Spare: Rollout of Prince Harry’s book is chaotic, but sales continue to surge

Booksellers and distributors said that preorders are enormous and growing with the avalanche of news coverage

By The New York Times

Published: Sun 8 Jan 2023, 12:55 PM

Last updated: Thu 12 Jan 2023, 2:38 PM

The details streaming from leaks and interview teasers in advance of Prince Harry’s memoir, Spare, have been sensational, even explosive. News organisations around the world have covered them breathlessly.

There’s Harry’s description of his brother, Prince William, knocking him to the floor during a fight, and Harry’s admission that he killed 25 people in Afghanistan. There’s also his claim that William and his wife, Kate, encouraged him to dress up as a Nazi, and his recollection of losing his virginity to an older woman in a field behind a bar.

A tell-all by a member of the British Royal Family was bound to be a nightmare to manage. Big books, widely anticipated books, will often leak, despite publishers’ best attempts to keep the process tightly orchestrated. But the contents of Harry’s memoir have been excavated to such a degree that it has raised the question: Will readers still be curious enough to buy the book?

So far, it looks like the answer is yes. The media frenzy seems to be driving interest in the memoir, which is due out Tuesday. Spare held the No. 1 spot on Amazon in the United States and Britain on Friday, as well as at Barnes & Noble. Booksellers and distributors said that preorders are enormous and growing with the avalanche of news coverage.

Still, the extraordinary volume of leaks highlighted the challenges, and perhaps the impossibility, of choreographing the release of what may be the most anticipated and divisive celebrity memoir of all time.

Many of the memoir’s eye-popping revelations have already spilled in leaks, and some of the most dramatic moments from the interviews Harry gave promoting the book have circulated online as teasers. This was all preceded by a six-part Netflix documentary, Harry & Meghan, which aired in December, and where Harry made incendiary accusations against his family, including a claim that his brother’s communications aides planted negative stories about his wife, Meghan Markle, in the London tabloids.

Despite the risk that blanket coverage could lead to Harry and Meghan fatigue, many booksellers expect the memoir to be an unmitigated success. Random House has said it is printing 2.5 million hardcover copies for North America alone. Ingram, the book wholesaler, has 90,000 copies in its warehouses to restock stores that run out. ReaderLink, which distributes books to chain stores such as Target and Walmart, said it had ordered about 300,000 copies. Barnes & Noble has also ordered hundreds of thousands of copies.

James Daunt, who heads Barnes & Noble and British bookstore chain Waterstones, said that even the negative leaks have been driving up customer interest in Spare, and that he expects to see “the most extraordinary” first-day and first-week sales.

After The Guardian obtained a copy of the book and revealed some of its biggest bombshells, reservations for in-store purchases of the book shot up in Britain, he said.

“This one has really whipped up a level of press hysteria that I really struggle to think of one that’s comparable,” Daunt said. “All it does is build up this great excitement, which gets people into bookstores.”

Ever since Penguin Random House announced in 2021 that they had acquired a memoir by Harry — who stunned the world when he and his wife announced they were parting ways with the royal family — the book’s content has been the subject of intense speculation in the publishing world, in the British tabloids and among royal watchers.

Publishers often guard against leaks with strict embargoes, in some cases requiring anyone who works on the book, including typesetters and copy editors, to sign non-disclosure agreements. Retailers are often required to sign an affidavit agreeing to store books in a monitored, locked and secure area if they get copies before the on-sale date. Some publishing executives even choose not to send highly anticipated books to airport bookstores because they tend to pay less attention to embargoes.

Matt Latimer, a founder of the literary agency Javelin, which has handled many books by high-profile politicians, said he has never seen an embargoed book leak from within a publishing house or printing plant. It’s in the days before publication, when the books have to be put on trucks and shipped to stores, that the revelations start.

“I call this the danger zone,” Latimer said. “The week or two before publication, there is almost always a leak.”

A simultaneous international release complicates this delicate process further. Spare will be released in 16 languages at the same time, multiplying opportunities for leaks: In Spain, the book accidentally went on sale early Thursday.

It’s too soon to say whether the overall sales trajectory of Harry’s memoir will be affected by the steady drip of revelations. Many readers will buy the book for an intimate view of Harry’s life from his perspective, not just for bomblets of news. Harry has partnered with a highly regarded ghostwriter, J.R. Moehringer, and a cascade of articles does not offer the same narrative journey as a well-crafted book. And his story, while ripe for tabloid fodder, also deals with universal themes such as race, class and the sometimes tortured relationships between brothers or between fathers and sons. The book’s title refers to a phrase that King Charles is reported to have used to refer to Harry, his second son, as his “spare,” or backup heir, since he had already secured an heir in Harry’s older brother.

“It’s ridiculous and it’s fun, but it’s also clearly going to be an interesting book that’s going to keep on selling and it’s going to keep on being part of the conversation,” said Daunt.

“We’re making a bet that this book has got legs,” he said. “It’s not going to be a flash in the pan.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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