All About ARCs: The Ins and Outs of Using and Abusing Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs)

Remember ARC Gate?

I wrote about it here a year ago. There were many, many responses, including those that agreed with me and those which disagreed with me. There was an article in Publishers Weekly. It led to a discussion about putting together a presentation for ALA Annual this year on the topic of ARCs and how they’re used.

Liz Burns, Kristi Chadwick, and myself put together a proposal, which was accepted, and we invited Jen Childs (Random House) and Victoria Stapleton (Little, Brown) to join us in talking about the topic of ARCs and how they’re used in the book world.

Because we wanted this to be a presentation about ARCs and how they’re used by those who use them, we wanted to ask people to tell us how it is they use ARCs, how they get them, what they do with them, and so forth. You may remember we put together a short survey a few months ago on the topic, and here are the results!

We had an overwhelming response. 476 people responded. Since 2 responses were non-ARC users, most of the results below are out of a total of 474 responses.

First, we asked how do you identify yourself?

For the purposes of simplicity, I had to make decisions on people’s profession/affiliation when it wasn’t 100% clear. The bulk of respondents called themselves librarians (162), bloggers (129), librarian and blogger (104), teacher and blogger (31), other industry professional (22), book seller (15), and teacher (11).

“Other industry professional” was my way of putting those who fell outside one of the clearer categories into a space, and it included print journalists, archivists, author, trade reviewer, editors, or those who chose not to put an affiliation down.

As seen, librarians made up the majority of our responses, followed closely by bloggers, then librarians who also blog.

We followed that up with what kind of ARCs do you use? We offered three options: print, eARC, or both. Because I was curious if there was anything at all relating to affiliation and ARC use, I broke down the responses in that manner.

Far and away, the bulk of all ARC users try both print and eARCs. A total of 311 responses indicated using both. Print only ARC users made up for 138 responses and eARC only responses made up a tiny 24 responses.

I broke this particular question down by profession since we were curious what librarians were using. I included librarians who blog within this breakdown, as well. It will make sense why I looked at this particular demographic and not the others later on in the data.

Over 66% (176) of the librarians and librarian bloggers used a mix of both print and eARCs. Almost 30% (77) used print only, leaving a very tiny margin — a total of 12 responses — who use only eARCs.

Some of the interesting data points I teased out of this: none of the teacher responses, none of the bookseller responses, and none of the “other” responses indicated using eARCs. I suspect a large part of why those who identified as only teachers did not use eARCs is because it means they cannot then use those books with their classrooms unless they purchase a copy. It cannot be put into their classroom libraries or used with the kids. I cannot make conjectures on the other affiliations and why they may not use eARCs, but remember, they represented a much smaller portion of responses.

Our next question was How do you get ARCs? We allowed responses to come from pre-designed answers, but we had an option for “other,” which will be explained.

The options were:

  • Sent to work 
  • I request from the publisher
  • I request from Netgalley
  • I request from Edelweiss
  • Pick up at conferences/trade shows
  • Trade with friends/colleagues
  • Purchase them
  • Receive them unsolicited*
After going through all of the responses, I added another category to simplify data collection, which is “receive them unsolicited.” The bulk of those who indicated they received ARCs unsolicited were bloggers (which includes librarian and teacher bloggers).
Numerically, it breaks down like this:
  • Netgalley requests: 313
  • Conference/Trade shows: 247
  • Get at work: 206
  • Request from publisher: 203
  • Trade with friends/colleagues: 178
  • Edelweiss requests: 153
  • Sent unsolicited: 35
What’s interesting about this data is that Netgalley requests are by and away the most popular way to get ARCs. Though it was noted above that eARC use only is the lowest popularity in terms of the type of ARCs used, the bulk of readers who use ARCs use both print and eARCs. This suggests — though this wasn’t explicitly asked — that those who do use both print and eARCs may use eARCs frequently and regularly. There’s actually a lot that could be explored from this data alone — do those who use eARCs read more? Do they request more? Do they have a high accept and completion rate? None of those were questions we looked at, but they look like opportunities for further exploration. 
Note that we do not have a bar for “purchase them” as a means of acquiring ARCs. There were responses for this, but they were below the 35 responses of having ARCs sent unsolicited. Also worth noting is that wrapped in the response of “sent to work” were those bloggers who had ARCs sent to their home for review. So, the “sent unsolicited” answers may be those who could have selected “sent to work” and vice versa. We were not as clear in that response as we could have been, as our thought was “sent to work” meant to the library, book store, or school. 
Since we left this a question with the option for “other,” we did receive other responses. They’re interesting:
  • Win from contests: 30
  • Sent from the author (both solicited and unsolicited): 19
  • Review for trade journal: 10
  • Purchase them: 8
  • Bookstore partnerships: 6
  • Part of a YALSA/Award committee: 4
  • Library free pile: 2
  • Baker & Taylor review program: 2
  • Local librarian review group: 2
  • Online tour/sharing groups: 2
  • Work for publishing company: 1
  • Amazon Vine: 1
  • Publishing friends: 1
  • Ask the authors: 1
The followup question is at the heart of why we wanted to do this presentation, which is this: Where and how do you use ARCs?
As with the previous question, we had a list of options, as well as space for respondents to fill in additional answers. Our options included:
  • Collection development
  • Read for review — place of work
  • Read for review — blog
  • For groups at work (teen advisory board, etc)
  • Read for pleasure
Because there were a number of other responses that could be grouped into categories, I made a few categories after the survey closed:
  • Prizes or giveaways
  • Social media reviews (Goodreads, Amazon, Twitter — anything not a “blog”)
  • Author event preparation
  • Classroom libraries
  • Share with other readers
  • Committee reading
  • Reader’s advisory/”staying current”
  • Workshop or presentation prep
  • Deciding book club titles
  • To fill the school library**
Note that these graphs use different legend variants — I had to break them into two charts, and obviously, the scale changed because of the number of responses. So the larger bars in the second chart do not necessarily indicate a larger number of responses.

These responses came from all affiliations in our survey. So it makes sense that the highest number of responses came with “review for blog” at 295. Other top responses were personal reading (280), collection development (201), for groups at work (111), and review for work.

To break this down further, I pulled out the responses from everyone but those who affiliated as bloggers only (so this still includes librarians and teachers who also identified as bloggers), and the responses looked a bit different. Again note the scales are different since this graph needed to be broken up.

The top response in this set for how ARCs are used is personal reading (273). That response trumped all of the others which were top responses, including collection development (196), blog review (170), groups at work (109), and review for work (69).

** One of the responses listed above was “to fill the school library.” For anyone unaware yet, this is not an ethical practice. ARCs have their use in classroom libraries or any of the other purposes listed above, but to use as a means of creating a school library is not an ethical use of ARCs. Fortunately, this was a single response.

Our next question was what do you do with your ARCs when you are finished with them?

Again, we offered a series of response options, and we also allowed for responses to be submitted. These were the options:

  • Add to personal collection (300)
  • Give to colleagues or friends (227)
  • Give away at the library on a free shelf (58)
  • Give away to interested patrons (146)
  • Sell them (7)
After reading through the responses, I made a few more rough categories, which included:
  • Recycle/trash them (29)
  • Donate them — to hospitals, shelters, detention centers (23)
  • Use as prizes (18)
  • Add to classroom library (15)
  • Blog giveaways (9)
  • Donate to school library (6)
  • Donate to library (4)
  • Add to library collection (4)***
  • Donate to thrift store (7)
  • Craft use (2)
  • Bookswap websites (1)
  • Freecycle (1)
  • ARCs Float On / ARCycling (3)
  • Donate to library book sale (1)
  • Other (3)
  • Only use eARCs (2)
In short, from these responses it’s clear that ARCs get around. Even if people keep them in their personal collection, many also indicated they share these with colleagues and friends. They are donated to places that can take and use them. 
*** As noted above, ARCs shouldn’t be put into collections for libraries. But this is still a really small number. 
Our final questions were about the buying and selling of ARCs. The questions were simple and straightforward. Since this survey was anonymous, we feel responses were honest and genuine. 
Have you ever bought or sold ARCs?

Out of our 474 responses, 53 noted they have purchased ARCs. A total of 16 have sold ARCs. Because these numbers were small, I collapsed the data together, so the following charts are for those who have bought AND sold ARCs together. I didn’t see a reason to separate them. 
So who is buying and selling ARCs?
Librarian-bloggers, librarians, and bloggers were among the most likely to buy and/or sell ARCs in this survey. The numbers are small compared to the total number who took the survey. 
If you’ve bought or sold ARCs, where have you purchased them or sold them?

These were the answers. I did separate these out as “bought” vs. “sold”:
  • Bookstore: Bought (37)
  • Bookstore: Sold (11)
  • Library Book Sale: Bought (12)
  • Ebay: Bought (5)
  • Ebay: Sold (3)
  • Thriftstore: Bought (3)
  • Amazon: Bought (3)
  • Amazon: Sold (1)
  • Conference: Bought (1)
What’s interesting about this data is comparing it to the responses to what people do with their ARCs when they’re finished. Some donate them to bookstores or thrift stores or book sales. And then it’s not a super surprise there are people who respond to having purchased ARCs through these places with things like “I didn’t realize I bought an ARC until after.” Because that was a response that appeared numerous times throughout this set of questions.
Worth noting: every response about purchasing from Amazon noted they didn’t know they were buying an ARC. Half Price Books was cited in over half the responses for where ARCs were being bought AND sold. 
What to do with this data?

I’m not doing anything with it except laying it out there. I think the data actually raises a lot more interesting questions and places for consideration when ti comes to ARC use. I’m curious about why there aren’t more eARC only users when it’s clear eARCs are being requested far and away more than print ARCs are. 
ARCs get used. That’s the biggest take away. 
So what more to know about ARCs?

You can check out our entire visual presentation about ARCs, which is primarily these graphs again, right here.

Another dimension of our ARC survey was from authors themselves. We posed the question of what differences they saw between their ARCs and finished copies. Because we know that ARCs are not the finished product, we were curious just how not finished some of them were. The link to the Prezi above will show you some of the responses, but for the curious, here’s a sampling from the over 40 responses we got asking the single question “What were the biggest differences between your ARCs and finished book?” (This, we hope, should illuminate some of the reasons why putting these books in a circulkating library may be a bad idea, among other things).
Note that while we allowed responses to be entirely anonymous, some authors chose to identify themselves. This has been left  — maybe it’ll encourage some exploration of print vs. ARC in and of itself:
  • I make a lot of changes after the ARC is printed, from correcting errors that slip in during typesetting, to tweaking entire passages to improve the writing. For my first YA novel, PROXY (there goes my anonymity!), I actually rewrote the last few paragraphs for a much stronger ending. It didn’t change the story, but changed the quality of the telling and, I hope, the emotional impact of the final page.

  • My ARC went out after copyedits but before proofreading and final changes, so there were still A LOT of mistakes and inconsistencies. Some which I caught, some the proofreader. I always feel a sense of regret when ARCs go out before these changes are made, because reviewers might point out flaws that are fixed in the final novel. But I also understand that with schedules the way they are, it’s difficult to hold the ARC back for these changes without getting out “too late.” It’s a tough one. That warning on the cover, “uncorrected proof” means something.
  • Aside from the grammatical and typesetting errors we caught in the ARC, I opted for the finished book to change the name of the first school my character attended. I had originally used the name of a real Chicago school, citing its gang problem and violence, as relayed to me by a former student and by a parents’ Internet-based watchdog group. However, I felt in the end that I was doing a disservice to the school, and to the teachers and the students and their families, by drawing such negative (though accurate) attention in naming their school. (Leslie Stella, PERMANENT RECORD)

  • I re-arranged an entire scene for timeline continuity in one ARC, and in another changed two names important to later books in the series. The changes were minor details alone, but have huge impact on the overall world-building and timelines of the books.
  • The entire first section–ten poems–of my YA poetry novel were not included in the printed ARC. Reviewers would have had no idea that they were missing anything. It was obvious that some reviewers did not check the finished book before posting reviews. Heartbreaking.
  • Quite a few–the timeline was completely revamped, one character was removed (a minor character, but still), some embarrassing continuity errors were corrected, and the prose was made more sparkly and smooth. I shudder to think of the people who judge the book by its ARC. The ARC gives an idea of the finished product, but it isn’t the finished product by a long shot!
  • I had a book where the publisher sent the very first draft of the book out as the ARC. In the revisions before the final, I changed 45,000 words, removed a subplot, changed the relationships between the secondary characters, renamed people.

  • Sometimes minor, sometimes major.Typos, spelling errors, etc. Proper acknowledgments or dedications might be left out of an ARC. Last-minute content changes can make a difference between an ARC and a finished book, too, not to mention that the overall quality of an ARC is generally less than a for-sale book. I’ve had paragraphs of content that were to be cut, show up in the ARC but not the final version.
It’s our hope that through this presentation and ongoing discussion, it’s clear ARCs have a purpose and a reason behind them. They are not finished copies. They are not meant to be used as a means of currency. They’re instead tools designed to help professionals — be they librarians, teachers, bloggers — engage in professional activities. This can be personal reading; often that personal reading ends up turning into a collection development or reader’s advisory purpose.
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  1. says

    Do you know anything about the ethics of adding review copies of academic books to library collections? My feeling is that it's no more ethical than adding ARC copies of fiction, but the question still comes up fairly regularly at my library, especially when the reviewer's copy appears to be a final copy (for example, hardbound) with little more than a stamp or sticker indicating that it's a reviewer copy.

  2. says

    I know a school librarian who supplements her collection with ARCs, but her budget for adding to her collection is approximately $10. I'd suspect that the few who are resorting to ARCs are doing what they gotta do.

    As for reviewers not checking against the finished copy, well – that's me. I'm busy. It's gonna be at least thirty minutes of my day to drive to and from the bookstore to look at a finished copy. And then what? I hope I'll magically come across those passages that changed, or read the whole thing again? Nope, don't have time for that.

  3. says

    This is fascinating data. As a very midlist author, I often worry that every arc that is distributed correlates one-to-one as a lost final book sale. I don't have any evidence, besides anecdotal information and some chats with fellow midlisters who have voiced similar concerns. For me, that last sale margin could impact the potential sale (and advance) of future novels. This fall, I am hoping to attend a trade show to promote my new book. One requirement is that my publisher provide 75 arcs. I want to speak, but giving away that many arcs in one geographical area does scare me. No conclusions, sadly, just concerns.

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