Phil Angelides’ Unusual Book Deal

Aug 17th, 2010 | By businessnews | Category: Business


Publishing Congress’ study of what caused the Great Recession, the FCIC’s chairman asks: “Why shouldn’t the taxpayers make some money?”

By
Ashley Lutz

(Corrects first paragraph to make clear the deal has yet to be signed.)

The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, which Phil Angelides chairs, is working on a deal with Hachette Book Group’s Little, Brown to publish its findings in December. The commission’s hiring of agents to sell the manuscript is unusual, and so is the contract being negotiated: It will ensure Uncle Sam gets an advance and royalties.

“Why shouldn’t we let the taxpayers make some money?” asks Angelides, a Democrat and former California state treasurer whose panel was created by Congress to examine the causes of the Great Recession. “Our No. 1 goal was to work with the best publisher for the best book to be distributed widely,” he adds. Any profit would be icing on the cake. Angelides wouldn’t disclose details about the contract, saying it hasn’t been signed yet.

Although the report will be available online for free, literary agents representing the commission received bids for the proposed book from five of the six publishing houses they pitched. Angelides says he expects sales to be brisk, particularly for the e-book version containing links to documents, audio tapes, and video clips. He has reason to be optimistic: Previous book versions of government inquiries have done well. The 9/11 Commission Report, published in 2004 by W. W. Norton—which passed on the economic crisis book—holds the record for the genre, with more than 1 million copies in print. The Starr Report, on the investigation of President Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, sold 200,000 copies.

The FCIC’s publication, scheduled to hit bookstores 10 days before Christmas, is also likely to be a blockbuster, says Michael Norris, a senior analyst at Stamford (Conn.)-based Simba Information, which advises book publishers. “People want to see some kind of finished product that will answer their questions,” he says. “A lot of people are still rubbing their eyes after the recession, saying, ‘what was that?’ ” Peter Osnos, founder of PublicAffairs Books, which published The Starr Report, is more skeptical about the commercial possibilities for the commission’s tome. “The Starr Report,” he says, was “completely different. It was the early Internet Age, and downloading was a difficult process.”

More than 50 FCIC employees are working on the final draft of the report. Matthew Cooper, a former White House correspondent for Time magazine, has been hired by the panel to smooth the manuscript. The 10-member bipartisan commission has subpoena authority and called witnesses from Goldman Sachs (GS), American International Group (AIG), and Citigroup (C). It also took testimony from former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin.

Bill Thomas, the commission’s Republican vice-chairman, says the publishing deal will help the panel reach a broad audience. It may also serve another goal: giving momentum to the financial regulations overhaul President Barack Obama signed into law on July 21. “Maybe if people understand what was going on, we could actually implement this stuff,” says Thomas, a former lawmaker from California who was chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee. The next question is whether George Clooney is available to play Angelides in the movie version.

The bottom line: The commission investigating the financial crisis hopes to make a profit for taxpayers from publication of its final report.

Lutz is a reporter for Bloomberg News.

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