On ARCs, Ethics, & Speaking Up

I’ve talked this week about how I use ARCs, and the reaction was about what I expected. Most librarians who come in contact with ARCs tend to do similar things. Over the last couple of days, though, the lid’s been lifted on how other people use their ARCs, too.

Before I go on, I’ve pulled up an example of what an ARC looks like, for those who might not be entirely familiar with them. The picture on the left is a good example of what an ARC from a publisher may look like. It’s usually paperback (though there are electronic ARCs too) and each of these ARCs comes with a disclaimer right on the cover — and on the back flap and usually inside, too — that these books are not for sale. That’s not to say they’re not to be shared, but that they’re not meant to be sold. There should be absolutely no monetary exchange with an ARC, either between the publisher and the reviewer, the reviewer and other reviews, or reviewers and, say, teens who may get a copy as a prize during a summer reading club.

Let me repeat: there is no monetary value in ARCs at all at any level. This means that the publisher makes no money off them (and in fact, they’re more costly to produce than a finished copy of a book). Authors make no money off them. Reviewers make no money off them. And they are not, not, not to be sold.

However, they are sold. Regularly.

Hop onto Ebay and do a search for ARC under the “Books” category (or just click here). These things are being sold left and right — some are books that aren’t available yet and they’re truly advanced copies of the book and sometimes, the books have been out and the ARCs are still being sold, often at some really discounted price or because they have a signature or any other number of reasons. It seems after big industry conventions or meetings like ALA or BEA, the number of books making their way onto Ebay increases and a lot of times, they’re books people are really looking forward to or that were perceived as hard-to-get ARCs at the convention. Just this week, I saw an ARC of Bitterblue up on Ebay for a cool $51 (you can pre-order the same book — one that’ll in fact be a finished, complete copy in hard cover and without error — for about $14 right now). That’s not to say that ARCs aren’t sold via Ebay and other similar sites all the time nor that they aren’t sometimes sold in indie bookstores, but the fact becomes more apparent and appalling following these events.

It’s questionable whether selling and buying ARCs is a legal issue, but that’s not what I want to delve into. I want to talk about ethics.

Selling and buying ARCs — when there is money exchanged — is unethical at any and every level.

Now that’s not to say doing an ARC trade or giveaway or donation is unethical. I don’t think it is. There are, in fact, ARC tours meant to help bloggers and librarians get their hands on ARCs to read and review, and the only requirements are time frames for reading and posting a review, as well as paying for shipping of the ARC to the next person in line. The problem emerges when ARCs show up with a price tag attached. When one person puts a price tag on a book that’s clearly an unfinished copy, that clearly has a note on it saying the item is not meant for sale, they’re practicing something that is unethical.

But the blame isn’t just on the person who sells the ARC. It’s also on the person who buys it, especially if it’s someone who knows better than that. It sort of sounds like a no duh moment, but the fact is, it happens, and it’s not as hidden as people think it is. Buying and selling of ARCs is much more common than we like to believe it is.

When someone purchases an ARC, rather than a finished copy of the book, they rob the book of a sale. The author and the publisher and the agent and the editor and everyone else involved in the production of a book sees nothing. The money spent on the ARC goes to the person unethically selling it, rather than to those who worked hard to put together the best finished version of that story.

Something that scares me a little bit about this practice, aside from the unethical nature of it and the fact it takes profit away from those who deserve it for their art, is how easy it is to track down those who are doing it. When I saw the Bitterblue ARC up on Ebay, I was also able to see other ARCs that particular seller had sold, as well as those people who’d purchased ARCs from that seller. One of those who purchased from the seller happened to be a book blogger, whose blog I was able to track down by their user name.  The ease of being able to do that is itself scary, but it’s scarier that the very people working toward promoting reading and books are participating in something they know is unethical.

Let me step back a second and return to a couple earlier points I’ve made here and in my post about how I use ARCs — though it’s not entirely easy to gauge the impact on actually selling copies, my giving the book to a kid doesn’t rob the book of a sale. It’s entirely possible the book is being sold in some way. More importantly, though, I’m not making a profit from giving the book away. No one loses money in this exchange, and there is only opportunity for it to be made (see: purchasing a finished copy for my library to lend).

When a blogger borrows an ARC from another blogger or participates in an ARC tour, they presumably review and build buzz for it. Again, impossible to gauge sales on this, but that’s sort of moot. The blogger isn’t profiting, though, in the exchange and sharing.

But when a blogger buys an ARC, they’re participating in an unethical exchange of cash for goods. They’re not helping spread the word. They’re taking away a potential sale. And when a blogger sells an ARC, they’re profiting from someone else’s work, too.

It sounds extremely hokey to say, but the fact is, books are exciting, and there are times when it feels impossible to wait to read something. When someone unethically lists such a coveted book on a site like Ebay, the temptation to purchase it — especially at what can sometimes be a really, really cheap price — may be huge. If the true goal of blogging, though, is to spread the word about books, to help promote those books worth promoting, to help sell books, the only way to be taken seriously is to behave ethically. That means not only holding off on purchasing an ARC unethically, selling an ARC unethically, and it means doing your part in reporting these things when you see them. It means holding fellow bloggers to a high standard of ethics, and it means calling them out when necessary. It’s a scary idea, to call someone out, but the fact is, people who do these things aren’t necessarily covering their tracks.

You can report these sales via Ebay, and you can forward on these sorts of links on to the marketing folks at relevant pubs.

I don’t have a whole lot more to talk about on the topic, other than to say the value in an ARC is the value in what it does for the book. An ARC and a book aren’t the same thing — the ARC precedes the book, and the ARC can help push sales of the book through early buzz. That’s why they exist and why bloggers have become part of the publicity machine. If you’re truly invested in helping promote books and reading, then you promote the purchase of the book, and you work toward halting the buying and selling of ARCs.

For what it’s worth, bloggers who practice the unethical buying and selling of ARCs are harming, rather than helping, everything that bloggers are working toward doing. They’re tarnishing the image of the role a blogger can play in sales and in promotion and in buzz. They’re also stealing from those who work to produce the content, narrowing, rather than expanding, the experiences the book world can bring.

Anyone curious to learn more about ARCs and the role they play, please take the time to read through Liz Burns’s posts here, here, and here.

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  1. says

    Kelly, Thank you for this thoughtful post about something I had never heard of. Sure enough, the novel I am anticipating (Pandemonium) is for sale on ebay. It is too bad for the author, and strengthens my resolve to buy it when it is released.

    • says

      Send the link on to the marketing folks at Harper and let them know. And it totally sucks for the author, as well as everyone else involved in the process of making the book happen, as well as READERS who are invested in promoting the book.

  2. says

    This is a terrific post. The whole scuttlebutt revolving around ARCs and their demand has definitely been highlighted more and more these last couple of years. Ethics, behaviour and lost sales aside, I fear that eventually publishers will limit, or worse, stop, availability of them, which may curtail these situations, but to the detriment of librarians. Let's hope it doesn't come to that!

    • says

      If they were to curtail ARCs, it would be a detriment to librarians for sure, as well as others who use them to legitimately promote the book. At the same time, I couldn't exactly blame them when they're losing money on it, you know?

  3. says

    Great post and reminds me of something that happened over the summer. I went to the Borders headquarters sale in Ann Arbor, at which they were selling everything, including any books that were there. All books were a dollar and I picked up 10, including some that were ARCs. I didn't really know what they were at that point and definitely had no idea they could not be sold. Kind of a weird situation, since it was BORDERS, but now I feel funny at having paid a dollar for some of them, but at the time, they were just cheap books to me. Not really sure what Borders was thinking…

    • says

      Oh yikes! Borders was in the wrong there — they should have either tossed the ARCs or given them out for free. Don't let yourself feel bad about it if you legitimately didn't know because, well, sometimes you don't until it's too late.

    • says

      yeah, I honestly had no idea they could not be sold. I'm assuming someone just went through the building and put all the books in the same place, so ARCs and finished copies were together. I obviously would never buy again, but I hope bookstores feel the same way!

  4. says

    At our local B&N they have a used book section and there's a whole shelf devoted to advanced reader copies – a whole freaking shelf that clearly states these are advanced reader copies. I don't think most of those are "hot" books. I'm guessing they're probably ones that aren't very popular as I never recognize any of the titles or authors, but they are there and are obviously being sold when they shouldn't be.

    • says

      They're being SOLD and not just given away? I know a number of book stores (libraries, too!) that have a shelf or a box of ARCs, but they're free to take. There's no money exchanged.

  5. says

    I saw an ARC for sale at a Half Price Books and took it up to the counter to point it out to the clerk. I figured I would have to explain what it was, thinking they were just ignorant. But nope – they knew what ARCs were and decided to offer it to me for a dollar instead of half price. At that point I gave up.

    Also, what they determined was "half price" was half of the hardback price, printed on the back of the ARC (you know, this book will be $XX when it's published in hardcover). So it was being sold for $8 initially.

    • says

      I've had the same experience at Half Price Books. I've also seen some at our local used bookstores. It drives me crazy since it so obviously says on the front cover "this is not for sale" I like that in the Scholastic ARCs, they print a note that says "this book is not for sale. If you wish to thoughtfully dispose of this book, consider donating it to children or teens in need"

    • says

      A quick google tells me that selling ARCs seems to just be one of the many Half Price Book services. Why and how they get away with this I don't understand, and it's not, as it appears, isolated.

      My solution is not to purchase anything from HPB.

    • says

      oooh. I love HPB! I've only seen one ARC for sale at the half-dozen HPB stores I've been to and that was of a signed ARC (The Hunger Games – for 300 dollars!).

      Which, that may not make it better, BUT.

      I don't know how the HPB handle the ARCs, but The Hunger Games one I saw was in the "rare book" section. I think they figure since it's a limited print, it's therefore, a rare book and should be sold accordingly.

      I'm not saying it's a GOOD or RIGHT thing. But I do understand that thought process. Besides, someone took it there to be sold in the first place…and probably made money off of it.

    • says

      Something I've thought about a lot is the idea of ephemera and phenomena and I would think an ARC of something like the Hunger Games or Twilight might qualify as that, and in that case, I don't necessarily see it as selling an ARC but selling a piece of memorabilia.

    • says

      WHICH OF COURSE begs the question of when something moves from an ARC to memorabilia…which is a whole other thing I am totally unqualified and unable to talk about.

    • says

      word. I have an ARC of THG. When I worked for B&N, it was sent to us and our store manager just let employees have the ARCs. And it sat there and sat there.

      Finally, I took pity on it and took it home. (Seriously. I felt sad for the book everyone ignored.)

      6 months later and BOOM. It was crazypants.

      But, yes, exactly – memorabilia. Thank you. Way better put.

  6. says

    The Half Price Books I go to near Milwaukee always has ARCs for sale, mixed in with the real books on their shelf. It drives me NUTS. They're priced the same as regular paperbacks and sold the same. Several times I've pulled a book off that I wanted only to discover it's an ARC which I won't buy. There must be at least one or more reviewers in the area who are illegally selling off their ARCs.

    • says

      Part of me wonders if it's just being ignorant because…I mean…it HAS to be, especially in a place like Half Price Books which gets bags and bags of people's books to resell. I wouldn't be entirely surprised if some of the sellers at HPB potentially get them and resell? I don't know. Either way, it's such a tricky thing, and as Kim said, what happens when you point it out to an employee? Sometimes..nothing. Or a deeper discount.

    • says

      The other thing … there ARE bookstores that sell them and it's not entirely unknown (The Strand and as someone earlier told me, Powell's, too). The legality of it is questionable but more than that, it's the ethical practice of it that bothers me. While a USED book sale doesn't necessarily make money for the content producers, it's more ethical than an ARC sale by leaps and bounds.

    • says

      I'm honestly not trying to be snarky here and I agree with your post completely except I was wondering what you mean by "a used book sale doesn't necessarily make money for the content producers, it's more ethical than an ARC sale by leaps and bounds." Do you just mean because a used book has been purchased at least once or because it doesn't say anything on it about being sold? Thanks!

    • says

      I don't see your comment as snarky — you got it right with the first part. I mean because the used book has been purchased once already!

    • says

      I used to work at HPB – it's not ignorance, I remember we had a long discussion about whether to sell them or not. In the end, the managers decided that the store's policy was we sell everything – and so we did. It was quite a few years ago, but that's what I recall.

    • says

      I think that makes me more uncomfortable. The blanket policy makes sense from a management perspective, sure, but ARCs clearly state not to, you know?

    • says

      You can't guarantee a finished copy was ever sold though – as a blogger I receive tons of finished copies. I personally have not sold one, I swap the ones I don't want, but I am sure there are people who do sell them.

    • says

      That's valid and true — I do get a lot of finished copies. Ethically, I find it problematic to sell those, too, seeing it'd be a profit for me. When I'm done with them, I donate them (or pass them along to someone else, like you do).

  7. says

    Thank you for this post — I haven't been following the entire scandal, but was sent a link to that Bitterblue ARC the other day and was so SHOCKED. It seems common sense to me, but I've found we can never have too many conversations about ethics & book blogging, as so many people just do not get it.

  8. says

    Such a good post, so much that needed to be said. It really disappoints me that anyone sells ARCs.

    And actually, I think I must be pretty naive about it, because when I blogged to encourage book bloggers to donate their older ARCs to librarians, who will use them for teen prizes and never ever ever sell them in the library book store, I received quite a few comments along the lines of, "Oh, I've seen them in my library's book store." Argh!

    • says

      And that's why we need to continue to educate people what ARCs are. I know how I use them in the library but not all librarians are savvy on it. But there are library book stores that have them on free shelves (or one I was in recently had 'em in a box with "Free Books" on it) and there's nothing wrong with that, in my mind!

  9. says

    Thank you so much, Kelly, for posting this! An ARC of my book went up for sale on eBay the other day (and I blogged my response to the experience today). Wiith concerted effort, my friends and I managed to get the seller to take it down. I thank you, and all of your readers, who make an effort to educate people about this! And thank you for your continued support of authors.

    • says

      I went and read your post, and I'm so sorry that this happened to you! The entire practice is so terrible not only from the blogging perspective (where we want to be taken seriously and stuff like this makes it impossible) but also from the perspective of what you and other authors are doing in trying to make a CAREER and people are hampering it from the start. The more we talk about it, I hope, the less it happens.

    • says

      I'm surprised, maybe ebay has gotten stricter. I pretty much gave up reporting after I reported a ton of Catching Fire ARCs after BEA a couple of years ago and none of them were ever removed.

  10. says

    Thank you for this post. I saw your Tweet last night and I did report the auctions, though I doubt Ebay will do anything about it. The Bitterblue auction was ridiculous. I messaged the seller but I'm sure it will be ignored.

    I have attended BEA, ALA midwinter, and NCTE over the past few years. As an industry outsider at ALA and BEA I am very conscious that my presence is not a right and I must act appropriately- you know, like a decent human being. The behavior I see around me (usually by bloggers, unfortunately), infuriates me at each and every conference. Pushing guests and publishers, stealing 4-5 copies of ARCs (and yes, it is stealing if you take more than one without permission), and gloating about your prize will only result in non-industry members being shut out of conferences. As a teacher, the networking I do at all these conferences is invaluable and I dread that day that I am barred from attending due to the behavior of others.

    Posts like this should not be necessary, but sadly they are. It seems to get worse every year and I'm afraid publishers will just end up creating fewer ARCs or moving solely to e-copies. While e-copies are great for one person, they don't allow teachers and librarians to share with teens and kids, which means less buzz. I have plenty of ARCs in my classroom and the result is more teens ordering their own copies of the books. ARCs work, but only if they are accessible to readers. Sadly, we may lose that in the future.

    For anyone looking for an opportunity to give ARCs/review copies a second chance at life in an ethical manner, please take a look at ARCsFloatOn. The program is supported by the major publishing houses, many authors, and publicists. It allows bloggers/reviews to donate their read/reviewed copies to classroom libraries where they get a second chance at life. Teachers support their own classroom libraries and without the opportunity to attend conferences most libraries are rarely updated. I've seen firsthand how reluctant readers can become readers when they are given the chance to read a book "first" and can share their thoughts with classmates or even on Goodreads. Teachers pay shipping costs and it's a win-win situation: reviewers make room on their shelves, the books are read until the pages fall out (and are usually replaced by hardcovers if the class really loves them), and marketing departments get a chance to hear from real teens/kids.


    • says

      Victoria sent along the link to her legal department, but she said the auctions were down this morning. I can't tell you the number of phone calls that were made and people who made reports on Ebay. Enough people getting behind the message of how wrong this is made taking at least that one seller down happen.

      And I agree on industry events and behavior. I think anyone who wants to go and make an experience of it, really learn and network, is hindered by this kind of stuff. Regulating who can and can't attend doesn't necessarily seem like the best solution but it might be a necessary one.

      I also agree on eARCs and their problems. I have a host of issues with them outside the cant-build-buzz factor, including the fact so many are terribly designed/laid out/sometimes downright impossible to read.

      And thanks for talking about ARCsFloatOn. Another possibility is always RIF, too.

  11. says

    Let's say " people". It is who these people are fundamentally that cause them to engage in unethical behavior. Book blogging may the outlet that is visible to us bookish people in regards to their behavior. Let's make sure we don't generalize the behavior to an entire group that works hard for no monetary gain. I am a teacher & I hate when people say "teachers…" when they are talking about the bad behavior of a few. In general over the course of this past week, I have not appreciated the tone of how the word "blogger" has been used. I totally get correcting & educating about bad behavior. But some of this has become counter productive, harmful, and unnecessary.

    I apologize for throwing up all over this comment on this post. This is a result of a long week of following the discourse.

    • says

      That doesn't really answer the question though, Kelly. You are generalizing by blaming the practice of selling arcs on 'bloggers' which to me sounds like 'book bloggers' and not librarians or anyone else involved in this industry. The majority of book bloggers would never sell or buy an arc, so I really don't like the generalization here, even though I do agree with your main point. It hurts, and truthfully, I'm offended.

    • says

      I'm sorry if it offends you — I'm not sure what else to say. Is it a generalization? Sure. Is it possible other industry pros are the problem? Absolutely. But my goal in writing this was to address an audience I knew I had, which was…bloggers (and librarians and teachers…which goes back to my original point in the original post about how I don't separate my blogging self from my librarian self).

  12. says

    I never realized that people were selling arcs on ebay. That's RIDICULOUS. I just did a search and found ARCs for older books, going for much more than you can get the actual final book now. Which is crazy. Don't these people feel bad for selling arcs they got for free? To help promote? I really don't get it. As a blogger, I keep some of my arcs, and others I donate to the YA librarian at my local library. She then gives them to teens to read.

  13. Anonymous says

    What about libraries who sell arcs for $1 in their donation store (where all the books are donations from members or ones they're weeding out)? They're clearly separated and labeled as ARCs. From what I've seen, they're also rarely ever ARCs of books that aren't out yet, and usually months to years old.

    Thanks for this post though, wow. Did not know people were making such a profit out of them!

  14. Anonymous says

    I used to work in a bookstore that sold them, and it made me really uncomfortable. I mentioned it to the boss several times but was always dismissed about it. Made me really sad – it's otherwise a fabulous bookstore with great indie style.

    • Anonymous says

      He just didn't seem to care. He would just brush me off with a "oh it doesn't matter" or "they're only a dollar, it's not a big deal." etc. They were all old ARCs, and we didn't sell ones that we had the real version in the store, so he seemed to think that as long as it wasn't cutting into his bottom line, it was fine.

    • Anonymous says

      I know. It was really sad. Great store, great manager, and I loved working there, but the owner was a very old-school kinda guy, and he had some shady ethics sometimes.

  15. says

    Great post Kelly. I have to admit… before I was a blogger or had ever seen an ARC I bought one off of ebay. I had no idea that they weren't supposed to be sold. Once I got that and saw that on the cover I felt TERRIBLE! I left feedback about it. I bought extra copies of the finished one because I was sick over it. I am sure there are some buyers who are clueless about it and it's not fair to them either. Thanks for this post.

    • says

      You had no idea so you can't beat yourself up over it too bad 😉 I do think it's becoming more well known, and bloggers, especially those who are receiving them or know about them or do their research about them, KNOW the ethical guides with ARCs. And I agree there are going to be buyers who are clueless, especially if they're in a store that sells them.

  16. says

    Last school year my book club decided on a novel to read, so I went ahead and ordered some copies since I couldn't find it at Borders or B&N. One of my students came in later that week to let me know that she bought it in paperback, which confused me since it was a new release in hardcover. Once she showed me the book and told me where she bought it, I explained to her what she did. She felt horrible, but she had no idea; she thought she was getting a great deal on Ebay. If I ever see an ARC on Ebay (or any other site), I'll be sure to report it.

    I've found ARCs at indie book stores as well. They wait until the books are already released and sell them for under $3 usually, but it's still awkward to see that. I mean, it says right there on the front cover NOT to sell it.

    • says

      I'm fairly sure you do a good job educating your students now, which is the important thing, especially since you use ARCs in your classroom (if I remember correctly).

      I don't know why all of these indies selling ARCs surprises me so much but it does. It's a big disappointment. You'd think they'd know better or care enough not to.

    • says

      I think it's the thrill of getting the ARC sooner, rather than later. But I mean, I have no idea! I know I'd rather spend $14 on a finished copy of a book and wait a few months than $50 on an ARC. That's just from a financial standpoint. You already know my ethical standpoint.

  17. says

    I once bought a book and it didn't say anything about it being an ARC. I thought I was buying the real thing. When it showed up at my door I immediately called the seller on it. Told them it was illegal and very clearly stated it on the ARC cover. They refunded my money. So at least it worked out.

    • says

      I think there's a good level of ignorance about what ARCs are and the fact the person refunded you the money makes it sound sort of like they didn't know!

      As far as the legality of it, that's tricky, but definitely unethical.

  18. says

    You said it all, Kelly.

    And, as an independent book blogger and grandmother of 9, I decided that if I have an ARC, but the book is now in print, I will buy a true copy to give to grandkids or kids!

    If a book they will adore is not in print yet and I've finished my review, I'll give an ARC to them with the very clear understanding that they can keep it or give it back to me when they're finished, but never sell it. You can imagine how much they talk up a book when they get to read it before it's out at the bookstore!

    I currently pass on my ARCs to school librarians, but will be looking into the ARCsFloatOn program, too.

    **Katy Manck
    Recommending YA books beyond the bestsellers at http://BooksYALove.blogspot.com
    Follow me on Twitter @BooksYALove

    • says

      "You can imagine how much they talk up a book when they get it to read before it's out at the bookstore!" —

      Word of mouth is huge. I found this to be the case with my teens, which is why I so loved giving them ARCs. Some of my kids would come back to our book clubs and give a rundown of every ARC they read…which then got other kids excited (and encouraged me to purchase the book for the library…which then causes more word of mouth..and so on).

      Definitely check out the ARCsFloatOn program – Sarah, who commented on it, coordinates it and can get you all of the info you could want.

  19. says

    Thanks for making such an eloquent point. I had no idea people were selling ARCs like that and I've never seen one in a book store. I do swap them from time to time, but it's usually to a fellow reviewer.

    • says

      I don't think there's any problem in swapping 'em. I do take some issue with it when it's well past pub date and there's swapping (rather than purchasing) but it's still leaps and bounds more ethical than buying and selling them.

  20. says

    Red Lemonade (Richard Nash's new imprint) actually printed right on the cover of ZAZEN something to the effect of "This is an ARC and as such should not be sold but if you are really broke and desperate for cash then we understand we can't stop you." I thought that was awesome – clearly everyone knows what the problem is.

    I donate most of mine of mine to Childrens hosp in Seattle. The nice thing about ARCs is that they are paperbacks which is all most of those kids can handle in a hospital bed. (And the whole issue of finished copy vs ARC seems pretty irrelevant in that situation.) I never in a million years thought someone would sell theirs. That is just so wrong.

    • says

      I used to donate mine to the hospital library I volunteered at, too, and for the same reason. The kids got the book, could handle it, etc. And I, too, never thought people would SELL them and actually profit off something that's worth absolutely nothing.

  21. says

    The legality of selling ARCs was decided a while ago if you use promo CDs as a like-item (http://blogcritics.org/music/article/music-collectors-can-rejoice-promo-cds/). The court's decision doesn't apply to CDs that haven't been released, however (and eBay and Amazon have policies about that as well).

    Having said that, the ethics are another issue. I've seen many libraries and schools sell them at nominal prices to help get money for new items. It's legal, and if the book was published a while ago, I'm not sure I have a problem with them selling ARCs any more than I do with them selling donated books.

    • says

      The legality is still a little questionable all around, which is why I didn't touch that topic. I'm much more interested in the actual ethics here. Regardless of whether the library or school sells them to get money for new items, I still think it's unethical. I DO have a problem with that vs. those places selling donated items for a little cash because it says explicitly that ARCs are not for sale. Not to mention it's literally a worthless product and if you want to extrapolate, it only continues the cycle of buying/selling ARCs as being okay.

      That said, selling donated items is much less problematic for me. The item had at initial sale produced profit for the creators.

  22. Anonymous says

    I've purchased a few ARCs off of Ebay and I don't feel guilty about it. I bought finished copies of them and passed the ARCs on to several more people who read, reviewed, and passed them on to other readers. (AND purchased finished copies in almost all cases) Reading an ARC and buying a finished copy are not mutually exclusive; In a lot of cases, the author/publisher will still get the sale. The only reason I bought any of those ARCs was pure excitement to experience the story. Sure, I could physically wait a few months and read it on release day but it is so much more fun to read it as soon as possible and generate buzz. I'd rather ARCs went to people who were actually going to enjoy the books, review them, spread the word and sell more books for authors in the long run than for them to go to anyone would give them away/sell them without reading them.

    Would you rather a book be sold on Ebay but the sale results in a review that reaches an audience of hundreds of readers and likely sells more than a few books or for it to go to someone who just leaves it on a shelf or passes it to one or two readers who will never review it online? I understand you think it is unethical because it "takes away a sale," but if it actually results in say 10 sales of the book in the long run, is it still unethical? It is a Robin Hood scenario. Sure, it might've been unethical for me to steal a 17 dollar sale to the publisher/author, but I give them my 17 dollar sale when the book comes out and directly influence conservatively 100 more dollars that goes to them. If it is purely about profit the publishers/authors win, at least in the cases of me buying ARCs on Ebay. (for the record, I am a bookseller and a blogger)

    • says

      I disagree. It's still unethical. What makes waiting for the finished copy of the book a couple months later and writing a review that sells 100 copies worth buying an ARC off Ebay beforehand? The ARC says "not for sale," and it should not be for sale.

      If you'd rather the ARCs go to people who were going to enjoy the books, review them, and sell more books, then…you wouldn't buy the ARCs because you're doing precisely what you shouldn't be doing. I'm not against SHARING ARCs. That's perfectly fine, acceptable, and achieves the buzz you're talking about. But buying them? I wholeheartedly disagree.

      I'm not an author so I can't speak to your point about whether buying an ARC resulting in a sale as preferable to something else, but what I can say is I suspect authors would prefer their BOOKS BE SOLD so they can make the money they deserve. Buying and selling ARCs does nothing for them.

      As a bookseller, you have an idea of what your ability to physically sell a book is, but for bloggers, knowing the true reach and sales is near impossible. So that point is sort of unfounded in most cases.

    • says

      I still think it's unethical to purchase ARCs. Purchasing ARCs is only going to encourage the seller to keep selling (and for others to start selling), even if they know it's wrong. Two wrongs don't make a right, eh?

      If you're truly writing reviews that reach people and result in sales, I'd advise you to contact publishers and request ARCs that you want. Most publishers are doing some kind of blogger outreach now, and that's a legit way to get what you want. If you're finding that publishers aren't responding to your requests, I'd start by making publishers more aware of your blog by emailing them links to reviews of their titles, interacting with them on Twitter and Facebook, etc.

    • says

      Abby, you hit the nail on the head. By purchasing, even if YOUR goals may seem okay (in spreading the word to make sales), you're still encouraging the seller, and I'm willing to bet the bulk of those who do purchase ARCs aren't going in with the same intention you may be, anon.

  23. says

    I think what's really interesting is there are different levels of ethics – at least there are in my head.

    And a blogger/person who paid $25 for the exhibits pass/bookseller/etc. who received an ARC and then turns around and sells it on eBay for 50 bucks a pop is HIGHLY unethical. In that case, not only are you taking money away from the producers of the book TWICE (once for the person who received the ARC and once for the buyer of the ARC), but you are also taking advantage of the respect that publisher gave your blog/conference/bookstore/etc.

    When it comes to libraries and used bookstores selling ARCs, I'm less inclined to care.

    Don't yell at me!

    Here's why: libraries and used bookstore sales, first and foremost, only slightly impact the publisher and author of the book by having an ARC for sale. If the ARC wasn't on the shelf, but a finished copy was instead, the money earned by the used bookstore and library would never go to the publisher/author/etc. – it just goes back to helping earn a profit for that company. In the case of used bookstores – that is their business model: buy books people don't want anymore, and sell them for more than you bought them for, but less than the cost of the actual book.

    I'm more inclined to be angry with the person who sold the ARC to the used bookstore in the first place. They officially profited off a book they (presumably) received for free. That's not okay. Used bookstores at least PAY for the books they will sell and then resell them.

    Regarding the fact the cover says "Not for Sale," I think it's pretty easy to ignore that by most people. I'm not saying it's right BUT. If you ever hold a bake sale or any type of food stand, you're not supposed to sell cans of pop that came in a box together individual. They say on them Not For Individual Sale. And yet, it happens all the time.

    Once again, I'm not saying any of this is RIGHT. I'm just saying that there are situations I'm willing to accept over other situations.

    The world isn't black and white, Kelly! There are lovely shades of gray! (That was my push to put something happy and not-serious in my comment. Too much seriousness makes me twitch.)

    • says

      Kel, you make some interesting points, and I do agree with you on the used book issue (I think I hit that somewhere in the comments here). But I'm still of the mind selling ARCs, no matter where, isn't ethical. I'm totally cool with those things being in a free box in a library sale but I'm not cool with 'em being for sale.

      I guess my stance on it is that this is something that can become problematic easily if we DO continue to sort of let it slide by (and if places like HPB DO continue to sell ARCs, which from the sounds of it, happens more than I thought it did). You make an awesome point on the individual pops, and it's hard to argue but at some level, it's still not ethical, right? (and I guess I can have that stance since I don't drink it 😉 ).

      You're right — it's NOT black and white. There are many shades of gray. But for me, this is a fairly cut and dry issue. "Do not sell" and "Not for resale" pretty much say it all.

    • says

      Yeah, it's that slippery slope thing. I totally get what you're saying.

      I'm just not sure it's entirely regulate-able (i may have just made up that word?).

      I DO think it's just a good idea to push the whole "Don't buy ARCs" idea, without a doubt. But there will be people who don't even know what ARCs are and will think A DOLLAR?!?! and buy it for the deal, you know?

      Obviously, this does not apply to crazy ARC-selling-for-$50-People.

      unrelatedly: you don't drink pop?!?!?

    • says

      Regulating it is impossible, but educating and having these discussions at least fosters a little more knowledge. If it reaches one person, that's one person more than it reached before.

      Unrelatedly: nope! I don't. Jac got me to stop.

  24. Anonymous says

    I agree that there are shades of gray, and think that saying, "selling ARCs is always wrong" confuses the issue a little. For example, selling ARCs is a perfectly accepted part of the rare book world. You'll find ARCs listed in the catalogues of any reputable rare book dealer, from the guys who appraise books on Antique Roadshow on down. And I know authors and people who work in publishing who are book collectors, and who buy ARCs. See: http://lopezbooks.com/catalog/pr/static/?page=1 for a summary on this topic. They are collectible objects, and I don't really know many authors who object to that. Promotional records that are labeled "Not For Sale" can also be highly collectible, and are sold on eBay, and I think people would find it pretty quaint if someone objected to that sale.

    Obviously, selling an ARC of a book that isn't out yet is different– though, even there, I think there are shades of gray, as you say.

    As for a library book sale– if the books are donated, I don't quite see the problem. Isn't the library getting *all* of the book sale items for free, and aren't all of them being sold without the author or publisher seeing any profit, and isn't the purpose of the sale to raise money for a library– a cause all authors and publishers would get behind?

    I think someone taking something under false pretenses and selling it, against the objections of an author or publisher, is wrong. But I think a blanket verdict that selling any ARC is always wrong doesn't quite make sense…

  25. says

    In the past few years, my library has begun buying more and more of its books via the Amazon Marketplace, and I'm always more than a little peeved when we get sent an ARC. Our Acquisitions Librarian only orders stuff that says it's new or like new – apparently, to some sellers, that also includes ARCs in great condition. When possible, we always send them back and ask for a non-ARC copy or a refund. One seller had the gall to get upset with us for wanting to return the book.

    The first time I ever held or saw an ARC was when I was in college and won one via an author's contest. I can understand why buyers pay for them thinking they're getting something special, like ARCs are some kind of collector's edition, but there's no excuse for the sellers, since so many ARCs actually state, on the book or in the text, that they should not be sold and may have errors that aren't in the final product.

  26. says

    Thanks so much for bringing this to my attention. I had no idea that non-industry people were allowed at ALA conferences and that ARCs are being SOLD at eBay and used book stores. I am a longtime children's bookseller at Barnes & Noble and a kid's book blogger and I get ARCs both through work and directly from publishers for review on my blog. It had never occurred to me to sell any of these titles but, years ago when I joined PaperbackSwap I did consider trying to swap some of my ARCs. PBS has a boldly stated rule that ARCs are not eligible for trade and, being the obedient person I am, I have never swapped one. Also, as a parent & bookseller, I'm like you – I want to put books in kid's hands. I pass all my ARCs on to my son's elementary school library or the library at the high school where my husband teaches, both of which are pathetically underfunded. Thanks again for bringing this to light. Your post is getting a lot of well deserved attention – I found it by following links from two other blogs I read. Well done.

  27. says

    In the romance community, most publishers number their arcs and know who they send them off to. That way, if a book DOES end up on ebay, the publisher knows to not send that person or reviewing group more arcs. This of course doesn't help at big conventions where people are amassing quantities of arcs but it can be useful for when people are just sent random arcs, particularly for hot, buzzing titles.

    • says

      Interesting idea! And I'd think that the romance community isn't much different size wise from the YA community (not dramatically smaller or bigger that is). I wonder though if maybe the romance community being more established has helped them figure these things out? Just speculating.

  28. says

    Of course educating people about ARCs is important, but I think that the bloggers (I guess many of the sellers are indeed bloggers) who sell their copies via ebay know exactly what they are doing. They just care more about making some extra money than they care about the author/publisher. To be honest just thinking about it makes me mad.

    • says

      I'm not comfortable labeling those who are selling and buying as bloggers or not (though sometimes you can track it back to an individual but not always).

      It's not supporting. It's stealing.

    • says

      You say you aren't comfortable, but that's exactly what you did in your blog post. To me anyway. I promise I am not trying to start a fight, and I know ALA caused some bad blood between book bloggers and librarians, but generalizing like this isn't helping. I work my tail off to be professional and trustworthy to publishers and other readers. And so does the majority of other book bloggers. It honestly hurts.

    • says

      Like I said, I'm sorry if you were offended by my terminology. I'm also a blogger, and those I tracked back were bloggers, so it was the term I chose to use. And the fact this post was aimed to that audience too, etc. I've already tread this territory.

      But I have to say, the last bit here gets at me a little. Everyone who blogs works hard, regardless of whether they're just starting out, been doing this a year or so, or they've been doing this three years like we have or they've been doing it 5 years or 7 years. It doesn't change the fact it's still a discussion worth having and responding to. Likewise, the blogging world has changed so much, just in the time I've been doing this (three years now). That's not to say what I've been working on is more or less legitimate than you or any other blogger.

      You should be offended, too, that people behave this way if you are working this hard. You should be responding to it, and you should be calling people out.

      I called myself a blogger because I am, and the behavior of those who aren't being professional reflects upon me as much as it reflects upon anyone who calls him or her self a blogger.

    • says

      I'm with Kelly here… Bloggers behaving badly reflects just as much on us as it does on any blogger. YOU may know that there's a difference between bloggers who sell ARCs, bloggers that push people out of the way for ARCs, etc. and bloggers who don't do any of those things. *I* know that there's a difference. KELLY knows that there's a difference (c'mon).

      But Average Joe on the street who might someday read a news article about it, does not know the difference. THE WORLD in general does not know that there's a difference. All the more reason to keep calling attention to poor blogging practices and shouting them down, which is what Kelly's been doing on her blog. It's possible that the people who NEED to hear this stuff aren't listening, but at least Kelly's trying.

  29. says

    I never said I worked harder than you or any other blogger. Stop putting words in my mouth to make me look bad because I disagree with your terminology. That's unfair.

    And believe me, I do call people out. Frequently. I do it all the time. I am not afraid to stand up for what I believe in. Which is why I made a comment here. I don't like your terminology and I still don't. That's not going to change.

    I wholeheartedly disagree with those that sell ARCs. I think it's terrible and unethical. I just don't think pointing the finger at an entire group of people for something a few bad apples do is the way to go. I am sorry you had a bad experience with book bloggers at ALA. We are not all that way.

    And like I said, I do agree with Kelly's original post. And I agree with you as well, Abby. I just didn't like the way the finger was pointed at everyone. I did nothing. And no one else I associate/blog with (they are some stand-up people) have been selling ARCs or shoving librarians at ALA). I just want to make sure that the blanket statements stop.

    I believe in what you are doing here, ladies. I just felt like you were pointing the finger at ALL bloggers when that isn't it at all.

    • says

      I'm also a blogger and don't feel like a finger is pointed at me. I think the article is very fair and does at no time say that this is something that the majority of bloggers do. If bloggers behave badly (and even if it's a just a few) then I want that to be discussed.

  30. says

    Thanks for the great article. I've actually never given much thought to the ethics of selling/buying ARCs, mostly because I'm patient enough to wait for the pub date (and forever optimistic that one day I'll win a blog's ARC giveaway). I understand the wanting to read a story sooner rather than later, but don't quite get the wanting to spend money on what is technically unfinished. It's not the author's final, intended work.

    But all that is to say I was pretty surprised when I followed your link to Ebay's ARC listings and saw an ARC of the anthology I'm being published in later this year. Ebay's reporting system doesn't really seem built to report ARCs – it's not quite copyright infringement, not quite a "prohibited or restricted item", etc. So there doesn't seem to be much I can do about it, unless I want to spend a whole lot of time/energy trying to contact Ebay – and I have a feeling even after all that, it wouldn't be taken down at the end of the day.

    • says

      Kaitlin, I'm not sure how to report to Ebay, but many bloggers made phone calls to Ebay to report the Bitterblue ARC and it was taken down. I've talked with a publicist I work with who said if you see something like that, you should send a link to the marketing/publicity folks at the publishing house so they can track it down and take care of it.

  31. says

    Great post. I'm curious where you stand on ARCs in exchange for charitable donations. One of our local book stores (which, sadly is no more…) used to have a yearly cleanout of the ARCs and the owner would clearly post on the rack that all monies collected from ARCs would be given directly to the local women's shelter. (And he is an honorable person, so I never doubted his passing of the funds to the shelter.) I think he would ask for $10/3 copies or something reasonable like that. So, there was an exchange of money, but it went directly to a charity. Obviously it isn't happening any more because he decided to retire, but your article made me wonder where this scenario stands on the ethical continuum. Thanks!

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