The Washington Post

Long live the book embargo!

Author J.K. Rowling poses with her Freedom of the City of London certificate in May. (ANDREW WINNING/REUTERS)

Politicians are lying. The Middle East is in a state of turmoil. Europe is having economic difficulties. The economy continues to stink

Now, what other non-news breaking news stories are out there? Oh, yeah, this one: The embargo on J.K. Rowling’s “The Casual Vacancy” somehow crumbled. The Associated Press and the New York Daily News beat the Thursday, 1. a.m., review embargo of publisher Little, Brown and Co.

AP spokesman Paul Colford writes to the Erik Wemple Blog:

An AP staffer purchased “The Casual Vacancy,” as we have purchased other high-profile books in advance of their official publication date. We wrote about the novel after reading it closely, given the enormous interest in J.K. Rowling’s first work for adult readers.

The AP has written about the contents of a number of other books, before their official publication dates, after we’ve been able to buy the books ahead of time from a bookstore or other vendor.

And don’t even suggest that AP did anything wrong.

We didn’t break any embargo. We don’t do that. We didn’t sign on to the publisher’s terms and went our own course.

Washington Post Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli said in a Post story that publishers are “fighting a losing battle” in their embargo schemes. Noted the story: “The main reason embargoes tend to fail, everyone agrees, is because the cracks don’t have to be wide. It takes only one person, at one point in a vast chain of distribution, to break the link.”

Here’s hoping that publishers continue fighting this losing battle. Reason: Embargoes are good for business.

First off, they require a great degree of administration, phone-calling, e-mailing, corporate strong-arming and on and on. What would all those flacks and goons at publishing houses do if they weren’t conjuring or enforcing one embargo or another? Even when they’re used, as the Post says, to create an “impression of pent-up demand” for not-so-hot titles, hey, who’s to take issue with some honest-to-goodness market manipulation?

And then there’s the question of this blog’s self-interest. Publishing embargoes are good for journalism, especially of the media variety. That’s because they’re so commonly broken or circumvented. In which case, there’s always some finger-pointing, a no-we-didn’t statement or two and a flustered publishing house.

Let’s keep this game going.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.


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