Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

The Mockingjay embargo: Just as difficult to manage as scientific ones

with 2 comments

Earlier this week, mediabistro’s Galley Cat reported that the Los Angeles Times had broken the embargo on the final book in Suzanne Collins’ “Hunger Games” trilogy with a review of Mockingjay.

The book was embargoed for sale until midnight Monday night, while the LA Times review ran on the paper’s site during the day Monday. It’s unclear to Embargo Watch whether that review was in the Monday paper, which may mean it was online Sunday night.

On Sunday, Scholastic had tweeted:

All shipment boxes state MOCKINGJAY is embargoed. We look to all who have the book already to honor the date & not post spoilers. Thank you!

It turns out this wasn’t the only broken book embargo this week. Also on Monday, Bunch of Grapes, a Martha’s Vineyard bookstore gave President Obama an advance reader’s copy of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, which is embargoed until this coming Tuesday. “Obama Gets Franzen Novel Early, and Publishing Panic Ensues,” went a New York Times headline (excerpt):

Media organizations quickly reported that Mr. Obama had bought a copy, sending off alarm bells (and their modern counterparts, Google news alerts) at Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Mr. Franzen’s publisher, whose spokesman, Jeff Seroy, quickly contacted reporters to correct the record. CBSnews.com updated its story, implying that the White House had provided incorrect information.

It might have been too late. Other bookstores, believing that Bunch of Grapes had broken the embargo, threatened to sell the book early. Rumors swirled that Farrar, Straus would move up the on-sale date. Eager readers who saw that Mr. Obama had the book in hand tried to get their own copies, only to be told that it wasn’t on sale yet. “People are confused,” said Jake Cumsky-Whitlock, a manager at Kramerbooks in Washington, who personally fielded a handful of requests for the book on Sunday. “One gentleman was somewhat indignant. He was sure that we were wrong.”

The story concludes with a quote from the book’s publisher:

“You can’t pay for that kind of publicity,” he said. “You can’t even dream of it.”

Although not a core subject, book embargoes have shown up on Embargo Watch before. In May, there was a kerfuffle over The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, after independent bookstores claimed Canada’s giant Chapters Indigo had begun selling the book before its sale embargo. The book’s publisher, however, said there was no embargo.

And in April, Ira Stoll wrote a guest post about an allegedly broken embargo on the Laura Bush memoir. In it, he wondered:

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.

If anyone in publishing has the answer to that question, or can shed any light on book embargoes in general, the comment thread is all ears.

Hat tip: Delia Cabe


Written by Ivan Oransky

August 27, 2010 at 9:00 am

2 Responses

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  1. Some publishers make journalists sign ferocious legal agreements before sending them a review copy of a book by a prominent author. In science Dawkins and Hawking would fall into this category.

    Here’s an example of one clause from an agreement the FT was asked to sign recently:

    “4. Breach of the terms of this embargo letter may result in our suffering material financial loss and you understand that, without prejudice to our other rights, we/the Author may accordingly seek:

    4.1 compensation for any additional expense, loss or damage, including but not limited to the loss of or depreciation in the value of any serialisation deal related to the Work, together with all costs (including but not limited to special release costs and reasonable legal fees) which we may suffer or incur as a result of your breach, or threatened breach, of this letter;

    4.2 injunctive relief to restrain any breach of this letter.”

    Clive Cookson

    August 27, 2010 at 10:26 am

  2. Fascinating, thank you! We have had a copy of this eagerly awaited (by one in our house) for a while but the embargo situation had not appeared on our radar. Total silence will continue to be maintained.


    August 27, 2010 at 3:42 pm

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