Thursday, February 22, 2007

Proofs and consequences: selling ARCs on eBay

I just saw this in last Sunday's Telegraph:

Slapped wrists at HarperCollins where some enterprising, or rather unscrupulous, employees have been selling proof copies on eBay, the online auction site. The trouble started when it was noticed that proof copies of Conn and Hal Iggulden's bestselling Dangerous Book For Boys were being offered at the astonishing price of £80.

The legal department, determined to put an end to this nice little earner, sent round a global email asking if any employees had a PayPal account (which enables money to be sent electronically) so that they could buy the copies and thus find out who the culprits were. The guilty parties failed to see the writing on the screen, did not withdraw their wares from eBay, and were duly caught.


If there's anything more disgusting than a cheater, it's a dumb cheater. And I hope the culprits got more than the "slapped wrists" mentioned in this article. They should have been fired for stealing from their employer.

Pictured here is a prepublication copy of Winter is Past, which I picked up at a bookseller's convention in the summer of 2003. You'll note that the cover's not in full color (which would have been more expensive to produce), and you won't miss that little note under the title. Unfortunately, even such plain language doesn't deter unscrupulous types who look to make a quick buck by selling what are known variously as "advance reading copies" ("ARCs"), "bound proofs," "uncorrected galley proofs," and "publisher's proofs" (there are some small differences in the definitions of some of those terms, but they're not relevant to this discussion).

A quick perusal of my bookshelves didn't turn up any other ARCs, so I must have given away or thrown out any others I had (authors frequently receive ARCs from their publishers and fellow authors). But passing one of these things along to an author friend or a reviewer is one thing, and selling them on eBay before the book's release date is quite another. It amazes me that so many of the sellers who have been fingered turn out to be the publishers' own employees or professional reviewers to whom the books have been sent as a courtesy. Make no mistake; ignorance is not a factor here. These industry insiders know why the ARCs aren't meant to be sold; they simply don't care. It's nothing to them that they're stealing thunder and profits from the publishers and authors. The practice has become so widespread that many publishers have stopped releasing pre-publication copies. To understand why, simply try to imagine the frenzy that would erupt if proofs of the next Harry Potter book were available on eBay three months before the book's release date. Everyone would be blabbing about the surprise ending, detracting from the excitement the publisher is working so hard to build as the in-store date approaches.

I'm not against the collecting of ARCs once the books have been released. They're "history" by that time. But I can't respect anyone who bids on ARCs at eBay or elsewhere before the books are available in stores. If you know anyone who's doing that, please ask them to stop. Nice people don't behave that way.

6 comments:

Shelley said...

I hope they get more than a slap on the wrist too. How unfair to the authors and publishers! Hopefully this will be a huge deal and become the example for others who attempt to sell the ARCs on Ebay or wherever...

Mia King said...

I found my ARC on eBay the day my book was released. It was also interesting to see used copies appear as well (that was fast!). While I doubt anyone in Penguin or Berkley was hoarding copies to sell, it's a bit disconcerting that something given for free is being sold. Then again, I don't have any suggestions for what to do with used ARC's after the review has been written. Just seems a tad too enterprising with lots of potential for abuse.

I'm enjoying your blog, Brenda!

display name said...

this guy has about 200 ARCs on ebay right now of books that some aren't even released yet and others were just released this month. Is that legal?

display name said...

http://search.ebay.com/_W0QQfrppZ25QQfrtsZ50QQsassZnick08080

Brenda Coulter said...

Yes, it's legal. Selling a used book is no different from selling a used motorcycle. When those ARCs were given to that guy, they became his property to dispose of as he saw fit.

Brenda Coulter said...

Mia, thanks so much for reading my blog and for taking the time to comment.