Amazon Under Fire for Breaking Margaret Atwood 'Handmaid's Tale' Sequel Embargo

Margaret Atwood - Getty - H 2017
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"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," says publisher Penguin Random House.

Margaret Atwood's latest work The Testaments — the highly anticipated sequel to her 1985 best-selling novel The Handmaid's Tale — is set to be released globally next Tuesday. However, a "retailer error" by Amazon broke the embargo, resulting in a "small number of copies" already ending up in the hands of readers. 

Todd Doughty, Doubleday’s executive director of publicity, told The Hollywood Reporter in a statement, "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 best-selling 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, Sept. 10."

An Amazon spokesperson explained to The Hollywood Reporter that "due to a technical error a small number of customers were inadvertently sent copies of Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments."

"We apologize 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 spokesperson added.

Photos of prematurely sent copies have been shared across social media.

The embargo breach has also created an outcry from independent booksellers on social media, including Astoria Bookshop owner Lexi Beach, who shared her frustration on Twitter. "There will be ZERO consequences for $amzn violating not just the fine print but the entire basis of this embargo agreement some exec surely signed digitally through Adobe Sign just like the rest of us did," she wrote Tuesday. 

Added Beach: "And the kicker is that $amzn will make hardly any money selling this book. Books (especially big splashy publications like this) have always been a loss leader for them. Whereas I and many other independent retailers are counting on this release to pay our bills."

The American Booksellers Association released a statement late Wednesday regarding Amazon's early release of The Testaments, noting it 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."

Before the breach occurred, the ABA said it had recently been in communication with the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission about "the negative impact of Amazon’s market dominance in the book industry and U.S. 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," the ABA added in its statement. 

Readers are eagerly anticipating the publication of Atwood's new book, even more so after the Hulu adaptation of The Handmaid's Tale has proven to be a success. (The series was renewed for a fourth season earlier this year.) Prior to the book even hitting shelves, MGM and Hulu announced Wednesday that they will also develop The Testaments for the screen as "an important extension" to showrunner Bruce Miller's Emmy-winning drama starring Elisabeth Moss.

Hulu's Handmaid's Tale has won 11 Emmys for its first two seasons, including for outstanding drama series in 2017. Though the third season was ineligible for this year's Emmys, the show still earned 11 nods in individual categories due to the Television Academy's "hanging episodes" rule.

Atwood revealed details about The Testaments, which she started writing in 2016, as part of a Time magazine cover story which published Wednesday. Instead of being told from the perspective of Offred, The Testaments — which publishes 15 years after the ending of the original Handmaid's Tale novel — will be narrated by three other women connected to Gilead: a young woman raised in the oppressive society; a Canadian teen who learns she was actually born there; and Aunt Lydia, the villain of both the novel and the series, who is played on the show by Ann Dowd. 

"Dear Readers: Everything you’ve ever asked me about Gilead and its inner workings is the inspiration for this book. Well, almost everything! The other inspiration is the world we’ve been living in," Atwood had said when announcing the upcoming sequel. 

Sept. 5, 11:30 a.m. Updated to include statements from Amazon and the American Booksellers Association.