At first glance, the “Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election from the Department of Justice” doesn’t scream beach read. But two months after the redacted 448-page document — better known as the Mueller report — was released, commercial print editions of the document in book form are still riding best-seller lists.
Versions of the Mueller report published by Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, and Skyhorse Publishing are currently ranked No. 1 and No. 2 on the New York Times nonfiction paperback best-seller list. A third, from Melville House Publishing, is at No. 13.
The Scribner edition, which features analysis and reporting from the Washington Post, is also at No. 15 on Amazon’s list of 100 best-selling books to date this year, just ahead of Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck.
Through June 8, Scribner’s Mueller book had sold 205,000 copies; the Skyhorse edition, 85,000; and Melville House’s, 25,000, according to figures from NPD BookScan, which tracks an estimated 85 percent of trade print books sold in the U.S.
“That’s a very impressive number for a nonfiction book available in paperback,” said Albert N. Greco, a professor at Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business and publishing-industry expert, of the 315,000 total sold to date. “Since 2016 there has been tremendous interest in political books of all types, so this fits into a pattern.”
Publishers banked on an audience for the Mueller report when they began prepping last year to package it in book form. A booming market in Trump-related books had emerged in the last two years, after all, and the report loomed as the most consequential Trump tell-all to date.
“This was the most anticipated document in my lifetime,” said Dennis Johnson, co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House, in an interview at the company’s Brooklyn offices.
Melville has carved out a niche in recent years publishing major government reports, including the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Report on the Rendition Program (the Torture Report), and last year’s National Climate Assessment.
In a departure from past practice, it published the Mueller report as a mass-market paperback to broaden distribution to outlets like airports, supermarkets, and non-bookstore retail chains. The smaller format also helped it price the book at $9.99 (versus $15 and $12.99 for the two competing commercial editions).
“We decided to do this format to be cheaper and get the book into more hands, and get it into locations that don’t typically carry trade paperbacks,” said Johnson. Its scarlet cover also contrasts with the more official look of its rival editions.
The report is available to read online or download as a PDF file for free from a U.S. Department of Justice website, and there are free audio versions available. But publishing it as a book makes it more accessible and readable, said Johnson. “Print is still the superior technology for passing this along to a wider audience,” he said.
Regardless of approach, publishers are confident the Mueller report will continue to sell. They noted a spike in sales following the special counsel’s public statement about the report on May 29 and speculate on the impact of congressional hearings on the report’s findings in the coming months.
“Hearings will increase interest in the report dramatically,” said Tony Lyons, president and publisher of Manhattan-based Skyhorse Publishing, whose edition includes an introduction by Harvard Law School professor and frequent Trump defender Alan Dershowitz. Public testimony by Mueller in particular could provide another jolt to sales.
Lyons said Skyhorse has already shipped most of its initial print run of 250,000. Scribner, meanwhile, has already added to its first printing of 350,000 copies, and says it has more than 500,000 in circulation.
“People are reading this book in the context of reading the news,” said Scribner editor-in-chief Colin Harrison. “It’s very much a live and relevant document in their political day-to-day life.”
Fordham’s Greco isn’t predicting how long the Mueller report will remain a best seller but acknowledged historic government reports can have long shelf lives. He pointed out the Warren Commission’s 1964 report on the Kennedy assassination is still available in hardcover, paperback, and e-book.
The original Bantam paperback version of the Warren report sold 1.6 million copies, setting a high bar for the Mueller report publishers.