14 August 2007

Reselling ARCs

Okay, I know people don't LIKE to see their ARCs up for resale. I know many authors like to believe that the ARC is somehow sacred and set apart from the laws that govern resale of print books. Unfortunately, it's not, and the resale of ARCs is a part of the system. Getting riled up about it is a waste of time, IMO.

Whether an ARC SAYS it's not for resale or not, they are resold, and there is nothing illegal about it. If it's in a printed format and distributed in the US (please note that different laws exist overseas), there is nothing you can legally do to stop the resale of a print book.

Now, for those whose backs have just gone up...and their tempers with it, let me assure you that I find the practice of "book trolls" and reviewers reselling ARCs without reviewing them to be personally distasteful and unethical, but I still know it's not illegal. Nor, do I necessarily see the practice of reviewers reselling ARCs AFTER writing their review to be a bad thing. I'll get back to this.

Let's start with the laws. As long as a print book was legally printed by the copyright owner/publisher, who chose to release copies of it, for sale or free promotion copies, what happens to those copies once they are distributed to readers is beyond the control of the publisher or author...within reason. It doesn't matter how the book originally made it into a reader's hands, the laws governing paper books are the same.

So, what is unreasonable? If, for instance, someone scans in a paper book and distributes the resulting copy in e-book, for free or for sale, it's illegal, because illegal copies have been made and distributed. If an illegal print copy/reproduction of a copyright print book is made and distributed, in any way, it's illegal and actionable. Likewise, if any e-book (save out-of-copyright classics or e-books INTENDED as free downloads and with the permission to pass) is given away, traded or sold by anyone other than the author/publisher or licensed distributor, it's illegal and actionable. Then again, e-books are a lot of fun, because you're not just dealing with copyright. You're dealing with DRM/Millennium Act, electronic licensing, etc. I have an entire article about this on
EPIC's site.

So, reselling an ARC is not technically illegal. I've been told that eBay will take down an ARC copy, if the author/publisher requests it, and that's nice of them, but since they aren't required by law to do so, I wouldn't expect that same result from all outlets of used books.

Now, it's not only reviewers that put ARCs out for resale. I'll be the first to admit it. I briefly mentioned book trolls. What is a book troll? It's simple, really. When authors and publishers send books out to conventions or to contests, they hope the books will go to readers who will actually read them...or at the very least to a reader who will keep the books that appeal to him/her and then give away or donate the rest of the books. Even if such a person keeps some and sells the rest, there's nothing wrong with it. A book troll is a person who enters a ton of book contests or picks up freebies he/she has NO intention of reading, just so he/she can resell the books and make a buck. Now, the books are still in circulation, which is good, but IMO...it's highly unethical to do this. It goes against the grain of what the books were intended for. Book trolls exist in any forum/event where books are to be had for free, and they are a sad truth of the business. There's always someone out to make a fast buck.

Now, back to the subject of reviewers selling ARCs. If the reviewer has done a review on the book, I have no problem with this, on a professional level. Gut feelings aside, common sense tells me a couple of things:

1) Reviewers don't have room to store every book they review, unless they are e-books. For that reason, I have no problems with reviewers who read and review the book then donate, pass along to a friend or even resell the book. They have to do SOMETHING with those they don't feel are keepers, after all, and I'd rather it still be in circulation than trashed.

2) Reviewers are rarely paid for their work with more than a free read. While I don't want to see book troll reviewers, who never return reviews on the books they take in, the little bit of money they'd earn from an ARC or two on eBay every month isn't that much compensation for them. They aren't getting rich on the sales, most likely, and a couple of ARCs resold aren't breaking the bank of most authors.

3) The two exceptions to 2 would be price gouging, which is never right, and collectors items, which I have no problem with.

In the case of price gouging, I gladly protect my readers by having books removed from sale on reputable sites. There is NO excuse for someone that sells a copy of the book as released for sale...nothing special, not signed, not containing major errata...for more than 5 times the going rate for the book. I won't accept that trolling for someone inattentive in purchasing as ethical or legal.

OTOH, collectors are not your normal readers. If someone possesses the ARC copy of a book that I did my ACTUAL galley corrections on, I'll not only allow it to sell for hundreds of dollars, I'll sign it for the buyer...and I will DAMNED SURE tout that someone was willing to purchase it for that much money. It's a matter of pride, and the collector knows what he/she wants. There's nothing wrong with this sort of thing, IMO. If I thought someone would actually purchase it for big bucks, I'd tell my publisher to offer my galley-corrected ARC. Grinning... But, that would be somewhat underhanded.

4) Print books are often passed and re-read. In fact, what author doesn't hope that his/her book will be picked up by the library system? We ENCOURAGE a certain amount of sharing, inherent in the system. What makes this so different? Perhaps a matter of trust, but not much otherwise.

I might note that some publishers/authors will choose not to send more review copies to a reviewer that routinely resells the ARCs. I'd be tempted to do the same, but there is nothing inherently illegal about the practice. You have to decide for yourself if the small loss of income and increased readership is worth it to you or not. And, I'll be the first to state that it is NOT the same thing as pirating!

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