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Spare, the autobiography of Britain’s Prince Harry, was released on January 10th in 16 different languages and sold more than 3.2 million copies in its first week of publication. Of these, 1.6 million were sold in the US, the world’s largest book market, and 800,000 in the UK. In both countries, Spare broke the record for most non-fiction copies sold in a single day: in the UK, only the Harry Potter series had done better.
In Italy, where the book was published by Mondadori, GfK estimates that 95,500 copies were sold in the week of publication, i.e. from Tuesday 10th to Sunday 15th: 80,000 in paper form, 15,500 as e-books. Francesco Anzelmo, General Manager of Mondadori, says that the data on e-books, which are positive compared to paper sales compared to the average, confirm that it is “a book that strong readers read, those who read books regularly read, not a gossip book”. In fact, the eBook format is mainly used by frequent readers.
There were certainly many expectations of Spare and in fact Mondadori had produced a first edition, ie a first printing of the book, of 125,000 copies before its publication in bookstores. By the standards of Mondadori, the largest publishing group in Italy, it is not an outstanding first edition, higher ones are made several times a year, but are not common. Usually these many copies of a book are only printed prior to publication if the author or author has an established and successful publishing career.
“This book was an unknown factor,” Anzelmo always says, explaining why a larger first edition was not made for Spare. However, Mondadori was very confident in publishing the book, so much so that to win the rights, she participated in a “hard-fought” auction between publishers and ended up buying it “for a significant sum”. Anzelmo does not say so, but states that while it is high, “it does not remotely compare to what was being paid in the United States, as read in the newspapers”. Citing unnamed sources in the publishing industry, some English-language media outlets wrote that Prince Harry has reportedly signed a four-book deal worth between $25 million and $35 million. Anzelmo adds that he bought the rights to a single book at the Mondadori auction.
«The first sales figures show that we are not dealing with a pure marketing product, but with a real book, an excellent book. Also because books created at the table don’t work,” Anzelmo continues. Even in Italy, interest in Spare was so great from the day it was released that Mondadori started a first reissue of 25,000 copies on January 10th. In the days that followed, with the continuous growth in sales and the resulting numerous repeat orders from the bookstores, a much larger new edition was organized and is underway: a total of half a million copies will be printed in this second phase.
The immediate high demand was, in Anzelmo’s words, “beyond all expectations”, but Mondadori’s industrial structure allows it to respond quickly with production. The cost and scarcity of paper continue to be a concern for publishers, but large corporations have reservations that even such reprints can address. “The biggest challenge is time,” says Anzelmo.
Timing was also tight in the writing phase. The Italian version of Spare was made by four translators (Sara Crimi, Manuela Faimali, Valeria Gorla and Laura Tasso) to save time, since the book was made available to foreign publishers early last summer it is quite long (540 pages ) and was originally scheduled for release in October. “Three months was the minimum time,” explains Anzelmo.
In order to avoid the dissemination of excerpts or details of the book before its publication, which is common in many awaited publications, some precautions were taken at this stage: the translators had access to the text through an online platform, which does not allow them to download it to your devices and they could only work on the translation there.
For some bookstores, the large number of requests for replacements has led to a rapid shortage of available copies. They are also ready in the warehouses of Amazon, the most popular Italian online bookstore and if you currently order the book on the site you will have to wait until January 31 for delivery.
The possibility of pre-ordering books in advance of major publishing successes enables online bookshops to place new orders more quickly and, if necessary, publishers to organize a new edition. In this case, while there were caveats, there weren’t many that “specify what happened next,” says Anzelmo. “This is not a book with a predefined audience, as can be the case with influencers and other social media celebrities who personally inform their followers about the release of their own book. Spare is transversal and for this reason it sells a lot in physical bookstores».
In Italian, the title of the book, which literally means “reserve, escort” and refers to the role of the second-born in royal families, has not been translated as identically as possible to the “worldwide distribution of the cover image”, i.e. to keep it as identical as possible to the British and American. For the same reason, Prince Harry is referred to as “Prince Harry” on the cover, with his peerage also in English. Mondadori has limited himself to adding his own non-translation title in a smaller font: The Minor.
Anzelmo explains, “We chose that word to highlight some of Harry’s characters that emerge from the book. He’s a character who plays his weakness to strength, an aspect Möhringer is drawn to [il ghost writer che ha lavorato col principe, già noto e apprezzato per Open di Andre Agassi] he managed to improve”.
– Also read: The bookstores that combined Prince Harry’s autobiography with the novel How to Kill Your Family