Readers of the Lost ARCs

As usual, the post-ALA Annual Conference euphoria has given way to the general nastiness that typically permeates libraryland, at least in online social media circles.  Case in point: This week’s latest scandal, ARCgate (complete with its own hashtag: #ARCgate), which goes something like this. Non-librarian, but book blogger, purchases an inexpensive exhibits only pass to the 2012 ALA Annual Convention, pounds the pavement of the exhibits floor, and walk away with hundreds of Advance Reading Copies (ARCs) of books to be published over the next year. Librarian, who paid full price for the conference and couldn’t spend all day on the exhibit floor because she was busy and had a real life, is upset that the non-librarian got all the good ARCs, leaving her with something less than she was hoping for. Librarian finds out about non-librarian’s exploits and score of delectable ARCs and is pissed. She fires of a blog post and causes the twitterstorm-du-jour in libraryland.

Because it’s hard to fit all of my thoughts into the 140 characters of twitter, I’d like to make a few points here:

  1. ARCs are not the sole purview of librarians and are distributed widely and freely by publishers. The raison d’etre for ARCs is to generate press, word-of-mouth, buzz, and publicity for the forthcoming book. Therefore publishers distribute ARCs to librarians, bookstores, bloggers, reviewers, magazines, book club gurus, Oprah, college faculty, your mom, and anyone else who the publisher thinks will provide “good press” for the book and cause more people to buy it when it comes out. Librarians do not have the market cornered on ARCs, and although it’s sad that ARCgate Librarian didn’t get an ARC of the books she was looking for at the ALA Conference, this could be resolved by contacting the publisher directly. There really isn’t a scarcity of ARCs.
  2. Publishers do not care that “non-librarians were scarfing up ARCs at the ALA Conference”. See my point above. ARCs are meant to be distributed. Publishers do not care who they distribute them to, as long as they think you will read it, and inform others about it. Publishers give out ARCs at ALA because they know a lot of influential folks in the industry will be there, librarians and non-librarians alike, and it’s a great place to get your product in front of as many bibliophile eyeballs as possible. Publishers do not think to themselves “we’re keeping these ARCs for librarians because they are who we intend to reach at this conference”. Instead, they give them out on a first-come, first-served basis to anyone in the exhibit hall, which alleviates the need to pack it all back up and ship it back to the home office. Visit the exhibits hall on the final day of ALA. Publishers will practically beg you to take the inventory they have off their hands.
  3. ALA is not the American Librarian Association and represents more than just the interests of professional librarians. As the American Library Association, it supports the interests of librarians and non-librarians with an interest in libraries and librarianship alike. Library board members, paraprofessionals, library consultants, publishers, vendors, bibliophiles, and many others attend ALA conferences and are even members of the association. During the ARCgate twitterstorm many called for limitations on exhibit passes or participation in the Annual Conference on non-librarians, which is patently wrong, in my humble opinion. ALA is a “big tent” organization and limiting participation, in even a small way, by a group or groups of individuals would be a very bad idea indeed!

I’m glad that people are passionate about this profession. It gives me hope for libraries and librarianship. I just wish we could take some of this passion and corral it for issues that really make a difference, instead of trotting out our sour grapes every time something doesn’t go our way.

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7 thoughts on “Readers of the Lost ARCs

  1. I think this was the best and most reasonable response to the whole thing I’ve heard. I think you hit the nail directly on the head “I just wish we could take some of this passion and corral it for issues that really make a difference” There are so many other vital issues facing libraries, librarians, and the profession as a whole. Had that passion been directed at one of these issues, think of what could be accomplished.

  2. The things I miss out on by not having time to get to the exhibits. Sheesh! I used to hoard ARCs, but I found I never read them in the end. Better that SOMEONE reads them!

  3. This is an awesome post! Someone asked me at the conference what my affiliation with libraries was. “Enthusiastic end-user,” I said. And I mean it. I write book reviews for their web site. I donate boxloads of purchased (and free-gotten) books. I support their programs. I’m not a librarian, but the Library Association is still of interest and value to me personally.

  4. I’ll tell you something that drives me crazy as an author. My book has been out for several months now. I know a lot of ARCs were distributed, and they subsequently disappeared into a virtual void, judging by the lack of reviews the book received. Lack of reviews meant lack of buzz which did not help initial sales.

    That’s fine if librarians or booksellers had the ARCs. It’s fine if people read but didn’t feel inclined to review. It’s fine if bloggers started reading, disliked and decided not to finish. All of that is fine. I don’t care who has the ARCs so long as they are reading them.

    This is what enrages me: when someone has heard something good about the book now that it’s already out in print, and she announces that maybe, just maybe, she’ll contemplate reading the ARC that she’s been sitting on since she an event a year and a half ago. Sometimes, I even get a tweet about this along with a screenshot of her ARC, like I’m supposed to be gratified she is deigning to read a free copy of my book at long last, even though she didn’t so mucha s glance at it all this time because she never thought it was something she would find remotely interesting.

    WHY DID YOU EVEN GET THE ARC IF YOU DIDN’T PLAN TO READ IT???

    Why not at least give it away to someone who did want to read it? It pisses me the fuck off. I will be honest: I don’t care about book piracy. I don’t care about losing a sale. I don’t even care about those people on ebay who got the ARC and then sold it right away, because at least the person who bought it probably tried to read it.

    I get enraged when this piece of expensive, promotional material that my publisher produced at great cost, turns out to have been snatched up by someone who never had any intention of reading, who simply stuck it in a corner somewhere to gather dust purely for the sake of gratifying her hoarding instincts. Purely so she could gloat about having a huge stack of free books that no one else had yet. I would take flames from people who read and hated the ARC over people who just hoarded it any day.

    Believe me, this is not just one person. This has happened multiple times, and these people are utterly shameless about it. It’s like they don’t realize it’s maddening.

    • It drives most librarians crazy as well, and this is why having “non-librarians” snatch the copies at a library conference became controversial. I agree with you. ARCs should be taken only if they are going to be read (and used — either by a real copy purchased or a review written about the book).

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