Amazon shipped at least some copies of Margaret Atwood’s much-anticipated The Testaments to some customers a full week early, in violation of the strict worldwide September 10 embargo. On Twitter and Instagram, several users reported receiving their early copies.
A spokesperson for Penguin Random House told PL, “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. We appreciate that readers and booksellers have been waiting patiently for the much-anticipated sequel to the bestselling The Handmaid’s Tale. In order to ensure our readers around the world receive their copies on the same day, our global publication date remains Tuesday, September 10.” The company posted the statement to Twitter as well.
Will Amazon face any repercussions? A representative at PRH indicated the company would address the violation in this instance, while noting that they see embargoes broken with some frequency across channels and the company addresses them as needed with individual retailers. Of course this is no ordinary embargo; the Times of London wrote about the “unprecedented security operation” around copies of the book, and the NYT writes the same story about the “top secret” handling. (Booker Prize jurors were given watermarked copies and “warned they would be held liable if their copy was leaked or lost.”) The Guardian claims it was about 800 copies that shipped early.
Amazon’s error initiated a further cascade, however, with “exclusive” serials lined up in newspapers around the world pushed forward as a result, running online from such outlets as The Guardian and the Sydney Morning Herald. Time magazine started sharing their cover package from the September 16 fall preview issue, which features Atwood as “the reluctant prophet.” Hulu and MGM tell Time they are developing the new book for TV.
Independent booksellers were less than understanding, expressing understandable dismay online that the biggest bookseller in the business would make such a blatant infraction. Among them, Rachel Cass at Harvard Book Store noted on Twitter, “A reminder to publishers that to customers, this makes US look bad. Customers don’t care about embargoes. They care that they saw online that people have this book and we don’t have it in our stores yet.” Cass posted further in reply to PRH’s statement: “This is such a wildly inadequate response.”
Reviewers broke the embargo, too, adding further to the general sense that the book is out there. NPR appears to have gone first with the premature review, but other prominent outlets, including the New York Times and Washington Post, followed quickly. UK newspapers were as upset about that as US booksellers were about the early shipments.
On the shambles of the early Atwood selling and reviews, there appears to be one rule for US newspapers, who seem to have their reviews already done and on the stocks, and one for British newspapers. Sunday Times literary editor Andrew Holgate posted on Twitter, “On the shambles of the early Atwood selling and reviews, there appears to be one rule for US newspapers, who seem to have their reviews already done and on the stocks, and one for British newspapers. Very, very, very poor…. Absolutely infuriating, in fact.”