Viking Books, a division of Penguin Random House, delivered a shock to booksellers on Wednesday by raising the price for one of the most anticipated books of the coming holiday season. In an August 25 e-mail, the publisher informed booksellers that the forthcoming Amanda Gorman poetry collection, Call Us What We Carry, would go up in price by $5 per book, from $19.99 to $24.99.
“The book will also have an expanded page count of 240 pages (previously 120 pages)—great news for all of us who love Amanda's work,” the e-mail read.
PRH later confirmed that the book will actually be three times the anticipated length, but excitement quickly faded, with booksellers expressing concerns about recouping the price difference on existing pre-orders. The outcry prompted PRH to announce that they will “honor the original price for all customers who pre-ordered the book prior to the price change, which was effective on August 25, 2021,” according to a PRH spokesperson. The statement applies to all PRH customers who take pre-orders.
Gorman’s propulsive inaugural poem catapulted her to the fore of American poetry and Viking Books quickly inked a three-book deal with the author in January. The deal included publication of a standalone commemorative edition of the inaugural poem, which was release in March, along with a forthcoming children’s picture book, and Call Us What We Carry.
At Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, N.C., the announcement of the book deal was accompanied by a push to take pre-orders, encouraged by PRH, which was eager to capture the momentum of the inauguration. The store ultimately took 300 pre-orders. The initial price change announcement would have meant that the bookstore would be on the hook for thousands of dollars in losses, with no way to recoup them from customers or the publisher.
Jason Jeffries, Quail Ridge general manager, was one of numerous booksellers who reached out to PRH yesterday and he said he was relieved to get a phone call this morning, informing him of the new terms. “We’re very happy with PRH’s solution in that it was very fast,” Jeffries told PW.
The rollout of the title has had its twists and turns. In a July 27 press release, Viking did a cover reveal for the collection and pushed back the release date of the book from September to December 7. The publisher also changed the title from The Hill We Climb and Other Poems to its current title, Call Us What We Carry. At the time, the price was still listed as $19.99.
But it was the price hike that threatened to cause industry-wide disruptions. In most instances, customers pre-order books from indies within a few months of a book’s release. A bookstore can then securely store the customer’s credit card data. When the book arrives, the customer is charged. But in the case of Call Us What We Carry, stores processed the transactions immediately last winter because credit card processors do not allow them to hold onto credit card data for extended periods of time.
On social media, many booksellers expressed outraged at the price hike. In a BookTok, Tubby & Coos Mid-City Bookshop owner Candice Huber said, “Penguin Random House is expecting indie bookstores like mine—tiny indie bookstores—that do not have anywhere near as much money at Penguin Random House to either eat the cost of five dollars per book, which may not sound like a lot, but it is—it adds up—or to pass that cost along to our customers who paid for these books back in January [or] February…If you can buy Simon and Schuster, you can eat five dollars per book.”
At Quail Ridge, Jeffries supported booksellers’ outreach to PRH, but was more measured, noting that artists in other media like music often make changes to their work up to, and even after, the initial release. While print books add to the challenge of making similar changes, he said he shared the publisher's excitement. “Amanda Gorman is an important young voice in this country and you want her to release the product that she’s happy with and proud of,” Jeffries said, adding that the publisher’s quick resolution of the issue was welcome.
PRH noted that they are “currently reaching out to booksellers to discuss the process and logistics for honoring these pre-paid pre-orders. We value our bookselling partners and look forward to launching this rich and timeless collection with them, which explores themes of identity, grief and memory.”