It was billed as the publishing event of the year.
But the meticulously-laid PR strategy for the launch of Prince Harry’s tell-all autobiography appeared to unravel on Thursday in the face of a newspaper leak, followed by its surprise sale by some Spanish booksellers.
Plans for a tightly choreographed publicity push, which would have been months in the making and involved a series of TV interviews with the prince, looked to be in ruins.
But while the publishers of Spare had gone to great lengths to keep the book under wraps to maximise the impact of its release, it’s unlikely this unanticipated publicity will hurt sales.
Philip Jones, editor of trade paper The Bookseller, tells BBC News he thinks the leaks are “70% good” for the book and its publisher, Penguin Random House.
“I think they will be a little bit annoyed it has come out before the book is released, but I’m sure they will be delighted it is dominating the headlines around the world at a time when they want to increase pent-up demand ahead of publication on Tuesday,” he says.
Despite the publisher’s efforts to keep the book secure, many journalists were able to get hold of it on Thursday, after word got out that the Spanish edition had been put on sale early in some bookshops.
That came hot on the heels of a leak in the Guardian, which broke the news of Harry’s allegation in the book of a physical altercation with his brother, Prince William.
The next 36 hours saw wall-to-wall coverage of Spare as news outlets digested and distributed the revelations contained in its 416 pages.
Most industry figures doubt that sales will be harmed by the leaks.
“This probably won’t make any difference – they’re likely going to sell the same number of books,” says Edward Coram James, reputation management expert and CEO of digital marketing agency Go Up. “If anything, they might sell more because they’ve got an additional week of coverage.”
But he adds: “You wouldn’t have wanted a leak like this too far in advance, because you want the book to be launched at the height of the hype. If this leak had happened three weeks ago, the news cycle would have moved on and this story would have been slightly old hat.
“I would say it has happened close enough to the scheduled launch that, actually, the hype will continue until the launch itself, so it won’t lose momentum.”
Penguin had carefully co-ordinated its publicity campaign. The strategy was for Harry to conduct a string of broadcast interviews (at least four that we know about so far), which will air in the 48 hours before the book’s release.
The publisher otherwise kept things under wraps. They avoided doing a newspaper serialisation deal, while deliveries to many bookshops were scheduled to arrive at the last minute.
But the number of people involved in the book’s international production and distribution meant a leak was difficult to avoid. The Guardian, The Sun, The Telegraph, the BBC and Sky News were among the outlets who obtained the book en Español on Thursday and started ploughing through it.
“The net result has been that about every two or three hours, someone translates another chapter and then there’s been another news dump of some new line,” notes Neill Denny, joint editor of book trade news website BookBrunch. “No publicity campaign can normally achieve that. It’s almost worked better than a serialisation.”
However, a spokesman for the Spanish publisher, Plaza y Janes Editores (which belongs to Penguin Random House) expressed his frustration, telling Reuters: “A very clear launch protocol was established and communicated to all customers so that the book would not be marketed before that date.
“Everything points to the fact that some customers have breached their commitment to the publisher and have put the book on sale before the agreed date.”
Mr Denny dismisses any suggestion that the leak could have been co-ordinated for publicity. “I think this is embarrassing for the publisher, because it shows they can’t handle a massive worldwide release without it leaking,” he says.
While the early revelations may not have been part of the original rollout plan, Mr Coram James points out: “With PR strategies on big events like this, there is very often a half-expectation that something is going to go wrong. And so they will have prepared for this scenario, even though they won’t have expected it.”
One result of the leak, he suggests, has been that the broadcasters who had pre-recorded interviews with Harry have been rushing out more teaser clips, partly to make sure their exclusive isn’t undermined.
“I think that will have been co-ordinated with Penguin and the Sussexes after the leak, and will be an attempt by all three parties to get a bit of control,” Mr Coram James adds.
Harry is due to be interviewed on ITV, CBS, Good Morning America and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in the coming days. The clips released so far suggest Harry will be given a tough ride by some of the interviewers.
Under the original PR strategy, that would have created the appearance of Harry being held to account over the book’s content, getting ahead of any potential criticism.
But instead, Mr Coram James says, the leak has led to an unplanned period of exposure for the Sussexes, creating a gap that has been filled by critics appearing on media outlets to condemn parts of the book’s content.
“When you are doing a release like this, you want to make sure you are setting the terms,” he says. “When the book is leaked, all of a sudden the narrative escapes you.”
Spare might have Harry’s name on the cover, but it was written with JR Moehringer, a prolific ghostwriter of celebrity memoirs who made his name writing Andre Agassi’s bombshell autobiography in 2009.
“The American publishers were very smart to get him in the room with Harry,” says Mr Denny. “I think if Harry had written the book himself, it would have been a bit blander. But I think this guy’s pulled out and worked on these themes and made the book much more interesting.”
The publication of Spare is part of a long-running effort by Harry to get his own narrative into the public domain. That started when he sat down, alongside wife Meghan, with Oprah Winfrey in 2021 for a tell-all interview.
The couple later signed a reported $100m (£83m) deal with Netflix for a string of programmes including their recent six-part docuseries, as well as a reported $25m (£21m) deal with Spotify for a podcast hosted by Meghan. Harry reportedly received a further $25m from Penguin for the rights to Spare.
The releases of all these products have been timed so they do not clash. The Spotify podcast ran from August to November, followed by the release of the Netflix series in December, now the publication of Spare in January.
“Had they dropped all of them at once, their market will have fragmented – some will have bought the book, some will have watched the series or listened to the podcast,” says Mr Coram James. “But it’s not just about giving consideration to their various stakeholders and employers, it’s also about, how do we keep ourselves at the top of the news cycle for as long as possible?”
Spare is currently number one on Amazon’s pre-order chart, suggesting the publicity has been beneficial. “It’s great that people want people to buy a book early,” says Mr Jones. “January is a difficult time to sell books and this book is great for the industry.”
But at the time of writing, Spare hasn’t quite managed to break into the overall top three bestsellers on the site.
Ahead of Harry in Amazon’s chart on Friday were Miriam Margolyes’ autobiography and two cookery books, Pinch of Nom and Bored of Lunch: The Healthy Slow Cooker Book.
No matter how much interest there is in Harry, he may ultimately struggle to compete with a recipe for a 463-calorie Red Lentil Dal.
Additional reporting by Ian Youngs and Elizabeth Needham-Bennett.