Thoughts

Buying and Selling Used ARCs

In the online book community, we often talk about buying and selling ARCs. As far as I’ve seen, most agree that it’s unethical. I tend to agree, but there are always new situations that make you think about this more, like buying and selling them used.

I’ve been disturbed for a few years that the used bookstore in my local library has a special section marked off for ARCs, where they usually charge $4 per ARC that will be or has been published this year. Older ARCs might be mixed with the rest of book collection and cost less. I tend to ignore the fact that a used bookstore or a thrift store might sell an ARC because I think it’s easy to miss “uncorrected proof” or “advanced reader copy” labels, and not everyone knows what they mean. My overall issue is that this store knows what they are and deliberately marks up the prices for ARCs of newer books (see the photograph below).

Library-bookstore-arcshelf.jpg

Since this is a used bookstore, this got me thinking. Is it unethical for a used bookstore to sell ARCs?

We normally consider buying and selling ARCs unethical because they cost the publisher and author, because they are intended to raise hype for the new book, and because they say “NOT FOR SALE.” On that last point, there have been large bookstores that ignore those words and sell them anyway.

Are the ethics different when it’s a used bookstore? The used bookstore I mentioned earlier donates its earnings to the library. The sales of used books don’t go back to the publisher or the author anyway. Then again, a good portion of those ARCs on that table have not been released yet. People buy them, though I’m not sure how many are aware of the ethics around this.

Let’s talk about this. Do you think it’s ethical for a used bookstore (or a thrift store) to sell ARCs? Do you think it’s ethical to buy ARCs from a used bookstore or at all?

If you would like to read more aboutย  ARCs, here are some sources:

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10 thoughts on “Buying and Selling Used ARCs

  1. Marking up ARCs that haven’t been released yet does sound sketchy. The library probably received ARCs from publishers so the librarians could read them and buy copies for the library, not mark them up and potentially cost sales from other readers.

    Sometimes I see ARCs tossed in with other books at a library sale, but I assume a volunteer didn’t see it/doesn’t know what an ARC is and that you’re not supposed to sell it. But if they’re selling it for fifty cents and the book already came out, I doubt publishers would mind. It seems akin to selling a regular copy of the book at the sale.

    1. I haven’t been sure if those copies were sent to librarians or if other readers have donated them. If most of them come from librarians, maybe they reason that it will benefit the library directly on those sales. I haven’t kept track to see how many of those ARCs are eventually purchased for the collection, but those stats would be interesting. Wherever these new ARCs come from, I am disturbed that the volunteers are deliberately marking up the prices for newer ARCs.

      The most I have been able to point out to a volunteer once, when she was pushing customers to buy them, was that if their goal was to keep new ARCs marked up that they should immediately lower the prices once they are published. These 2017 copies will stay at $4 a book until January.

      Selling ARCs after the book is published does seem less harmful on the financial end because the most correct copy is the final product. I have yet to see publishers do anything about ARCs being sold after the publication date, so I think it matters less. So, I agree with you that selling post-publication ARCs is akin to selling your average published book at a used book sale. Thank you for commenting!

      1. It could be a combination of ARCs sent to the library and ARCs that were donated. I know my library receives boxes of ARCs and they aren’t particularly interested in all of them (after all, I don’t think they requested them), so what I think they do is give them away as prizes instead of selling them. So I’m guessing they don’t purchase all of them if they’re not even reading them. But, of course, they also have budget constraints and I think what they do is try to purchase big releases first and then go onto the mid-list books. However the ARCs work, I think you’re right–it seems like the volunteers shouldn’t be deliberately marking them up because they haven’t been released yet.

        I doubt publishers have the time or energy to prosecute people for selling ARCs for fifty cents after release. I imagine they’re more concerned with people selling on eBay for lots of money.

    1. I think this isn’t a black-and-white issue too. It does seem less unethical than a single person getting money from it. I get that it helps the library, but I think there’s something strange about marking up the price for newer ARCs too. I guess that knocks it down a few notches on the scale. Do you think it would be worse if this were used bookstore whose profits went to one private person?

  2. Oooh I love this topic! I did a post on it a long time ago, it had a different angle (when do books go from a marking tool to memorabilia?) but it still has the same murky answers, which is… no one knows? I mean- I feel like people have SUCH different views on this. I feel like if it is for charity or something, AND the book has been released already… eh. I wouldn’t fault someone for it. If it’s UNreleased and some jerk is selling it for hundreds of dollars on eBay, that’s not okay though. I feel like not only is it a crappy thing to do to the author in terms of sales and such, but it really seems to have a big negative emotional toll on them. Like no, it isn’t illegal, but it’s just not a cool thing to do. I think that the whole marking up unreleased ones IS kind of sketchy though, honestly.

    I also think the lines are getting blurrier all the time. Like- now ARCs have been auctioned for causes, and I have seen subscription boxes that people purchase that contain ARCs so… I have a feeling the waters will continue to stay muddy in this regard!

    1. I’m at a point where I care less about ARCs that have been released, but unreleased ARCs are different.

      I didn’t realize some subscription boxes have ARCs in them. That is akin to buying them to me, but that doesn’t feel wrong to me. Then I look at hashtags, like booksfortrade and arcsfortrade, and I’ve been surprised to see how often people trade for the latest and greatest ARC. The only real exchange of money I see for that is the cost of postage, which isn’t much for media rate.

      These issues are worth discussing because it does get grayer. I’ll go check out your post.

  3. Selling ARCs for unreleased books (at all) just doesn’t sound right. Bookstores aren’t supposed to put those books out on shelves until the release date, so it looks sketchy. Donating the profits to a library puts a little wrench in the works, but it still rubs me the wrong way.

    I was at a local used book store a month ago, found a number of ARCs on their shelves, asked the manager, and he saw no problem selling them because he didn’t get them from the publishers–someone traded them in. I was like, that’s not good either. Someone is getting trade-in credit (monetary value) off them, and you’re selling something that clearly says “not for sale” for profit. Just…no. I know another used store that would include an ARC for free if you purchased another book. That feels a little more on the level?

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