Ira Stoll’s take on the Laura Bush embargo imbroglio
One of the things I want to do on Embargo Watch is encourage a conversation, and that will hopefully mean frequent guest posts like this one from Brian Reid of 6 Degrees PR. That’s particularly true of subjects outside of my core knowledge of science and medical journalism. The heated discussion of the Laura Bush memoir embargo this week, for example, demands comment.
With that in mind, here’s a guest post by Ira Stoll, my former colleague on the Harvard Crimson who now edits FutureOfCapitalism.com and is author of Samuel Adams: A Life — both of which you should check out.
It’s not just science news where attempted embargoes can collapse. The book publishing industry has offered a vivid example over the past few days with Laura Bush’s memoir, Spoken From The Heart, whose official release date is May 4.
On April 28, Politico’s Mike Allen wrote: “The New York Times has published an account based on a copy obtained at a bookstore, freeing POLITICO to report the contents of an embargoed hardback provided by the publisher,” which he proceeded to then do.
Michael Cader, whose mostly behind-a-paywall “Publisher’s Lunch” email covers the publishing industry better than anyone else, has commentary in his daily newsletter, reporting that the Washington Post “bought a copy locally,” the Associated Press “obtained a copy,” and that The New York Times has now published a review to follow up yesterday’s news article.
Writes Michael: “indications are that Scribner will not relax the on-sale embargo even with the leaks. Bookseller Joe Foster tweeted, ‘Just got an email from my S&S rep stressing the Bush book embargo… Wow.’”
A book with an advance as big as Laura Bush’s — a reported $1.6 million, according to the New York Post — often comes with an elaborate publicity rollout plan that may include interviews scheduled long in advance with television shows like “60 Minutes” or “Today.” The publisher wants all the publicity to hit in one week, propelling the book onto the bestseller lists and triggering all the effects that entails (which Laura Bush’s book probably would get anyway, but still). When it’s a big a deal as a new Harry Potter book, the publisher can (usually) manage to keep everyone on board. But it’s harder to do with a Laura Bush book, especially when the publisher is putting out review copies under an embargo while shipping them to stores that may be less careful.
Another interesting question is how much of this is just pretend, with publishers or publicists slipping certain favored (or large circulation) news organizations copies while maintaining the appearance of an embargo for the purpose of keeping those TV bookings.
In any event, it all serves to show how embargoes can at times seem to be dedicated to the interests of those with something to sell (the publisher) rather than the interests of the reading public or even booksellers, who might have an interest in selling the book as soon as they have it in stock.