I’e2’80’99ve been thinking about ARCs lately, after my publisher very generously upped their order of the things for my own purposes. And then Sarah has been talking about the subject over at the great communal blog Galleycat, too(the Dec 2 posting), prompting this post of mine.
ARC, for those not conversant with the ins and outs of this odd industry, stands for Advanced Reading Copy, known also as bound galleys. These are in effect a paperback version of an upcoming hardback, complete with all the errors of the proof pages (‘e2’80’9cgalleys’e2’80’9d), which are sent to reviewers and buyers some months before the publication date. After all, if the publisher wants the title reviewed before publication, and if it is to be on the bookseller’e2’80’99s shelf on the sale date and not a couple of months later, they need to give buyers and reviewers lead time. The number of ARCs varies wildly, of course, but printing two to three thousand of them for a bestselling author is about the usual.
Now, the ARC nearly always clearly says on the front of it, ‘e2’80’9cNot for resale.’e2’80’9d Nonetheless, ARCs are sold, by the hundreds, in antiquarian booksellers, by collectors, and (practically as soon as they hit the mail room) on eBay.
Even the most mild-mannered of publicists tear their hair the practice. A lot of writers refuse to autograph the things. I personally never mind signing them for the booksellers who received them in the first place, since usually that bookseller hung onto the ARC because they love my writing; however, it does trouble me when a collector presents me with a stack of them that are clearly intended for resale.
As Sarah points out, the problem is, how many sold ARCs translate into unsold hardbacks? Devoted collectors will buy both, but how many readers have the means to do that? If one of my readers reader shells out $40 for a flimsy and uncorrected paperback version of the upcoming $25 THE ART OF DETECTION because he or she just can’e2’80’99t wait to read it, is s/he then going to buy the hardback anyway in May, for the definitive punctuation, the pleasure of a beautiful book, and the ability to lend it to countless friends before it falls apart? I’e2’80’99d like to think so, but I have my doubts.
Thing is, I make my living out of selling books, not selling ARCs. My publisher has been very generous in their willingness to print bound galleys, because it’e2’80’99s the most effective way to promote the book before publication. But ARCs cost them money, and sold ARCs are a hole in the pocket.
A $25 hardback brings the writer between ten and fifteen percent of the cover price. Every ARC sold in place of a hardback takes $2.50 to $3.75 out of my bank account. This is not a lot of money if we’e2’80’99re talking a dozen ARCs, but if we’e2’80’99re talking hundreds, that hurts.
Then there are the long term effects. Numbers are all in the publishing world, and as eBay and the like grow and make the selling of ARCs ever easier, how does that affect my own numbers of books sold? If your local Borders normally orders twenty copies of the new Laurie King, but last time only sold eighteen because two people bought ARCs and decided to wait until the paperback comes out, then next time that Borders is only going to order eighteen. Multiply that times the number of stores across the country’e2’80’a6
And of course, the bestseller lists. If I have a book that hits the number sixteen slot on the New York Times extended list, I can’e2’80’99t help agonizing over how many more sold during publication week would have brought it to number fifteen, at which point it would have become an official, bona fide, ‘e2’80’9cNew York Times bestseller.’e2’80’9d A silly distinction, perhaps, but that phrase attached to an author’e2’80’99s name or stamped on the cover of a book makes a huge difference in the eyes of the publishing world.
If, say, one in ten of the publisher’e2’80’99s ARCs end up being sold to readers who then did not buy the hardback when it came out, would those two or three hundred lost sales have nudged the book that one step further into prominence?
Readers don’e2’80’99t think about these things’e2’80’94and why would they? The point is having the story out, and who wants to wait until May if you can lay your hands on a copy of THE ART OF DETECTION in February? It is, of course, immensely gratifying that people care enough for my books that they’e2’80’99re willing to pay twice the price for even a pale imitation of the final product. However’e2’80’a6
Writers like me can only afford to write if our books sell. Publishers can only afford to publish writers whose books sell. And booksellers can only afford to pay the rent on their spaces if their books sell.
I’e2’80’99m not going to tell you not to buy an ARC. I’e2’80’99m not even going to ask you not to sell one, because after all, it’e2’80’99s only taking advantage of a publishing house, right?
But I will ask you to think about the writer. This is a tricky business; writers disappear every day. So if you buy an ARC’e2’80’94mine, someone else’e2’80’99s, it matters not’e2’80’94please, buy the hardback when it comes out, too. And if you didn’e2’80’99t really like the book, or just didn’e2’80’99t care for it enough to own the real thing, or even if you just have no room on your shelf, buy it anyway, and donate it to your local library. It’e2’80’99s tax deductible, they’e2’80’99ll love you, and the glow of Doing the Right Thing will spill over into the rest of your day.