As parts of the world await the official release of Prince Harry’s memoir, Spare, it appears Spain just couldn’t wait, with the book coming out five days early at some Spanish bookstores.
With the Guardian newspaper printing leaked extracts ahead of the book’s January 10 release date — and now new revelations exposed after Reuters and other media outlets obtained Spanish-language versions of the text — the question some might be asking is how the book titled En La Sombra (In The Shadow) in Spain managed to find its way onto bookshelves.
The ABC approached Prince Harry’s publisher in Australia, Penguin Random House (PRH), who said it would not be commenting at this time.
Attributing the quote to a spokesperson for the Barcelona-based Spanish publisher, Plaza y Janes Editores — which is also under the PRH umbrella — Reuters was given the following statement:
“A very clear launch protocol was established and communicated to all customers so that the book would not be marketed before that date.
“Everything points to the fact that some customers have breached their commitment to the publisher and have put the book on sale before the agreed date.”
So, how could this have happened, and is PRH headquarters currently going into meltdown?
With strict protocols in place, how did Spare come out early?
Joel Naoum is head of trade product at Australia’s largest online book retailer, Booktopia.
He’s also worked as an editor and publisher, mostly for Pan Macmillan, one of the so-called Big Five — Penguin Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Pan Macmillan, Simon & Schuster — and ran Momentum, Pan Macmillan’s digital-first imprint.
Mr Naoum said there were a few ways Spare could have ended up on Spanish shelves early, but it’s likely it happened maliciously or, more likely, by accident.
“It’s conceivable to me that it was an accident,” Mr Naoum said.
“Usually when a retailer breaks an embargo, it is an accident.
“The books are there. And someone finds the books in the backroom and they put [them] out on the shelves, and they just start selling [them] without realising that there was an embargo on [them]. That’s usually what happens when an embargo gets broken.
“It’s possible it was done in this case, maliciously, but I would generally question that.
“If it is being done maliciously, it’s a huge exception to the rule.”
Mr Naoum said relationships between booksellers and publishers were important and it would be unusual for a bookseller to put that relationship at risk.
“You threaten your relationship with a publisher by doing something like that as a bookseller,” Mr Naoum said.
“So, it’s not of benefit. It’s not a benefit in either direction, really, to stuff each other around.
“If you’re a bookseller who intentionally breaks the unwritten rules or the written rules, then you’re not likely to get preferential treatment in future from the publisher. And vice versa, if a publisher stuffs you around as a bookseller, hey, I’m not going to trust you when you tell me something.
“In general, it benefits both booksellers and publishers to have a good relationship.”
Mr Naoum said that, in most cases, booksellers sign a contract preventing them from releasing big-ticket books too early.
“For a book like Spare, or a Harry Potter, or a really big book that has a strict embargo, you’re usually asked to sign a contract that prevents you from releasing the book before a certain date,” Mr Naoum said.
“And, so, you only get the stock for that book under the condition that you sign the contract and then you have to hold it.”
He said publishers can’t do this too often because it’s administratively onerous for everybody involved and also, bookstores simply don’t have the space to hold too many books.
“Ordinary booksellers don’t have warehouses to store their books,” he said.
“So, they can’t really have books piling up that they have to coordinate releases for.
“If the books arrive and the stock is there, the shelves are where they need to go.
“Once you get it, you need to put it out there for people to buy.
“So, it’s not practical, generally speaking, to do that with a lot of books.
“But, for the ones that you do that for, the important ones, they’re usually of sufficient interest to the bookseller as well that they’re willing to go along with it.”
Mr Naoum said that, sometimes, not everyone is subject to an embargo.
“It may be that the Spanish-language version was not going to be as big a deal,” Mr Naoum said.
“And, so, they didn’t force embargoes on every single retailer.”
Will Penguin Random House sue and could that hit sales?
Mr Naoum said that, while a publisher might have the right to pursue a lawsuit, he’s never heard of it happening.
“I would say, in most cases, publishers wouldn’t be likely to aggressively pursue suing a bookseller,” he said.
“And most booksellers wouldn’t break an embargo intentionally, because publishers and retailers work pretty closely together and, generally speaking, have a pretty good relationship.
“And they don’t really want to have a situation where they’re suing each other.”
He said there would be some uneasy conversations happening at PRH headquarters.
“I imagine there would be a lot of finger-pointing and recrimination,” he said.
“It would depend on the specifics of the situation. It’s not an ideal situation.
“The biggest issue is the deal that would have been done for the TV interviews, because it’s probably been done in conjunction with the publisher to make sure that the books are timed with the release of the interview.
“So, they’ll probably be a lot of irritated producers calling publicists.”
The leak doesn’t surprise him, however, and he doesn’t think it will affect sales.
“People are still going to watch those interviews and people are still going to buy the book,” he said.
“In Prince Harry’s case, I feel like I can comfortably say that that book is going to be successful.
“It will be a pretty big seller.
“We’ve already pre-sold a large number of books at Booktopia.
“It’s going to be a successful book on release. I don’t think they have that much to worry about in that regard.”