Raiders of the free ARCs

It’s always a kick when ARCs–advanced reading copies of books—first arrive at the office (if you work in publishing) or at home (if you’re an author).  Recently I was lucky enough to have a few spare ARCs of my upcoming book to give away, and so one night at a party I handed one to a friend of mine. He showed it to his date, who turned to me and pointed at the line on the cover that read, “FOR LIMITED DISTRIBUTION—NOT FOR SALE.”

“You know how these say not for sale?” she said. “I buy them all the time on eBay and Half.com.”

I wanted to like her, so I really wished she hadn’t told me that.

To many people an ARC doesn’t seem much different from other used books for sale. Except that while an ordinary used book was once sold as a new book—from which the publisher and author received some of the proceeds—ARCs are meant to be FREE items. At least until someone decides to sell one and make something out of nothing.

Somewhere in the Chicago area (we’re not saying where) there’s a bookstore that has a whole bookcase full of ARCs. The cashier at the front counter claimed that they buy them from folks who bring them in. “They’re people in the book business,” he said.  I know to some people in the book business, ARCs mean work—reading, reviewing, handselling, and so on. Is selling an ARC supposed to be a way to get additional compensation for that work? And what are you supposed to do with unwanted ARCs—throw them out? Maybe not. But selling them doesn’t seem like the best solution.

Michelle and I often talk about the ethics of all this.  We’re both definitely opposed to the idea of selling ARCs, of profiting from something intended to be a free gesture, especially when it undercuts legitimate book sales.

I’ll admit the issue becomes a little fuzzier for me when it comes to buying ARCs in used bookstores, since money spent there wouldn’t go to an author or a publisher anyway. I suppose you could reason that any time someone acquires a book by any means, that book’s author benefits in ways that are much more subtle than the bottom line—with a chance that it can lead to a sale one way or another. After all, isn’t that why publishers make ARCs in the first place? And if you really wanted to, you could argue that used books can come from anywhere—remainder piles, estate sales, stolen goods—and you can’t always assume that they ever made money to begin with. Right?

Then again, when you have an ARC in your hand, you do know where it came from. And if you pay money for it, you know you’re spending money that the author and publisher will never see. It’s as clear as the print on the cover.

And here’s hoping nobody is stupid and impatient enough to buy the ARC for my book on eBay for the hardcover list price. Wow, really?

Next week: so then what are you supposed to do with those ARCs, anyway?

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Raiders of the free ARCs

2 thoughts on “Raiders of the free ARCs

  1. This is an interesting topic… It reminds me of when I worked at a magazine and we’d get all sorts of freebie products. The idea was that we would use these products, love them, and feature them in the magazine. But there were cases where editors would eventually sell the products they’d received as a free gesture. It’s a little different and maybe more difficult to pinpoint who would be losing money in this case. But in the end, it’s still a bit shady ethically and the question was the same in the end – what should editors do with those things they don’t want? I’ll be interested to read next week’s post!

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