Tuesday, August 7, 2012

"Not for resale" - ARCs and the publisher-reviewer contract

I only just read this post about ARCs being sold en masse on eBay over at Staffer's Book Review, and I'm seriously annoyed. The whole post is very important, but I think this paragraph is perhaps the most relevant:
Every ARC I've ever received has a few words clearly printed on the back cover, "Uncorrected proofs. Not for sale." When a publisher sends me a title for review, they're entrusting me not to distribute it, not to sell it, and not to spoil it. They're hoping I review, so it's not to say their action is a favor to me, but the unspoken contract between publisher and reviewer does not include the reviewer making a "profit" off the novel itself, only the words the reviewer writes about it. To break that contract (to profit off the book itself), calls into question all other layers of trust between the two parties. Just as I would argue the publisher requiring a review or influencing the content of the review does the same.
I'm really bothered by this.

First of all, Justin is absolutely right in that first sentence: any galley edition or ARC will always come with the words "Not for sale" on them. It's difficult to miss. This means that anyone selling a galley copy is knowingly making money off something that was given to them for free and for a specific purpose. That in itself is blatantly unethical.

I struggled at first to understand why, but I think I've figured it out. It's not just the publisher-reviewer contract. It's also an unfair way to profit off the author's loss. True, I can resell all of my physical books, but those books were paid for originally, one way or another. Even if I won the book from a giveaway or got it as a gift, someone paid for that book. It could have been another buyer, it could have been the publisher willing writing off a small loss in order to increase buzz. But the author got money for it. When someone sells an ARC, they are cheating the author. This is a copy that was never meant to be profitable (therefore did not contribute to the author's income), yet now this lucky seller - who received the book through a publisher's (typically) honest hope for a review - is making money off that. It stinks.

I won't deny that there are many problems with ARCs, ethical and practical. How to get rid of them is high on that list. A standard galley edition or pre-publication draft is in no condition to be donated to a library, nor should it be resold*, nor does it necessarily deserve to be recycled**. So what can be done? I've seen many blogs host giveaways for exactly this purpose. Rather than profiting off the ARC, reviewers will pass the book along to further reviewers. Though this too could be seen as a prevention of further purchases of legitimately paid-for books, it is well accepted that reviewers may receive free books. This is the best approach, in my opinion (aside from holding onto the book yourself, of course).

I wanted to share this story because I think we should be more aware of it. The vast, vast, vast majority of reviewers and bloggers and magazines and publishing-involved-people are honest and treat their ARCs with integrity. The vast, vast majority get rid of their ARCs and galleys in perfectly legal and ethical ways. But the fact that there is this one tiny sliver of the population that does not understand why this is wrong is extremely frustrating. I only wish I knew what could be done to stop it.

* In this regard I differ from Justin, who suggests that selling an ARC after the book's publication date should be fine.
** Unsurprisingly, the notion of recycling a book - galley or otherwise - thoroughly disturbs me...


  1. It really twists my knickers to think that there are some people out there selling ARCs. I have always just given away the books that I am done with to other bloggers, and never profited from them at all. You are perfectly right in this assessment. These "sellers" should be blacklisted.

  2. I don't think I agree. If the book is already published and a reviewer has fulfilled their part of the bargain and reviewed the ARC that they received, then they are welcome to do whatever they want with the book. I personally don't care that much about getting ARC myself but I think what reviewers do with them is their business as long as they review them first. The only thing that would be wrong in this scenario is if they sell the ARC before the book is released, which possibly could effect the author's profits.

  3. I agree. But then, I keep everything ;)

  4. Ugh. People can be so shabby. I hardly ever accepted ARCs, for the exact reason you say -- it's hard to get rid of them once you have them! I'm hoping now that I have my Nook, I can move just to digital ARCs, and just delete them when I'm done with them. That would be great. No muss no fuss.

  5. Sadly it's the world we live in. I'm considering drafting contracts for any person I release ARC's too... call me paranoid but after the things I've dealt with recently having two of my books pulled from Amazon over fake copyright infringement claims... I think I have a right to be.


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