Inside the Australian and New Zealand book industry

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Amazon breaks Atwood embargo in US

Amazon has shipped hundreds of copies of Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments (Chatto & Windus), the embargoed follow-up to The Handmaid’s Tale, to US customers ahead of its official release date on 10 September, reports the Guardian.

Around 800 orders were shipped early in the US, with readers posting pictures of their copies on social media. Penguin Random House (PRH) US said in a statement this was ‘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,’ said PRH US.

As a consequence of the violation, a number of media outlets, including the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age, brought forward publication of exclusive extracts of The Testaments to Wednesday evening.

Publishers Weekly reported that a number of independent retailers in the US have sent letters to their PRH reps complaining of the embargo violation. Rachel Cass of the Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said that although she had signed PRH’s ‘very strict, very clearly-stated affidavit’ swearing to abide by the embargo, she—along with many other indie booksellers—has not even received her boxes of books yet.

‘It makes us look bad,’ said Cass. ‘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.’

The news comes the day after The Testaments was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, which imposed strict security measures on judges to ensure nothing was leaked ahead of the publication date.

Australian responses

While the broken embargo has only affected US readers, members of the Australian book industry have also called for Amazon to face consequences for the breach.

Robbie Egan, CEO of the Australian Booksellers Association said: ‘This is very disappointing. For a major global release such as The Testaments I would expect Amazon to abide by the embargo as our members do. I’m surprised publishers deliver books to Amazon before our members, which on the face of it seems unfair. Perception is important, and the perception this creates is that our members are being disadvantaged. We will continue to work on improving terms and conditions and look forward to reading and selling The Testaments within the agreed terms of the embargo.’

Mark Rubbo, managing director of Melbourne independent bookshop Readings, commented: ‘It’s a pity that the PRH US reaction was so muted and there was no indication that there would be consequences for Amazon for breaking the embargo. The online bookstores pushed hard to get their stock early so that they could get it to their customers on the Tuesday, the same day as bricks and mortar. Our online store got their stock yesterday and we have been very careful to respect the embargo and will do so in spite of this breach.’


Category: International news