discountarmageddonStreet dates are funny things. They’re supposed to give retailers time to get shipments in and ready to sell so that everybody can start from the same starting line. But particularly in book publishing, the amount of respect they get can vary considerably. With hot properties such as the Harry Potter novels, publishers have the power to punish line-jumpers—but with less sought-after texts, publishers and authors may have to take their chances.

On her LiveJournal, author Seanan McGuire posts about the street-date situation with her latest book, Discount Armageddon, which is supposed to street on March 6th. Any copies that are sold before that do not count toward the all-important first-week-of-sales numbers that can make or break a book’s success.

McGuire writes:

As of midnight Monday/the very beginning of Tuesday, Amazon has been shipping copies of Discount Armageddon. Consequentially, Barnes & Noble is doing the same thing. I haven’t been saying anything because DAW is trying frantically to fix it, and I didn’t want to drive sales to the sites which have chosen to release my book early. (I don’t blame B&N for reacting when they saw that the book was on sale; they’re a business, after all. But it’s not helping my stress level any.) Please, please, do not buy my book early. I know it’s hard. I know that the urge to have the shiny thing now is strong within us. I’ve ordered dolls from Japan and Australia, and DVD sets from Canada and the UK, for just this reason. But those things were legitimately released in the regions where I was ordering them, and Discount Armageddon has not been legitimately released anywhere at all. Please wait until March 6th. Don’t punish independent bookstores, and local brick and mortar stores, for some computer’s hard-to-fix mistake. Please. I am literally begging you here.

It doesn’t help that so much of a book’s success is measured by their first week. I’ve basically thrown up every time I thought about my week one numbers (including just now), because these early sales could mean the difference between a series and an accidental duology. It’s unlikely—DAW is very loyal, and they stand by me—but it could happen, and I am very much worst-case-scenario girl when I’m this flipped out. So please. Do not buy early. Wait until March 6th.

When I check Amazon right now, I see that the book is no longer directly offered by Amazon.com, though a couple of marketplace sellers are selling it for $4.80 each (and one for $22.97; the heck?). B&N still seems to be selling it, however.

Commenter jslinder suggests the reason Amazon started shipping early is that

Amazon et al has to pay for books based on ship date. Since they don’t pre-bill, they don’t get that money back until the books are shipped out from them. Thus, it is in their best interest on a large scale to ship books out ASAP when in stock despite what is best for the author to reduce carrying costs.

The e-book is still back-ordered until March 6th—and this has added to McGuire’s stress level as the Internet’s entitled came out of the woodwork and called her nasty names (as well as made threats of violence in some cases) for holding back their preferred reading format. It’s understandable that, after what publishers might have tried to pull in the past, people might have a knee-jerk reaction to windowing, but this kind of thing really doesn’t help e-book fans’ reputation.

This is not the first time I’ve heard about Amazon shipping books early. Does the company not fear retribution because it’s everyone’s biggest sales outlet and any reaction would hurt the publishers more than Amazon? Or does it just not care?