The Early New Testaments
September 5, 2019 3:42 AM   Subscribe

The Testaments, Margaret Atwood's hotly-anticipated followup to The Handmaid's Tale, is only five days away from release – unless you're one of 800 Amazon customers who received the book early. Indie booksellers are incensed that Amazon has broken the strict embargo with likely zero consequences. As Rachel Cass of Harvard Book Store noted, "[Customers] 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."
posted by adrianhon (30 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
Margaret Atwood's hotly-anticipated WHAT NOW??

oh man I really have been under a rock. This is the first time I've even heard about this book.
posted by captain afab at 4:53 AM on September 5 [7 favorites]


Same here!! Were they keeping it a big secret or something??
posted by Melismata at 4:56 AM on September 5


"In order to ensure our readers around the world receive their copies on the same day, our global publication date remains Tuesday, September 10 fuck you."

A proper response to something like this is to immediately send out the books to the indie sellers and release them form their embargo clause, while still holding Amazon to it.
But who am I kidding? This will never happen.
And Lexi Beach's comment about "why didn't you get it from us then?" is spot-on. Customers wring their hands about indie shops of all stripes going under, but then they turn right around and shop at Walmart and Amazon.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 4:57 AM on September 5 [8 favorites]


In order to ensure our readers around the world receive their copies on the same day, our global publication date remains Tuesday, September 10.”

Not to derail too much into Amazon's delivery methods, but I've experienced this with video games. I know a few people who purchase exclusively from Amazon because they know that this happens often enough and there's a good chance they'll land a copy of a game that would normally release on a Friday and end up in their mailbox on a Thursday. So I can understand why booksellers are upset by this.

That being said, I've sort of lost quite a bit of interest in Atwood because of how she behaves on Twitter and some of her political views/choices (UBC Accountable letter/#MeToo).

I might pick up the book eventually. I'll probably just read a wikipedia summary and/or watch The Handmaid's Tale tv series down the road. I did the same thing with Game of Thrones and look how that turned out, oh right.
posted by Fizz at 4:59 AM on September 5 [3 favorites]


A proper response to something like this is to immediately send out the books to the indie sellers and release them form their embargo clause, while still holding Amazon to it.

In practice the supply chain here is likely such that the smallest indie stores won’t even receive the book until Monday or perhaps Tuesday morning. If you officially lift the embargo now, you are (by some ways of thinking, anyway) only increasing the unfair advantage in a way that disfavors those most impacted by it.

A proper response would be to notify Amazon that they will no longer receive advance shipments of day and date releases until they make clear that they will abide by their on-sale dates but hahahahahaha.
posted by Mothlight at 5:16 AM on September 5 [5 favorites]


I hate to defend Amazon, but 800 copies truly is a glitch - they have no doubt already received many tens of thousands of pre-orders for Atwood's new book. I'll save my angry panting for willful bad behavior by Our Friends in Seattle (as folks in publishing refer to they who shan't be named).
posted by PhineasGage at 6:41 AM on September 5 [11 favorites]


Count me as another person who had no clue this book existed and now I’m excited!

I did the same thing with Game of Thrones and look how that turned out, oh right.

I’ve come around to being thankful GoT ended so poorly because I never would have read the books otherwise, and they are so incredibly good. In case anyone is looking for more reading.
posted by sallybrown at 6:55 AM on September 5


I’m hold number 560 at the library, woo hoo! I had no idea this book was happening until yesterday. I was hoping that the book would wipe out season 3 of the TV series from my brain, but The NY Times review had mega spoilers and... I will have much to discuss when I finally get my hands on my copy, and much to block out until that point.
posted by Maarika at 6:57 AM on September 5


Count me as another person who had no clue this book existed and now I’m excited!

I had a dim awareness that it was going to be published at some point, but didn't realize it would be so soon. Maybe this will turn out to be a mild bonus for indie bookstores, as 1) it's giving additional press to Atwood's new book, and 2) a reminder to buy the book from an indie instead of Amazon?

If you do not already have a favorite indie bookstore, may I recommend Left Bank Books in St. Louis? My to-read pile is huge, so I don't order many books these days, but when I do I try to stick to ordering through them even though I no longer live in St. Louis.

No doubt more expensive than Amazon, but you'll have the warm glow of supporting a fantastic indie bookstore.
posted by jzb at 7:21 AM on September 5 [2 favorites]


I hate to defend Amazon, but 800 copies truly is a glitch - they have no doubt already received many tens of thousands of pre-orders for Atwood's new book. I'll save my angry panting for willful bad behavior by Our Friends in Seattle (as folks in publishing refer to they who shan't be named).

Exactly. This isn't some big conspiracy. Things like this happen with physical media on a not infrequent basis with a lot of different companies.
posted by missmerrymack at 7:26 AM on September 5 [5 favorites]


There's an extract in today's Guardian (though I don't know whether it will be available in countries other than the UK)
posted by Myeral at 7:55 AM on September 5 [1 favorite]


The Guardian extract is available in US, though not sure if you have to be a subscriber.

Could the 800 copies be reviewer copies?
posted by mmiddle at 8:33 AM on September 5


If you don't already have a favorite indie, use IndieBound; they put you in touch with the closest one based on your zip, or you can order directly from them.
posted by joannemerriam at 9:36 AM on September 5 [2 favorites]


PhineasGage: "I hate to defend Amazon, but 800 copies truly is a glitch - they have no doubt already received many tens of thousands of pre-orders for Atwood's new book. I'll save my angry panting for willful bad behavior by Our Friends in Seattle (as folks in publishing refer to they who shan't be named)."

missmerrymack: "Exactly. This isn't some big conspiracy. Things like this happen with physical media on a not infrequent basis with a lot of different companies."

The Guardian article describes security measures that "had bookshops promising to store copies of the novel in a secured area until publication day" and says "When dealing with an individual bookshop that has broken an embargo, publishers often delay future deliveries in order to punish them by denying them a rush of first day sales. Publishers Weekly reported on Wednesday that several booksellers had contacted PRH representatives to complain about Amazon’s mistake and demand that they sanction the retailer for violating the embargo."

So, given the reasonable assumption that this was indeed an accident, the question is whether Amazon will be sanctioned for failing to take adequate precautions to prevent something like this, in the same way that smaller booksellers anticipate being sanctioned. If a small independent bookshop didn't take the requested precautions and accidentally broke the embargo would the publisher let them off the hook, or is Amazon getting special treatment because of their size and influence?
posted by Secret Sparrow at 10:12 AM on September 5


Based on how it works in my job, I would assume something like this happens:

1. Agreement is made to launch product at XYZ time and day
2. Information is sent to the SKU team to assign a product SKU to the book, and populate the product page
3. SKU info is sent to whichever team manages new book launches
4. Person on book team accidentally hits the "Make SKU live" button when they were probably trying to test/QA the page in a preview environment
5. SKU gets 800 orders before someone shits their pants and breaks a leg taking the SKU down from live status
6. Orders were shipped because the system is automated, and the human workers literally don't have time to pay attention to whether they should be shipping this one item or not

In e-commerce, there are many bulkwarks against accidentally making an item available for purchase when it isn't supposed to be, but it's not a foolproof system. But it's Amazon's fault that they've stripped their process to eliminate the leeway that would allow for addressing human error before it gets them sued.
posted by Autumnheart at 10:26 AM on September 5 [3 favorites]


I've had semi good luck with pre-ordering books and getting them the Friday before -- not heavily embargoed books, but say the October Daye books when they were in paperback. My impression was that they wanted the book to get to me on or by the release date so they let it out early.

Honestly the last book I remember reading that was actively embargoed was Harry Potter, and I just picked those up at midnight.
posted by jeather at 10:35 AM on September 5


So, given the reasonable assumption that this was indeed an accident, the question is whether Amazon will be sanctioned for failing to take adequate precautions to prevent something like this, in the same way that smaller booksellers anticipate being sanctioned. If a small independent bookshop didn't take the requested precautions and accidentally broke the embargo would the publisher let them off the hook, or is Amazon getting special treatment because of their size and influence?

In my experience - I was a book buyer for a national wholesale distributor for many years - a small independent bookshop would not be sanctioned for breaking the on-sale date once. Most indie bookstores don't - or didn't, I know the tides are turning - buy books from publishers directly. They bought them from distributors, because they could get books from many publishers in one shipment, on one invoice. So the publisher might call us and rant and rave for a bit, but no further measures were taken.
posted by lyssabee at 10:38 AM on September 5


But it's Amazon's fault that they've stripped their process to eliminate the leeway that would allow for addressing human error before it gets them sued.

Yes. So it doesn't matter that the chain of specific proximal causes did not involve malice. It does not matter that these things are automated. It matters that Amazon made a legally binding contract that it did not uphold, and it matters that they will most likely face no consequences for the breach of contract.
posted by PMdixon at 11:03 AM on September 5 [1 favorite]


> Amazon has broken the strict embargo with likely zero consequences.

It's either a strict embargo or there are likely zero consequences; I'm not sure how both can be true. What's the punishment for a seller who breaks an embargo like this?
posted by reductiondesign at 1:16 PM on September 5 [1 favorite]




Note for non-USians - Indiebound, mentioned above and looking very awesome, is US only :(

Also, I have pre-ordered at least 20 books on Amazon and I have gotten all but 3 of them several days before the official release. I think this is actually a completely normal (and bad) behaviour of theirs.
posted by congen at 1:49 PM on September 5 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty certain (dating back to experience with the last couple of Harry Potter books) that Amazon actually ships embargoed books early, so that they'll arrive to the customer's doorstep on the proper release day. Fairly certain Walmart also does this? Not sure if it's de rigueur for all mail-order places or not, though.

But they also tend to overestimate shipping times by at least a day (e.g. they are constantly telling me that items are going to arrive on Thursday and they magically show up on Wednesday afternoon). Combine the two, and you've got a reliable recipe for breaking a release embargo by a day.

It doesn't seem like malice, and it's hard to say whether it's incompetence, or just the sum total of people covering their ass—nobody wants to be the one who got a hot book out to customers a day late, and their entire distribution chain is geared towards delivering stuff in X days or less.

They could obviously solve the problem if they were incentivized to, though.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:26 PM on September 5 [3 favorites]


There's an extract in today's Guardian (though I don't know whether it will be available in countries other than the UK)

The Guardian isn’t location or subscription limited.
posted by ellieBOA at 3:42 AM on September 6


This review by Jia Tolentino is great (although warning—does give some plot details!), especially at the differences between the book(s) and what the tv show has become.
posted by sallybrown at 6:52 AM on September 6 [2 favorites]


I wouldn't want to order a popular book online and then know it was going to take days to arrive because they do not ship until the technical deadline, whereas if I order it in person at my local bookstore, I'll have it within a day of the release. I can certainly see why they'd ship early and then have unexpected problems when the book shows up a day early.

As another fan of Seanan McGuire, she has definitely said that early book sales before the release date do NOT count towards her book sales and could kill her career (there's no flexibility or breathing room about anything these days), so please don't buy her books early if you see them out a few days before the official Tuesday. And this is from a bestselling huge author who has several books a year out.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:14 AM on September 6


As another fan of Seanan McGuire, she has definitely said that early book sales before the release date do NOT count towards her book sales and could kill her career (there's no flexibility or breathing room about anything these days), so please don't buy her books early if you see them out a few days before the official Tuesday.

Wait, what? Are pre-orders bad for authors? Or does this just mean if you see a physical book for sale early in a store?
posted by Ragged Richard at 7:56 AM on September 6


I asked a friend who is an agent, and she says that pre-orders even when shipped out early count towards first week sales. In any case I don't buy the Toby books in hardcover as I was 10 books in owning them all in paperback, so it's a moot point for me now. So I think there's some level of misunderstanding, because pre-orders in particular show a lot of interest in an author.
posted by jeather at 12:14 PM on September 6


Specifically if the book is out early in the store. Pre-orders, as far as I know, are fine.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:22 PM on September 6


Pre-orders are not only fine but heavily tilt in authors favor. A book that wasn’t getting attention from its publisher will get (positive) attention with a lot if preorders
posted by (Over) Thinking at 7:24 PM on September 7 [1 favorite]


Ditto what (Over) Thinking said. Most authors really want pre-orders because it shows that there's a demand, causing stores to buy and stock more and reviewers to take note.
posted by tofu_crouton at 1:53 PM on September 9


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