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Indie booksellers express fury at Amazon's early release of Atwood's The Testaments

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Indie booksellers express fury at Amazon's early release of Atwood's The Testaments

Sep 05 2019

Amazon has broken the worldwide embargo on Margaret Atwood's The Testaments (Nan A. Talese), which isn't supposed to go on sale until next Tuesday, September 10, inadvertently shipping about 800 copies to customers. This has infuriated indies, led to early reviews of the book around the world--revealing basic elements, and caused exclusive excerpts to be published earlier than planned. Altogether, the embargo violation stained the release of one of the biggest books of the fall season, Atwood's long-awaited sequel to The Handmaid's Tale.

In response to the situation, publisher Penguin Random House issued this statement: "A very small number of copies of Margaret Atwood's The Testaments were distributed early due to a retailer error which has now been rectified.... Not naming Amazon and attributing the problem to "a retailer error" irritated many indie booksellers for a number of reasons: some pointed out that if their stores had sold copies of the book early, it would be considered an embargo violation and likely lead to punishments, such as not receiving embargoed books ahead of publication date in the future. Many speculated PRH will not do anything of the sort with Amazon.

In a series of tweets, Raven Book Store, Lawrence, Kan., succinctly outlined the problem:

"It should come as no surprise that a certain huge online retailer is selling this book very close to our cost; if we sold it at their price we'd make $1.73 per copy. We've discussed before how this is unfair, and how we deal with it.

But now, not only is the huge online retailer selling it for a price we can't compete with, but they shipped out copies a week early. This increases the likelihood that someone who got it early uploads a bootleg copy online, cutting into sales for everyone.

It also gave de facto permission to places like the New York Times and NPR to publish spoiler-heavy reviews, which deflates the mysterious buzz about what's in the book. It's likely that less mystery means less vital first-week sales for everyone. I hope we're wrong."

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