NEW YORK — With independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr’s summary report to Congress likely to be released to the public today, the race is now on among magazine and book publishers over how to handle the hot copy — rumored to be full of sexual detail and implications of perjury that may bring down a president.
So far, three publishers — Pocket Books, PublicAffairs and Prima Publishing — have decided to rush-release paperback compilations of the report that should arrive in bookstores by Tuesday. Another publisher, Times Books, is expected to decide by this morning whether it will go ahead with a book.
The document to be released is Starr’s 445-page summary report — reportedly consisting of a 25-page introduction, a 280-page narrative of events involving President Clinton and former White House intern Monica Lewinsky and a 140-page explanation of possible impeachable offenses. The House Judiciary Committee will review what, if any, of the additional 2,000 pages of material, including grand jury testi-mony, will be released later.
The news of the expected summary-report release created a deadline crunch for the weekly newsmagazines, which issue their editions Monday.
U.S. News & World Report, for one, is already planning a rare extension of its usual Friday-night closing to Saturday to accommodate the possible newsbreak.
But neither U.S. News, Newsweek nor Time has announced any special or extra editions.
As for a Government Printing Office edition of the report, GPO spokeswoman Carlyn Crout told Daily Variety that she’s still awaiting more information from Congress; but if the release goes as expected today and if the material can easily be transferred technologically, she expects the GPO could issue the government document edition overnight.
Full text of the Starr report will be available on the Web once the House of Representatives votes to accept the document. The report will be located on the Internet at house.gov/icreport and at http://www.access.gpo.gov/congress/icreport.
Despite this availability, Pocket, Public Affairs, Prima and perhaps other commercial book publishers are thinking they can cash in on the interest in the report by releasing their own editions, freeing consumers from the details of ordering a GPO report.
Planned for months
Peter Osnos, publisher of PublicAffairs Books, has been planning the project for months, said publicity director Gene Taft. The $10, 325-page trade paperback will be accompanied by commentary from reporters of the Washington Post, where Osnos, an executive who previously headed Random House’s Times Books division, once worked.
Taft said a runner is waiting to pick up the report when it is delivered to the Washington Post in order to rush it to press. He expects a first printing of 75,000-200,000 copies.
Prima, the Rockland, Calif., publishing house already getting some buzz on the Clinton scandal with its just released book “The Clinton Syndrome: The President and the Self-Destructive Nature of Sexual Addiction,” by Jerome Levin, is planning to issue its $9.95 trade paperback compilation of the Starr report with no additional editorializing.
“We don’t want to taint this historical document with any commentary,” said Matthew Carleson, executive VP and chief operating offer. He announced no first printing, although he thought the PublicAffairs number was in his expected range.
But the largest publisher in the race, Pocket Books, may have the best advantage: It will charge only $5.99 for its mass-market edition Starr tome, which will include the expected report plus an introduction by Phil Kuntz, a Wall Street Journal staff reporter. The house plans a whopping 500,000-copy first printing.
Pocket’s entry into the Starr scramble is a bit of a surprise on two counts, however.
In the Wall Street Journal on Thursday, publisher Gina Centrello expressed the view held by many pub-lishers that they can’t compete with the other media on this topic, saying, “I am not publishing this.” In a statement announcing the book Thursday night, Centrello said, “After careful consideration we decided that there are indeed many, many people who would like to be fully informed about the situation the president now faces. Our book is for those who want to go beyond the news and read for themselves.”
First lady’s publisher
Perhaps more sticky for Pocket, it’s a division of Simon & Schuster, which has Hillary Rodham Clinton as a bestselling house author. Contacted by Daily Variety, Washington, D.C., lawyer Bob Barnett, who acted as literary agent for Mrs. Clinton on both her previous bestseller “It Takes a Village” as well as the upcoming “Dear Socks, Dear Buddy: Kids’ Letters to the First Pets,” had no comment about the situation.
While the books on Starr’s report are not big investments for the publishing houses since they draw on public domain material, they can still be disappointments thanks to large first printings that may not translate into sales, with booksellers returning unsold books to the publishers.
For every strong seller like Bantam’s editions of “The Pentagon Papers” (one of Publishers Weekly’s paperback bestsellers for 1964 with 1.5 million copies sold) or “Report on the Warren Commission,” there have been such disappointments as “Taking the Stand,” Pocket’s repackaging of Oliver North’s public domain testimony of the Iran-Contra hearings and the somewhat comparable “Between Hope and History” and “Trusting the People,” the acquired-for-free campaign tracts from Clinton and Bob Dole that became returns headaches for Times Books and HarperCollins, respectively, during the 1996 presidential election.
This track record makes Suisie Russenberger, buyer at major book distributor Ingram, wary of predicting the power of the Starr report, whether it’s full of salacious events or not. Even though she ordered “a lot” of the PublicAffairs book, now that two more are joining the list, “It’s hard to know how to order these. I have no idea how they’ll sell,” she said.