My husband was in a wedding over the weekend. We drove out early to a small California mountain town so he could get ready with the groomsmen and take pictures. My friends had told me about a fantastic indie bookstore in this town that I just had to visit. So I did!
The store—which shall not be named here—has a great atmosphere; it reminded me of the hippy bookstores in Portland that I so miss. Most of the books are used, so I was able to find four for an awesome price:
- Small Island by Andrea Levy
- The Rector’s Wife by Joanna Trollope
- The Ladies’ No. 1 Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
- The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
These have been on my list for a while, so I’m super excited about them. Basically, this store was everything I wanted for a relaxing afternoon on my own.
And then, as I was browsing the shelves, I came across an Advanced Reader’s Copy, which had a price marked on it. Advanced Reader’s Copies (ARCs) are unedited manuscripts that publishers print and bind in advance of the official pub date so that the book’s publicists can use them for marketing purposes—to send them to bloggers, to gather endorsements from other popular authors, to start getting buzz about the book. Publishers lose a ton of money on ARCs, but their hope is that making the sacrifice now will work up enough buzz to make the book a big hit when it publishes. Authors also make no royalties on ARCs. So, by selling an ARC, you’re profiting off of someone else’s loss and many others’ hard work. Not to mention someone else’s intellectual property.
I figured the folks who work there must just not have realized that they had an ARC on their shelves. Luckily for me, a clerk walked by just as I was debating what I should do about it.
“Do you need any help finding something?” he asked.
“No, but um…” I held the book up. “I found an ARC over here…”
“Yeah?” He gave me a puzzled look.
“An Advanced Reader’s Copy?” I tried to clarify.
Now I was really confused. “Oh. Um… is it for sale?”
He nodded vigorously. “Oh, yeah. Everything here is for sale.”
Uh huh. I see. “So… did you know these aren’t supposed to be sold?”
His face fell.
“Sorry,” I continued. “It’s just that I work in publishing, and I’m a book blogger, so…”
“Uh oh.” He called to his friend, only half-joking, “We’re in trouble!”
“No, I mean… there’s nothing I can do… I just thought it was weird to find this here. I totally understand why someone would’ve given it to you; they probably didn’t know. I have tons of ARCs I don’t know what to do with…” I rambled.
He gave me a stony look, and I relented. I put it back on the shelf. “Ok…”
I decided that it was probably time for me to leave. Hopefully they didn’t completely hate me after I bought four books.
But the situation bothered me. I love indies. I want to support them in any way I can. They contribute something good and valuable to the community, in sharing the joy of reading with others. I also love authors. And I love publishing. We’ve all committed our lives to the same cause. We all believe in the power of story. And we all have to live, to make money as we work for this cause.
It might not seem like a big deal, but at the heart of this is more than a question of ethics (and that’s not a small deal either). People who sell ARCs are hurting the industry they claim to support. I know not a lot of people know how it works, and they might honestly sell an ARC not realizing the effect it has. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt, and I tried to give this bookstore the benefit of the doubt. But the clerk confirmed that they were doing something wrong—and he knew it. That’s not ok with me.
If you have ARCs, other bloggers have written about what you can do with them. Check out these posts:
- What to do with Advanced Reader’s Copies on YA Highway
- ARCs—What’s Acceptable to Do With Them?—The Feedback from Publicists on Not Yet Read
- What To Do With ARCs? on Green Bean Teen Queen