How McClellan's Book Got Released Early How did Politico's Mike Allen break the story of Scott McClellan's critical book What Happened a week before its release date? He simply went into a bookstore and bought a copy. The co-owner of Politics & Prose, explains how high-profile titles end up on stores' shelves before embargo dates.
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How McClellan's Book Got Released Early

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How McClellan's Book Got Released Early

How McClellan's Book Got Released Early

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Scott McClellan is actually talking about his book today. It's called "What Happened." It's a critical, very critical memoir of his time as press secretary to President Bush. Now the story about the book was broken by Mike Allen at And one thing he said in an interview with us yesterday raised a question.

Mr. MIKE ALLEN (Journalist, He had intended for it to be published next Monday. They'd offered copies to reporters if you would sign an agreement saying that you wouldn't write it until Sunday. I declined that offer and went into a bookstore and got three copies.

CHADWICK: So, Mike Allen got ahead of this embargo because he walked into a bookstore and simply bought a book. We're joined by Barbara Meade, she is the co-owner and founder of the Politics and Prose Bookstore in Washington, DC. Barbara Meade, how easy is it for someone to get over one of these publisher embargo hurtles by simply going in and getting a book?

Ms. BARBARA MEADE (Bookstore Owner, Washington, DC): Well, it's easier than you think, because we're dealing with human beings. There's a high turnover so we have people in the receiving rooms who, a box comes in, it says, embargoed on it, the receiver has been working there for three days, has no idea what it means, opens the box, gets the books onto the shelf.

CHADWICK: So, this was just an accident, you figured?

Ms. MEADE: I think, yes.

CHADWICK: It didn't happen in your bookstore? It was some other Washington bookstore.

Ms. MEADE: No, no.

CHADWICK: Yeah. So, how often do you think this happens?

Ms. MEADE: I can recall it happening at least a dozen times in the 24 years that we've been in business. It may have occurred much more than that. Yes, it's an accident, but it's an accident that there are no safeguards against. We talk to publishers from time to time about, if they've felt so strongly about the on-sale dates, then don't ship the books a week before. We had the book sitting in our receiving room for at least a week before this story broke.

CHADWICK: And then, when it did break, although you had agreed not to put it out until Monday but what the heck?

Ms. MEADE: We, that's right, but no. We got a called from public affairs, the publisher, saying they had lifted the embargo because of the publicity. And that we could sell the book. So we started selling them.

CHADWICK: It's pretty good publicity. I'll bet you're selling a lot of them.

Ms. MEADE: We sold a lot of books yesterday. And I got on the phone right away and called up Peter Osnos, who's the publisher of public affairs and ordered another 300 copies.

CHADWICK: I seem to recall that something like this happened with a book by, was it, Bob Woodward, maybe?

Ms. MEADE: Yes, that's right.

CHADWICK: How is it this happens with political books or is it that we just notice that it happens with political books?

Ms. MEADE: Well, I think it has something to do with the political reporters. I mean, they're just dogged in going around trying to find a bookstore where that accident happens. I mean, they know human nature. And they know if they keep looking long enough they're going to find a copy of that book. We get lots of calls from political reporters who are customers asking us whether we won't just slip them a copy under the table. But we can't do that. But most of them know, if they keep on looking, they'll find a copy.

CHADWICK: Barbara Meade, co-owner of The Politics and Prose Bookstore in Washington. Barbara, thank you.

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