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Sep 6, 2019
Originally published on September 6, 2019 7:35 pm
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Margaret Atwood's new book "The Testaments" is not out until next Tuesday, but some Amazon customers already have their copies of the novel. That has made a lot of independent booksellers mad. They say Amazon violated an agreement they all signed onto with the publisher. They were supposed to keep the book under wraps until the scheduled sale date. NPR's Lynn Neary reports.

LYNN NEARY, BYLINE: "The Testaments" isn't just any book. It's the sequel to the perennial bestseller "The Handmaid's Tale," and it's one of those books that publishers want to roll out very carefully. They enforce a strict set of rules governing the sale of such books. Matt Kelleher is the manager of Subtext Books in St. Paul, Minn.

MATT KELLEHER: The boxes aren't even supposed to be open until the on-sale date, and publishers go out of their way to make it very clear that this embargo is underway and not to break it, lest there be some punishment.

NEARY: At Astoria Bookshop in Queens, N.Y., owner Lexi Beach says she makes sure that her staff knows the rules because, she says, the consequences are clearly spelled out in the agreement she signed. But neither she nor Kelleher believe the publisher of "The Testaments" will hold Amazon accountable.

LEXI BEACH: So in theory, they could decide not to ship additional copies of "The Testaments" to Amazon's warehouses as a consequence of this violation of the embargo date.

NEARY: But you don't think that would happen.

BEACH: I don't. I think that it would hurt the publisher more than it would hurt Amazon.

NEARY: That's because publishers are so dependent on Amazon for the sales of their books. "The Testaments" publisher, Penguin Random House, issued a statement saying that a very small number of the books have been sold. In reply to NPR's inquiry, the publisher said its conversations with Amazon are confidential but said action was taken in this instance, though it did not provide details. Amazon issued a statement saying there had been a technical error, an excuse Matt Kelleher does not believe.

KELLEHER: Nope, not for a second. I don't believe that Amazon really does anything by accident.

NEARY: Kelleher said he was offended that Amazon described itself as a bookseller in its statement.

KELLEHER: They said fellow booksellers like they are in the trenches here with me and my colleagues, and they're not. They are the force that we work against every single day, and they are the biggest threat to my business. And when they do things like this, they damage my ability to run a successful operation.

NEARY: The American Booksellers Association issued its own statement criticizing Amazon. Oren Teicher is executive director of the ABA.

OREN TEICHER: It just seems to us that Amazon's enormous power over the rest of this business is a real concern. ABA has raised those issues both with the Department of Justice and with the Federal Trade Commission. We think the federal government ought to be taking a look at their practices. We think they are unfair.

NEARY: It would seem this is just the latest skirmish in an ongoing war between independent booksellers and Amazon.

Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.