In an Amazon era when many readers browse bookstores at leisure, then log into Amazon to place their order, bricks and mortar booksellers rarely catch a break. Now, with the posthumous release of David Foster Wallace’s “The Pale King,” it seems the Hachette Book Group has eliminated the initial bookstore browse and buzz, dealing another blow to booksellers.
The late Mr. Wallace’s hotly anticipated novel is about a group of IRS employees in Peoria, Ill., so Little, Brown, a division of Hachette, set an April 15 publication date and designed the novel’s marketing campaign around tax day. Since he committed suicide in 2008, Wallace has inspired a cult-like following, and booksellers around the country planned midnight release parties for “The Pale King.”
Until Wednesday. That’s when many booksellers learned, via a New York Times article, that Amazon and Barnes & Noble were already selling the book on their websites – long before booksellers would receive their copies.
Understandably, bricks-and-mortar stores are crying foul over what they see as an unfair advantage for online booksellers.
“Outrageous,” Zack Zook, the general manager at BookCourt, an independent store in Brooklyn, told the New York Times. “If stuff like this keeps happening, booksellers are going to start suing publishers.”
“I’m really, really angry about it,” said Kelly von Plonski, the owner of Subterranean Books in St. Louis. “Add it to the list of advantages that Amazon has been given.” Ms. Von Plonski had planned a midnight release party for the book on April 14, the night before she thought the book was being released. She only learned about the early release when a New York Times reporter called her to comment on a story about the book’s release.
Even more aggravating, Little, Brown isn’t sweating it.
Although the publication date is set for April 15, tax day (for which a countdown clock on Hachette’s website ticks away the days, hours, minutes, and seconds until), the official on-sale date for “The Pale King” is March 22.
By the time the media is buzzing about any given book, publishers and booksellers alike try to have it stocked and ready for readers. Of course, the early online sell date was a gift to readers and eager Wallace fans, many of whom will be able to order, receive, and read “The Pale King” long before it even arrives in bookstores.
Wallace’s last novel was the monumentally well-received “Infinite Jest,” published in 1996. The late Wallace left several chapters of his final novel before he died in 2008. Wallace’s longtime editor Michael Pietsch spent two years assembling and editing “a duffel bag full” of his papers. The result is "The Pale King" – a book which some readers have already proclaimed represents Wallace’s finest work as a novelist.
Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.