'It leaves Harry Potter in the dust': Why the Mueller report is a No. 1 bestseller, even though people can read it free

  • When the Department of Justice released the special counsel Robert Mueller’s final report in the Russia investigation on April 18, the government made the 448-page document publicly available as a downloadable PDF on the DOJ’s website.
  • But instead of reading the report free, many Americans are opting to buy a print or e-book version of the report. It’s already a bestseller.
  • “This is the most anticipated book in American history – it leaves Harry Potter in the dust,” Melville House copublisher Dennis Johnson told INSIDER.
  • Melville House’s version of the report has sold more preorders than any other book in the company’s history. But Johnson says that’s in part thanks to the government’s decision to release a low-quality, non-text-searchable version.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

When the Department of Justice released the special counsel Robert Mueller’s final report in the Russia investigation on April 18, the government made the 448-page document publicly available on DOJ’s website. Many media outlets also made the report free, accessible, and easily downloadable on their own sites.

But many, many Americans are opting to buy a print version of the report instead – so many, in fact, that the Mueller report is already a bestseller.

The first published version of the report, edited by Scribner and The Washington Post, sold nearly 42,000 copies last week, NPD BookScan reported Wednesday. And the book will debut No. 1 on The New York Times’ combined print and e-book bestseller list on Sunday, May 12, the AP reported. It’s also a No. 1 bestseller on Amazon.

A host of other publishers are working overtime to get their own versions of the report on bookshelves this week and next. They’re charging between $US1.99 (for an e-book version) and $US12.99 (for a paperback copy). Barnes & Noble is allowing its Nook customers to download it free.

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Dennis Johnson, the cofounder and copublisher of Melville House, said the Mueller report has sold more preorders than any other book in the company’s history.

“To my mind, this is the most anticipated book in American history – it leaves Harry Potter in the dust,” he told INSIDER.

‘The government doesn’t want people to read it’

Publishers say readers are simply looking for an easier, more practical way to read about Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and President Donald Trump’s handling of the investigation. Few people enjoy digesting several hundred pages of a low-quality PDF on their computer.

“What I’ve been hearing is people feel overwhelmed by how big the digital document is and they’re eager to hold it and see it, and really flip through it the way they want to,” Christina Cerio, the store manager of Melville House’s Brooklyn bookstore, told INSIDER.

Johnson said Melville’s version – which arrived in its New York store on Thursday – features a more “readable” typeface and the e-book version is searchable. And he thinks making the report easier to read is a public service – and probably something the government should have done in the first place.

“We think these things should be out there – they should be accessible, they should be in home libraries, in public libraries, people should be reading this,” he said. “The government doesn’t want people to read it – that’s why they put out such a crappy PDF version of it.”

DOJ’s PDF version of the report isn’t text-searchable.

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“Having read, with great difficulty, the PDF version as we typeset our edition, I can say with certainty that it is not preferable,” Mark Gompertz, the editorial director of Skyhorse Publishing, told INSIDER. “Also, for those who prefer a printed copy, the cost of paper and ink (only to be left with loose sheets) is also not preferable, nor is it economical.”

Suzanne Antonelli, a retiree who lives on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, bought Skyhorse’s $US2.99 Kindle version of the report and reads portions of it while watching the news and before falling asleep at night.

“When it first came out I tried reading some of it on my phone, but it was too small,” Antonelli told INSIDER. “I watch a lot of MSNBC and if I hear something about a particular section, I’ll go to that page and read it.”

Skyhorse’s version, which was released in e-book and paperback days after the report was released, also comes with an introduction by Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard Law School professor who has long criticised the special counsel’s investigation.

Melville House will publish the report exactly as the government released it, commentary-free.

This isn’t the first time Americans have paid for published versions of important government documents.

Publishing megahits included “The Starr Report,” which included graphic details of President Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky; the Warren Commission on President John F. Kennedy’s assassination; and the Pentagon Papers, illuminating American wrongdoing in the Vietnam War.

The “9/11 Commission Report” was even named a National Book Award finalist in 2004.

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