July 21, 2005

Norton says it will give mystery percentage of millions from 9/11 Commission book to private institutions . . .


After months of questioning — and behind-the-scenes criticism within the publishing industry — W. W. Norton & Company has finally announced how it would handle the profits from its publication of The 9/11 Commission Report, the public document that was rather mysteriously given to Norton to publish concurrent with the Commission’s public revelation of its findings, in a deal that allowed a private company to beat even the government’s own version of the book printed by the Government Printing Office. As Edward Wyatt reports in a New York Times story, the publisher has announced it will “donate $600,000 from its profits on the book to three programs focused on emergency preparedness and international relations.” According to Wyatt, company president W. Drake McFeely said “Norton will give $200,000 each to three groups: the Center for Catastrophe Preparedness and Response and the International Center for Enterprise Preparedness, both at New York University; and the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, part of Johns Hopkins University.” What, exactly, Norton would do with the money it made from a document that belongs to the American people has long been a point of angry speculation amongst some publishers in New York. As Wyatt partially explains, “Norton drew criticism because it paid nothing for the rights to publish the manuscript and was given special early access to the confidential report by the commission, which wanted printed copies available in bookstores on the day the report was released to the news media. The commission said it chose Norton because it made the best proposal, agreeing to sell the paperback version of the report for only $10.” However, as Wyatt doesn’t note, some major publishers have complained off the record that they were never given a chance to bid at all. Nor does Wyatt note another aspect of the deal that angered publishers: Contrary to the $10 book price cited by Congress, Norton did not sell only a paperback version of the book for $10 — it also immediately marketed a hardcover version of the book for $20. The fact that Norton is not returning anything to the national budget but rather making donations to private universities, will no doubt raise further criticism. As to what percentage of the millions in profits Norton made that the company is donating to those private institutions, the overall profit made will apparently remain obscured. Wyatt reports only that “The Norton edition sold more than a million copies, about 98 percent of them in paperback.” He does not cite a source for the information.

MORE: A May 25, 2004 New York Times story, by Philip Shenon, details another reason for complaint and suspicion about the deal between Norton and Congress that angered many in the industry: The 9/11 panel’s staff director, Philip D. Zelikow, “has a longstanding relationship with Norton, which has published several books that he edited or helped write.”

Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.