Friday, June 30, 2006

Drowning in ARCS

I'm up to my eyeballs in Advance Reading Copies. Literally. I've stacked them up in teetering piles past my head, and we've got boxes more to go.
Now, as I'm a primarily used bookseller, I've often gotten the steely glare and snarky lecture about Advanced Reading Copies from publishing folks and new book people alike. They seem to think that I must be making a fortune on illicitly obtained, vastly marked-up Arcs. I've even been told that used bookselling is inherently dishonest.
Actually, used booksellers are scrupulously honest. For one thing, we are incredibly superstitious, and believe that Book Karma will come back to bite us in the ass if we rip someone off. For another thing, the used book world is small, inbred, and gossipy. Dishonest dealers get a bad reputation, very quickly.
I'm not even sure how the new book world thinks we end up with all these Arcs. The ones in my basement belong to my new-bookselling cohorts. Most of the Arcs you see in used bookstores have sold by reviewers, trying to make some space on their shelves. The rest? They come from underpaid and overworked new bookstore employees, who are usually being paid minimum wage with no benefits, working for people who would cheerfully replace them with robotic dogs if it was at all feasible. In stores like this, the Arcs pile up in little rooms, unread, until they are recycled (at best) or dumpstered (more likely). Sometimes I see triumphant gutterpunks come in with sacks of dumpster-dived Arcs, reclaimed from a new bookstore's trash.
That being said, I feel like it's important to clarify a couple of points. Used booksellers don't like Arcs. They're ugly. Often they have typos, screwy punctuation, or hideous grammatical errors. They have some limited use, as a general-stock used reading copy, but they really have very little collectible value. Oh I know, you can see Arcs on Ebay going for a billion dollars apiece, but Ebay is not used bookselling.
Real collectors, the kind who come in and prowl through the stacks, don't buy Arcs. For some reason, it just didn't catch on. Many years ago, a 'review copy' would have been a nice finished copy of a book, with a typewritten letter laid in. Sometimes it would have been printed prior to publication, and sometimes it was simply a first. Those sell. But in my experience, collectors would rather wait for the first edition - solid, dustjacketed, crisp - rather than buy an unlovely, precariously-bound Arc.
So, what to do with our stacks of Arcs? In other times and places, I've simply given them away to customers. They're meant to be read, after all. Then it occurred to me that I could do the same thing here.
Soon, we'll be listing the Arcs in our collection. We'll mark them at $o.oo, and simply charge shipping. We've got some good stuff, too. I hope they'll find good homes. And it's a hell of a lot better than sticking them in the recycle bin.

1 comment:

Vladimir @ Fantastic Planet said...

We've discussed the ethical implications of giving away books, especially ARCs and our conclusion was that we'd only put up old ARCs; with a limit to new ARCs being posted only after the hardback has been available for 9-12 months..

I like the idea a lot; there really is a great deal of wastage of ARCs at bookstores--the Chains often don't distribute ARCs amongst their 'regular' employees--and many of them end up at Friends of the Library (an organization that collects donations for King Country Library System) for their bi-annual sales..but they're usually a couple of bucks each...