The most anticipated book of the fall season is shaping up to deliver for its publisher, Penguin Random House, if not for many independent booksellers, who were hoping the title would smash sales records of their own.
The Testaments, released on Tuesday, has, according to PRH (whose Nan A. Talese imprint published the book), sold over 125,000 copies in its short shelf life. The publisher noted that the performance of the novel, which is Margaret Atwood's sequel to her 1985 bestseller The Handmaid's Tale, makes it the "best day one sales for any Penguin Random House title in 2019." Having gone to press on the novel for an announced 500,000 copies, PRH added that the house has, since Tuesday, already gone back to press twice on The Testaments, and once on The Handmaid's Tale.
Print sales for the book will not be released by BookScan until next week, but the big chains are reporting that it looks to be a hit-in-the-making for them. Barnes & Noble, which did not have hard numbers to release yet, said the book is currently #2 on its bestseller list. Senior director of merchandising for trade books, Liz Harwell, described the first-day sales as "fantastic." She elaborated: " “It was up against tough comparisons for the record books, not least of which was Bob Woodward’s Fear, which was on fire this time last year. We also had one of the best Stephen King launches for quite some time. The Institute did amazingly well, but our bet is that Margaret Atwood will win the race to the top of the bestseller list. Our Book Club sign-ups for The Testaments have been really strong even at this early stage.”
In the U.K., Waterstone's, which hosted a midnight launch party for the title at its flagship location complete with a reading from Atwood, reported, per the Bookseller, that it had its "biggest first days sales of 2019" with the novel.
Some American independent booksellers had hoped that The Testaments could prove to be a hit on the level of a Harry Potter (and its spate of sequels), which drove customers to release parties and sparked trickle-down sales. Early reports, though, were mixed. Frustrated still that the embargoed laydown of the title was accidentally broken by Amazon, indie booksellers expressed differing takes on the book's very early sales days.
One indie bookseller, who requested anonymity, said his take on The Testaments is that "it doesn't have the same reach as a book like Harry Potter." He added: "I'm surprised how few young people know who Margaret Atwood is and know about The Handmaid's Tale."
The Next Chapter Booksellers in St. Paul, Minn., said its launch party for the novel wound up being "an intimate gathering" with less than 10 people. At Quail Ridge Bookstore in Raleigh, N.C., an event at a local cinema which livestreamed the Waterstone's reading was more successful, with the store reporting it sold 45 copies to people who had pre-ordered a package for the book and screening. In Duluth, Minn., Zenith Bookstore also shared respectable, if not fantastic, numbers; owner Bob Dobrow said after "a very aggressive pre-order campaign" it sold 23 copies.
The Avid Bookshop in Athens, Ga., reported 20 copies sold, and Women and Children First in Chicago 50 copies, 20 of them at the midnight launch party that drew 40 people.
Other booksellers said the snafu with Amazon had, inadvertently, sent a few customers their way. Rachel Cass, manager and head buyer at Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Mass., said that "at least one person specifically mentioned that they'd heard about what Amazon did and wanted to get their copy from an indie." Mary Ruth Less, owner of Foggy Pine Books in Boone, N.C., said two people who showed up at the store on Tuesday said they came specifically "because they heard what Amazon did and wanted to support me instead."