Unbound reprints 70,000 copies of TikTok hit Cain's Jawbone

Unbound reprints 70,000 copies of TikTok hit Cain's Jawbone

Unbound is reprinting 70,000 copies of Cain's Jawbone, as the literary mystery by Edward Powys Mathers continues to prove a TikTok sensation and  bookshops experience high demand from customers. 

The crowdfunded press issued 10,000 reprints last month, after a clip featuring the book went viral on the social media platform. Bookshops in the UK and US have seen a surge in sales, with Bookshop.org currently listing the title as out of stock and expecting replenishment in the next two weeks. 

The new batch of reprints is expected to hit shops and online retailers in mid-December. The publisher reported the book initially proving popular with a "younger crowd" on TikTok, but is now receiving orders from "all those who love a good puzzle". 

Unbound head of sales Julian Mash said: "It has been amazing to see the demand for Cain's Jawbone build over the last 10 days — we have worked very hard to expedite a reprint in order to get this back in bookshops in time for Christmas gifting both in the UK and US."

He added the press has been working closely with Gardners and Waterstones in the UK and Consortium and Ingram in the US "to get these books back on the shelves as fast as possible". 

"To see this kind of grassroots demand from shops has been incredible and highlights what a crucial role they play in the bookselling ecosystem," he said.

Genre fiction buyer at Waterstones Gaby Lee is among retailers keen to receive the reprints as quickly as possible, to accommodate customers before Christmas. Lee said: “We’ve seen huge demand for Cain’s Jawbone over the last month; once it became viral on TikTok we sold out in a matter of days and demand has continued to be strong since then. It’s consistently exciting to see BookTok give books like this a new lease of life and we can’t wait for it to arrive in our bookshops so we can share with our customers.”

Jo Coldwell at Red Lion Books in Colchester said she became aware of the book just before Christmas in 2019 when a customer came in to ask for it. She said demand for the book recently has been "bonkers".  

"It took a while to come through but we eventually got the book to her," Coldwell said. "Sales then ticked away this year until a few weeks ago — demand outweighed supply. I realised it was a TikTok thing by the demographic. The young person who took our last copy said they were turning their bedroom into a mock crime investigation scene and planned to pin all clues up on her walls. We need more stock but it needs to arrive before Christmas."

Paul Sweetman, owner of City Books in Hove, has 100 copies on order. "We are hoping that this will make a fantastic till point book. It is perfect for Christmas stockings and secret Santas. Lovely to see it going viral on TikTok. Who’d have thought that of a fiendishly difficult puzzle book from the 1930s?"

The original TikTok video had 5.5 million views, nearly 6,000 comments and 1.2 million likes, according to the publisher. Views across the platform now stand at over 7.8 million.

Authored by the Observer’s first cryptic crossword setter, Cain's Jawbone was first published by Gollancz in 1934, under the pen name Torquemada. It was written with the 100 pages deliberately out of order, inviting readers to solve the murder mystery by re-ordering them. Only three people are thought to have solved the puzzle, including British comedy writer John Finnemore, who received £1,000 from the press after it reissued the book in 2019 and launched a competition.