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What to do with Advanced Reader Copies

Congratulations, you scored an Advanced Reader Copy (or ARC) of a book you've been dying to read! But after you finished reading and posted a review, you might be wondering: What, exactly, can be done with the ARC? It's a more complicated question than you might think.
First, it will help to understand exactly what an ARC is, and why they're made available. Advance Readers Copies, sometimes called galleys or bound galleys or AREs---Advance Readers Editions---are uncorrected proofs of the book released before the book is published, to begin building publicity buzz around that book. As literary agent Holly Root explained in her post, On ARCs:
They are expensive for houses to make, because they do not benefit from the economies of scale of finished editions, so much so that each ARC produced actually costs the publisher far more than the amount it costs to print final books. For many titles, the ARCs will represent one of the biggest outlays of marketing money the book will receive.
Usually, ARCs are provided to booksellers, librarians, and reviewers for books or magazines. In the last few years, though, publishing houses have made ARCs more available to book bloggers and other readers, in the hopes that they would turn to their blogs, Twitter, Tumblr, etc., to build that pivotal buzz. Publishers aren't doing that out of the kindness of their hearts; ARCs are, above all, marketing tools used to sell more books. That's why what you do with an ARC when you're done reading it is actually an ethical question.

Before the book is published, many marketers encourage book bloggers to share ARCs with friends, or give them away in contests or giveaways. Eileen Rothschild, who works in the marketing department for St. Martin's Press, told YA Highway recently:

One of the best (and often hardest to get) marketing tools is word of mouth. Readers are the absolute best when it comes to word of mouth; if they love a book they scream it from rooftops. In my opinion it is okay to give away ARCs. Once I give it to you it is yours, and by giving away the ARC you are helping spread the word.
But there are some ways of dealing with ARCs that are ethically questionable, because they hurt people who write books, and people who sell them.

Selling (or buying) an ARC is unethical. As Holly explained, publishers actually take a loss when they produce ARCs. They give them away for free based on a goodwill understanding that the ARC will not then be sold on Ebay, Craigslist, or to a used book store. If you like books and authors, you will understand why profiting on a free ARC---and therefore not benefiting the author or the publisher in any way---is an unethical violation of that goodwill understanding. This is especially true once the book is published, and available for everyone to buy.

Every book purchase matters in the success of a title, and an author. A book does not need to sell as many copies as you might think to make a national bestselling list. According to a 2004 Stanford study*, a book must sell an average of about 18,700 copies to make the New York Times bestseller list. But books have made the list selling just over 2,000. Those sales numbers directly reflect whether authors make back their advance, are trusted with larger advances in the future, or even get the chance to write and sell more books. So, if you care about books and authors, you have to understand that downloading even one book on-line, or selling one ARC, has a huge negative impact.

Don't drop them off as donations to your local library. Most libraries will not accept ARC donations. As Liz Burns with the Young Adult Library Services Association points out, providing ARCs instead of the final published book for library patrons comes with its own ethical quandaries, and libraries cannot sell ARCs to raise money (for all the reasons listed above).

There are some good, ethical ways you can get an ARC off your shelf. 

Donate the book to a local teacher. Texas language arts teacher and author of The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child, Donalyn Miller, wrote:

Teachers and librarians spend an outrageous amount of our personal money on books for students each year. ... With budget cuts and reduced funding for schools and libraries, it is difficult to purchase new titles for our students. Students enjoy reading books before the rest of the world sees them, and the buzz these new books create encourages my students to read. Keeping abreast of new titles helps me suggest books to our librarian and other teachers, too. Reading advance copies of books helps teachers and librarians decide how to spend our limited funding by discovering new, high-quality books that our students might like to read. One free book can turn into several book purchases for a school.
Programs like Reach a Reader are great for finding a local teacher who would love to share your ARC with his or her students.

Donate it to a prison. Prisons use libraries as part of ongoing education, which reduces recidivism, but they're underfunded and understaffed. According to Books Behind Bars, most prisons do not allow family and friends to send books into prisons; they must come from a bookstore or publisher. And, unlike traditional libraries, prisons can't hold book sales to raise funds, so they'll keep your ARC in circulation. There's a list of additional, regional, programs here.

Donate the book to charity. Causes like Books for Soliders and First Book are nation-wide. You might have to do some Google searching to find charities local to you, but here are some major ones we found:
  • New York City: The bookstore for Housing Works provides job training and medical care for the city's homeless.
  • Austin, Texas: Safe Place Austin is a shelter and charity working to end sexual and domestic violence.
  • Washington, D.C.: Books for America helps bolster the libraries of local schools, shelters and prisons.
  • Chicago: Open Books helps promote literacy, and runs its own bookstore.
  • Seattle: Seattle7Writers organizes "pocket libraries" at places like the YMCA, women's shelters, and emergency care centers.
And if all else fails, it isn't wrong to recycle an ARC if the book has already been published. We promise!

What do you think? Are there other ways to get rid of old ARCs that you've heard of? Any other regional charities you think should be included? Leave them in comments!

* Providing citation for the delight of Kate Hart: Sorensen, Alan T., Bestseller Lists and Product Variety. The Journal of Industrial Economics, Vol. 55, Issue 4, pp. 715-738, December 2007. Available at SSRN: or
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  1. I keep a lot of my ARCs, because I think it's fun to save them if I enjoyed them. If I get a duplicate or didn't enjoy a book, I usually try to pass it on or trade with another blogger.

    I've noticed some charities sell ARCs that are donated as used books though. I don't see that as the same thing as someone selling an ARC they received for review for profit, since they donated it, it's not being sold by someone who received it for review, and it's not for profit. But I know some people are against that as well.

    1. As a librarian in a public library, we cannot give our ARCs to our library Friends group to sell at their book sale. ARCs are not to be sold. I can't agree that it's OK for a charity to sell an ARC. It looks to me like a clear violation of what is printed right on the cover of many ARCs.

  2. Those are awesome suggestions. I usually give the ones I get away on my blog to promote the book and the author.

  3. I either save mine, give them away on my blog, or give the YA ones to teens at my library (I'm a librarian). I've given some to friends who are high school English teachers, too. I hate how people try to SELL them on ebay. That's absolutely ridiculous, and insulting to so many people.

  4. This is a great a teacher, I can attest the books for the classroom are so important. I try to get them however I can. Now that people are using Kindles, there's less donations coming in, and I see that getting even more so in the coming years.

  5. Wow those all make great points. I've only received 1 ARC in book format all my other ones are via my kindle so I can't really donate.

  6. I AM INDEED DELIGHTED BY THE FOOTNOTE. *rolls around in nerdtastic citation ecstasy*

  7. I either keep them if I truly love the book or give them away on my blog. Often, a publisher will send me the finished copy of the book and I'll give that away and keep the ARC. Selling them is such a disservice to the author, but many people are unethical.

  8. If anyone reading this wants to donate their ARCs to a high school teacher's classroom, this high school teacher will happily take them!

    1. I hope you get some offers, Jessica! Are you part of the Reach a Reader program?

    2. If you are still looking for ARC's (I realize this is three years late)... we have more than enough that we desperately need to get rid off...

  9. I do a combination of what most have said. Some arcs I keep, others I donate to schools in my area and some I use for giveaways or give them to new bloggers who will read them and review.

  10. Just wanted to add that while libraries can't stock or sell ARCs, some YA librarians in particular use them as giveaways with their teen patrons, reading clubs, etc.

    1. That's a great point, Cynthia! Thanks for reminding us. Asking your local library is probably a good idea before excluding them entirely. :)

  11. My library actually gave me an ARC last time I went in there to do some used book shopping. "We can't sell this - so... do you want it?" I said sure, but I still donated them a little bit extra money (because, hey, I like my library).

    I try to give my ARCs away if I can, but only if it's a hard copy. eCopies I don't give away, because I know that the author can give those away if they want more easily than a hard copy. And circulation/talking about the book only increases the publicity.

    But I have a ton of excess books right now, so I might donate them to a prison :)

  12. Excellent post!

    It's such an interesting topic-- as a YA librarian, I blogged about donating ARCs to libraries a few months ago (Book Bloggers: What to do with those old ARCS?). But in fact, I was naive! I would never add ARCs to the library's collection, nor would I allow the library to sell them, and I don't know any other librarians who would, either. But a few people who responsed to my blog entry indicated that they had seen ARCs for sale in their library's used bookstore-- so, alas. It happens.

    So I completely agree with your advice: don't drop the ARCs off at the library. However, as Cynthia mentions above, librarians can still use ARCs in ethical ways.

    I strongly advocate for making personal contact with your local librarian, verifying what he or she might be able to do with donated ARCs, and making arrangements accordingly.

    As a teen services librarian, I use ARCs an an incentive in my library's teen summer reading program. Not only does it build buzz among the teens who get to pick out a new book to love, using donated ARCs as incentives is an absolute lifesaver for my operating budget.

  13. If I don't keep an ARC, I usually give them to friends to read, or recycle them. Thanks for sharing this list of other ethical ways to get rid of them!

  14. As the children's buyer for a bookstore, I have hundreds of ARCs pass through my hands a season. The ones I read, I usually keep. The others are made available to our staff, as well as small group of kids 8-12 who read-and-review for us. We regularly donate our ARCs to Teach for America members, a local homeless shelter that focuses on families and the library of a local gay youth organization. In recent months, we've also donated them to communities in the midst of disaster relief for restocking schools and a student art project involving massive amounts of printed pages.

  15. Really great reporting, Sarah. And such great advice!

  16. I love that you went to actual sources for your post ~ awesome!!!!!! We talked about this at BBPOC2012 and we were all aghast at the amount of ARCs being sold on Ebay!!! An online petition was started but I'm not sure if got anywhere.

    Thanks for an excellent, shareable article!!!
    Kristin @myparahangover

  17. This is very heplful! Thanks!

  18. So would holding a giveaway of ARCs on your personal blog/website be ok then? Donating English YA books in Finland is tricky :/

  19. Does anyone know where I can get ARC stickers?? Appreciate a leg up.


  20. I had no idea about this! I bought an ARC from the big book store in Portland (can't remember the name!), as I was looking for the book and it was at a good price, so I had no idea. I also got another ARC but for another kids title. Next time, I won't be so quick to buy.
    If it isn't ok to sell ARC's, why did I find them at that store?

  21. I have a question. I won a couple books over the years in contests. They look finished, nothing on them leads you to think they might be an advanced reading copy. But none of them have prices on them. I sell my regular print books to a store but not the ARCS. I wrote to one of the authors who sent me one of the books about it. She said that she was assured it was a regular book. I feel uncomfortable about this so I haven't read any of them yet. What would you say. This has been bothering me for years!


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