It has been said before, but at this point, I think it bears repeating: This embargoing business has gotten out of hand.

In the past several weeks, there have been at least three big books embargoed by their publishers—think titles from Pakistani president Pervez Musharaf, Bob Woodward and Carly Fiorina. Two of these books saw their embargoes broken, or their contents leaked; both Woodward's State of Denial and Fiorina's Tough Choices were bought "at retail" by New York Times reporters before their official pub date. Of course, at that point, bedlam ensued: in newspapers and magazines (including this very one), in board rooms and publishing offices, the hue and cry began anew: What's the point of an embargo? And are embargoes necessary?

If you ask a publisher, as I did, you'll hear, of course, that embargoes are necessary, that it's imperative that the "news" in a book be protected; the more sophisticated will point out that embargoing a book is a way to prevent the pre-pub spin machine from going into overdrive with only bits of information. Never mind that part of the whole truth usually also includes the fact that the publisher has made a deal with some august news organization (60 Minutes, say) to keep the book under wraps until broadcast—a fact that infuriates other journalists who suggest that orchestrating TV coverage is much like "checkbook journalism."

In case you haven't noticed, I am not a fan of embargoes—and not just because the Fiorina embargo and subsequent break thereof made at least one august news organizations, like ours truly, look like idiots for agreeing to hold a review of a book that gets plastered all over the New York Times a week pre-pub. The bigger problem is that embargoes—whether they "hold" or not—don't really work. Yes, a publisher might gain a day's or a week's "pop" in sales by managing publicity via embargo, but a house also runs the risk of leaks —which sometimes are extensive enough to make book buyers feel they've read the book when all they've done is read about it. There's also the backlash to worry about: yes, the Carly Fiorina book got a lot of ink, but much of it was more about the embargo and its rupture than about the book itself.

It seems to me that publishers would be better off saving embargoes for books that actually have news in them, instead of using them to create news where it doesn't really exist. (Woodward had some news; Fiorina, it seems, didn't.) Embargoes, simply put, are a waste of the considerable, and yet constantly maligned, talent of the best book publicists and marketers we've got.

Besides, doesn't anybody realize just how much person power is spent by august news services, who send reporters out across the country in search of an inappropriately shelved copy of State of Denial? (Hint: a lot. I've been there.) Embargoed book hunting has become a full-time job and if we don't watch out, the next Bob Woodward will be spending his time hunting for an advance copy of George W. Bush's memoir instead of doing the reporting that could bring down his White House.

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