Margaret Atwood's hotly anticipated new novel The Testaments may be under embargo, but that hasn't stopped one online retailer from selling it. The mix-up has incensed independent booksellers, and drawn an acknowledgement, if not a flat-out apology, from publisher Penguin Random House.
A number of angry independent booksellers have taken to social media to vent about the fact that Amazon violated the embargo set by Penguin Random House; the publisher instructed retailers to withhold the book from customers until its September 10 on-sale-date.
On Tuesday night, Astoria Bookshop (Queens, N.Y.) owner Lexi Beach posted on Twitter that some consumers had already received their pre-ordered copies of The Testaments from Amazon, while booksellers, like herself, were still abiding by the embargo.
Instagram user @JAMNPP posted that he had pre-ordered The Testaments “months ago” from Amazon, and received it in the mail yesterday. “I just figured they’d changed the date but now I checked! I don’t know how I got it a week early,” he wrote. Another Amazon customer, @LateBloomer, shared on Twitter that they had received the book, adding that they were “discouraged that Amazon would fail to abide by the release date, to the detriment of our beloved indie booksellers.” This comment earned a sharp rebuke from Beach, who responded, “If you’re that concerned, why did you order from Amazon?”
Confirming the breach, Doubleday’s executive director of publicity, Todd Doughty, sent 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. 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.”
Amazon, reached for comment about the situation, did not respond to PW by press time.
The broken embargo, for indie booksellers, is more than a mere headache. A number of them sent letters to their PRH reps Wednesday morning complaining of the violation; one letter seen by PW demanded that PRH sanction Amazon for violating the embargo. Rachel Cass of the Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge, Mass., told PW that what makes the broken embargo so frustrating is that stores like hers played by the rules and were, seemingly, penalized for it. She said her store signed PRH’s “very strict, very clearly-stated affidavit” swearing to abide by the embargo and, as a result, she -- like all the other indie booksellers responding to PW's query -- has not even received her boxes of books yet.
“It makes us look bad,” she told PW. “This is bigger than just this book. Customers will see that people who ordered online got their books. They will come into our store and see that we don't have it yet. They won't know or care about embargoes; they will just see that Amazon can supply them a book and we can't. They might not come in next time."