I was perusing books this afternoon at Chapters in Gloucester when a man in a hushed voice asked a clerk behind me if there was a way to purchase a certain memoir by a certain talkative prince (more accurately, by his ghost writer) today — a day in advance of it hitting the shelves in Canada. Another staff member and then the store’s manager descended on the scene within minutes, like national security agents about to intercept a potential leak of state secrets, to make it crystal clear that it wasn’t possible to purchase the book a day in advance.

The manager was polite, but firm. When the gentleman left empty handed, she told her colleagues that this is the sort of thing that leads to massive fines for the store and for heads to roll among employees. Chapters, as I learned, is sometimes willing to sell new releases before the release date, but not in the case of a high profile book that has now beat out Harry Potter in pre-orders.

Penguin Random House needs to sell 1.7 million copies just to break even. The major booksellers are already selling copies for pre-order at discounted list prices: Chapters will sell for $35, while Amazon Canada has listed it for a few dollars less. Apparently, Tesco in the UK is selling it for under 10 Pounds Sterling. While the large chains have the weight and muscle to obtain copies at a rate that allows them to list for a lower price, independent bookstores aren’t able to compete. As such, many of them simply won’t stock the book.

Print book sales rebounded in the past several years, after years of decline. Last year saw a modest drop in sales, but 2023 will almost certainly be a good year, even if it’s thanks to one specific book that has enjoyed unprecedented pre-release publicity. For my part, I’ve decided to re-read Graham Greene’s 1930s novel Brighton Rock — something I read more than two decades ago as a teenager. So, it’s ripe for a revisit.

Illustration: Pierre Bamin

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