Amazon has apologised for the “technical error” which saw Margaret Atwood’s highly anticipated The Testaments distributed to some pre-order customers almost a week ahead of the publication date, breaking a worldwide embargo.
Some US readers who pre-ordered through Amazon revealed that they received their copies of The Handmaid's Tale sequel on Wednesday (4th September), six days ahead of its international publication date on Tuesday (10th September). Around 800 copies were dispatched early, according to the Guardian, leading to the early publication of reviews and serialisiations in newspapers as well as outcry from many indie booksellers.
Amazon has now apologised for the issue more than 24 hours after it was highlighted, citing a "technical error". A spokesman told The Bookseller: “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.”
The leaks follow a complicated set of security measures to ensure nothing was leaked ahead of the publication date - coordinated by Chatto & Windus in the UK - including “a ferocious non-disclosure agreement” referenced by the Booker Prize judges on the book's longlisting in July. It was shortlisted for the prize on Tuesday (3rd September).
A literary agent, who wishes to remain anonymous, told The Bookseller: “Whilst I understand embargoes and sanctions are important, all it takes is for one poorly paid person at Amazon to hit the wrong button, and it’s over. And mistakes do happen, as we have seen. Unless there is the sense that there is an active decision to break the embargo for any advantage, I don’t see there is much that can be done.”
Acknowledging the issue on Wednesday (5th September) Penguin Random House US 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."
When asked if the leak would affect publicity plans - which include a Waterstones midnight opening on Monday (9th September), a spokesperson for PRH UK told The Bookseller: "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."
A high profile set of events is set to kick off for publication next week including a midnight opening at Waterstones in central London on Monday (9th September), a press conference with Atwood on Tuesday (10th September) and a National Theatre event later that day.
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."