Following a reported technical error, multinational technology company, Amazon sent out pre-ordered copies of Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments, a week early. The sequel to her 1985 dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Testaments has been a closely guarded secret and was not due to publish until 10th September.
The latest novel from Margaret Atwood has been under a worldwide embargo with tight security measures to protect the manuscript ahead of it publication date. Ann Dowd, who will narrate the audiobook told TIME magazine about the vast number of passwords she needed to access her copy and journalist Lucy Feldman revealed that her copy was delivered with a fake name an author on the label.
Booker prize judges, including Chair of judges and Hay Festival director had to go through an “extraordinarily complicated process” to get hold of copies of The Testaments manuscript for the now shortlist book. What’s more, at the festival a judge was heard saying that the copy that had displayed on the table was not actually the book but instead a decoy in the book’s dust jacket. Meanwhile, booksellers in the US and UK have all signed embargoes to protect the book and there have been plans to store the copies in secure areas of shops to avoid any leaks before 10th September.
Despite these stringent measures and the secretary surrounding one of the most hotly anticipated novels of the year, Amazon US shipped about 800 orders a week early causing great controversy within the literary sphere, in particular with independent bookshops who are most likely to suffer due to this error.
An American teacher Daniel Valentin tweeted a photo of his early delivered copy while many booksellers including Matt Keliher, of indie Subtext Books in Minnesota publicly slated Amazon for their mistake. Keliher tweeted, ““Amazon sent copies of the new Margaret Atwood out a full week before it’s scheduled OSD, breaking the most important embargoed title agreement of the year. From what I’m seeing, it absolutely happened. A full week early. Tags all over Twitter and Instagram. @Nan_A_Talese should put out a statement first thing tomorrow… surely on this one they had to sign the same extremely strict affidavit ensuring proper handling and delivery. The Booker judges basically had to read this under lock and key so it didn’t get out early.”
A statement from Penguin Random House US in acknowledgment of this issue said, “A very small number of copies of Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments were distributed early 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.”
While Chatto & Windus, which is publishing The Testaments in the UK stressed that the amount of book released early was a small amount and verified that the official global publication date would stand as 10th September.
Amazon have now apologised for the incident in a statement from a spokesperson at the company which said, “Due to a technical error a small number of customers were inadvertently sent copies of Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments. We apologise for this error; we value our relationship with authors, agents, and publishers, and regret the difficulties this has caused them and our fellow booksellers.”
In a statement, the American Booksellers Association (ABA) said: “The ABA has been in communication with the novel’s publisher, Penguin Random House, to express our strong disappointment regarding this flagrant violation of the agreed protocol in releasing this book to the public. In addition, in recent weeks ABA has communicated with appropriate officials at the US Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission about the negative impact of Amazon’s market dominance in the book industry and US retail overall. Amazon’s latest actions only further underscore how important it is that the appropriate federal agencies thoroughly investigate Amazon’s destructive business practices.”
In the UK, The Bookseller asked if this leak would impact publicity plans which include a midnight opening of UK booksellers, Waterstones, on 9th September and an exciting press conference with Margaret Atwood herself, and several guests including Lily James, Neil Gaiman, and Deborah Frances-White at the National Theatre. In response, Penguin Random House UK stated, “We’re very happy to say all UK plans remain the same and we can’t wait to welcome Margaret to the UK where she will be for publication.”