to the printer about 1:30 Saturday afternoon. It started going actually on to press at about 10:00 on Saturday night.

ULABY: The book shipped first thing on Monday morning, at a slim 167 pages each. Miller won't disclose advance orders for the book, but he says there's already a second printing.

Unidentified Man: Thank you. Thank you very much.

ULABY: There has not been much of a buzz about the "Iraq Study Group Report" at the venerable Washington D.C. bookstore, Politics and Prose. Still, co-owner Carla Cohen says she expect sales to be brisk.

Ms. CARLA COHEN (Co-Owner, Politics and Prose Bookstore): We've ordered a hundred. That's a really big order for us.

ULABY: Still, Cohen says she does not expect the "Iraq Study Group Report" to match the stratospheric sales of the "9/11 Commissions." That book sold a million and a half copies, about half in the first four weeks.

Ms. CHARLOTTE ABBOTT (Senior Editor, Publisher's Weekly): I think this will do well, but it would surprise me if we got to that level.

ULABY: Charlotte Abbott is a senior editor at Publisher's Weekly.

Ms. ABBOTT: What's different, I think, is that the "9/11 Report" was an engrossing narrative of a dramatic event. It had a beginning. It had a middle. We know how the story ended. They really got top-notch writers. It's like a thriller.

ULABY: Once in a while, the often stodgy genre of Government Reports grabs the headlines and space on bookstore shelves. Take for example, Kenneth Starr's Report on President Clinton or the Meese Commission's 1986 investigation of pornography.

Vintage Senior Editor Andrew Miller traces general readership of government reports back to a naval commander, who served in the Mexican-American War.

Mr. MILLER: There's a report by William Lewis Herndon in the 1850s about a trip down the Amazon he took - that the government released and that was actually a government printing office. But that sold, I think 30,000 copies then, which was a huge bestseller for the time.

ULABY: Miller acknowledges that the "Iraq Study Group Report" may not be a huge bestseller for an American readership saddened by and soured on the war.

But he says it contains new information that may make it an essential stocking stuffer for the policy wonk in the family.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

AMOS: We don't know yet how this one ends yet. The full title is, "The Iraq Study Group Report: The Way Forward - A New Approach."

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