eARCs: Big Fat PublicityFail

So, Eos sent me a couple of these cards, which are for electronic ARCs of upcoming books; what you do is scratch off the silver lottery-card like thing to get a code, sign in to the Harper Collins site, and then type in the code to download the ARC.

This pretty much assures I won’t be reading this particular book. Why?

1. On my desk right now I have 11 other ARCs, all of which are readable by me opening the cover, rather than having to scratch off silver gunk to get a code, sign on to a Web site, etc.

2. This assumes that I have a dedicated e-reader (which I don’t) or that I want to read a full length novel on my computer or iPod Touch (which I don’t).

3. The three-step process outlined on the card (1. go to Web site, 2. enter code, 3. get book) sort of mysteriously omits the part where you have to set up an account on the Harper Collins site, which I have no desire to do and which is where my sense of obligation to try to get this ARC goes right out the window.

This is actually the second time a publicity department has tried to interest me in an electronic ARC; the first time was a few months ago when a different publisher’s publicist queried me if I would be interested in a digital galley slathered in DRM, which would require me to validate my computer with a third party, and which would expire 30 days after I first virtually cracked it open. To which I responded thusly:

I have to confess to not really seeing the upside for me of having to validate all sorts of various machines in order to look at a book you wish to publicize, and to be entirely blunt about it, offering up a DRM’d book that explodes in 30 days has the subtext of “we really don’t trust you not to put this into a torrent,” which annoys me, even though I am sure you don’t mean it that way.

I will of course be delighted to look at the novel (and any others you may wish to send to me) in that other wireless format, known as print.

Since I didn’t bother to go through the entire process for the Eos book, I can’t say whether there’s DRM on it as well or if it has an expiration date, but if it did that would be another reason not to bother.

Dear publicity folk: You know I love you, am philosophically inclined to and aligned with your goals, and I know you’re trying to do your job in innovative and interesting ways. I can’t blame you for that — indeed I applaud you. But this is a simple fact: The moment you make me jump through all sorts of hoops to access a book you want to publicize, you lose me. Because I am lazy, because I don’t take kindly to having to leave even more information about myself in someone else’s hands, because I don’t like feeling I’m not trusted and because I have lots of other books competing for my interest which don’t require me to do anything else but read.

If you are really gung-ho about doing ARCs in an electronic fashion, fine, but you have to make them as easy for me to use as the physical ARCs. Otherwise I’m not going to bother — or as in the case here, I’m only going to bother until the point at which I get fed up, and stop. If your innovation is getting in the way of me actually reading the work you’re trying to promote, you’re doing it wrong. Please stop and re-think.

And while you’re rethinking, just go ahead and send me physical ARCs, okay? They utilize a robust technology well-known for its ease of use and lack of dependence on external apparatuses or power sources. I can’t get enough of it! And that’s going to make it more likely to help me help you do your job: Tell other people about your books and authors. Thank you for your consideration.

106 thoughts on “eARCs: Big Fat PublicityFail

  1. Make it painless for the user or go home.
    Really how hard is it?

    Seaking of ARCs. Since you have Seanan McGuier’s ARC of her latest novel, and seeing as how she was just nominated for the Campbell what would it take to get a “Big Idea” piece out of her?

  2. Hmm. Seeing a future filled with flexible e-ink readers that contain one novel that self-destruct 30 days after opening. Of course, you’d have to bring that down to the price of your standard dead-tree ARC, which ain’t gonna happen any time soon.

  3. I’ve seen blogger-reviewers screaming for ARCs like this, using the same argument: If publishers want them to read and review their books, they need to send the books out in the format the reviewers want … which was e-format, with a PIN and expiration date. There was the additional argument of saving money for the publisher in printing costs, but whatever they’ve sent you doesn’t look particularly cheap, either.

    If I was a publisher, I’d be tearing my hair out right now.

  4. At least they’re failing in the right direction; those things would be a great selling point to hardcovers.

    Well, if they dropped the DRM – it’s a minor nuisance to someone who wants to strip it off and throw it in the torrentsphere, but a big pain in the ass to someone who just wants to read the book they paid for.

  5. Yet another case of a company confusing capability with necessity. Just because you have a technology doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to implement it like this. This sort of thing is inevitably the result of meetings in which administrators insist that new technologies be incorporated, and people who want to keep their paychecks and impress their bosses device sooper future schemes without stopping to wonder if they are in fact any better than the status quo.

    One of the most fundamental reasons books have been one of the last media to go digital is because the technology of the printed book has been awfully hard to improve upon. It’ll get there, and the nonsense such as this that happens in the meantime is best regarded as birthing pains.

  6. John, you’re still my favorite, you know that, right?

    But seeing as you’re personally biased against submission guidelines that require you to print out a copy of your work, on account of you not owning a printer, I kinda think you don’t need to lay into this poor lady too, too hard. She’s just trying to do her job.

    Though of course I concede that you have a constitutional right to be peeved by whatever you deem fit.

  7. It was a very similar issue that had me abandon my post as a music reviewer for our local independent newspaper. More and more bands weren’t sending their press, they were sending links to online stuff — both text-based press and MP3 downloads. Which put me on a trail to find they stuff they wanted me to promote on their behalf. I HATED it, especially wading through horrible, slow loading MySpace pages that locked up my computer and made my blood pressure rise. Instead of having a one-sheet I could look at whenever or wherever, or a CD I could throw in my car to listen to, I was stuck having to adapt their media to my preferred method of enjoying it. So I said to hell with it. The pittance I was being paid to do the reviewing wasn’t worth the hassle.

  8. Just a thought: electronic ARCs (and books, generally) are more environmentally friendly than printed ones. They are also easier and cheaper to produce.

    Is there a format of eBook/e-ARC that you would accept, John? Perhaps a direct emailed PDF? Sure, you have to create an account, but you could just nonsense information and scratch off the code. A little human effort is a small price to pay for a lot of saved ink and paper.

  9. They got you to post a picture of their book cover on your blog, which is a certain amount of PublicityWin.

  10. DianaW:

    “whatever they’ve sent you doesn’t look particularly cheap, either.”

    Especially as they sent it via UPS.

    I see utility in the eARC idea, and truth to be told as I not-so-slowly run out of storage space in the basement, I can see why they would be useful in the future. But this isn’t the way to do it.

    Michael Kirkland:

    Indeed, something like this would be great as an add-on for hardcovers, etc. The problem is that as an ARC recipient, I don’t have the same requirements as a consumer. They’re trying to get me to read and talk about the book, not feel as if I’m deriving economic value out of it.

    Justin:

    I’m not aware of singling out any particular publicist in this rant, so I think your concern there is a little misplaced. The ire is at the execution of the concept, not the person who sent it.

    Edmund:

    An e-mail link to a DRM-free (or at least untimed) eARC in a common format would work just fine with me. They could craft the URL so that the link goes away after its been accessed; the point being that I don’t have to do anything other than click a link.

    Foobar:

    To be clear I have no issues with the author; I wish they’d send me a version of her book I could read.

  11. If I understand the whole ARC process, publishers trade a copy of a book in return for someone to talk about that book — they can’t guarantee positive talk, but that’s what they angle for. And, whatever the talk is, they don’t have to pay for it except the cost of a book copy. ARCs end up in used book stores or other secondary markets, usually picked up by collectors.

    They have no particular protections on them other than that little blurb about it being an arc, and not being sold retail (I don’t collect ARCs so I can’t quote).

    I do love reading books on my reader (Sony) so I can see why ARCs would be handy that way. But, it’s that “Scary New Technology” thing that’s been talked to death before. Until the “scary new” wears off, publishers will keep stepping on themselves like this.

    Seriously — scratch off cards? Is it like the ARC lottery?

  12. Two things.

    1. This strikes me as the sort of boardroom idea that gets uttered when the portly, silver-haired chairman says “What about some of that internet stuff? People love that stuff!”

    2. The idea of sending you something physical that you can use to acquire virtual goods is so bent I’m going to have to go get my bending robot to straighten it. It reminds me of that brief period where music companies thought they were going to sell MP3s in best buy on a DRM’d thumb drive. Completely and utterly missing the point of having a virtual product. You don’t have to effing package and ship it!

    3. (yeah, I said 2. Sue me.) On the other hand, they did send you a free picture of a hawt goth chick. It’s not like you can just go onto the internet and… uh. Yeah.

  13. eFail? iFail? They are trying. Maybe another 5 to 10 years for polish?

    I’d love to see a book/videogame/movie/audio card that could be waved at a generic bigscreen wall device.

  14. I’ll second Edmund’s question: assuming you didn’t have to register or accept a DRM scheme, would you read an electronic ARC? Or is electronic format a dealbreaker? (I can see why it would be – I read a few books on my iPod Touch then gave up and bought a nook.)

    If the publishers wanted to discourage softcopy from being released into the wild they could embed a tag in each file so they’d know who it was sent to. Then if one turned up on the net they’d know who to scold. Apple does that with their non-DRMed music files on iTunes. It’d probably even be cheaper than those scratch-and-lose cards.

  15. Dave H:

    Already answered Edmund’s question above.

    I have in the past read eARCs, particularly when the galley was heavily graphics oriented and a pdf version showing the full color was a better way to look at the thing than a black and white paper version. And I’m not morally opposed to them, or anything. I just prefer paper in a general sense because it’s generally easier to use and read.

    Also, to be blunt, I already have lots of crap on my computer; it’d be easy for an eARC to get lost on it.

  16. John: how about a URL you could click to request a paper version? That way, they get to cut printing costs, and those who would like an eBook could get one.

  17. I have always had a deep and abiding fondness for the original ‘wireless format’. For a while though, I was even fonder of e-reading. Gosh, I could take dozens of books with me, hundreds even!!!

    Just a couple of days ago, I had cause to remember that real books do not have non-user-replaceable batteries that fail. They are highly portable (with some exceptions – I may need a handy rolling cart just to take George R.R. Martin’s Warriors anthology around). Just like the new e-ink readers, they have crisp black on white, non-backlit text.

  18. If they were being really clever they’d send Scalzi an iPad and then forward the eArc to his new iPad that they sent him. Because I’m sure if someone sent Scalzi an iPad he’d probably be very happy to look at whatever eArc was on the iPad for a while and occasionally even mention it. If this doesn’t work, at least publishers will have gathered valuable data and Scalzi would have free electronic stuff.

  19. Edmund:

    “That way, they get to cut printing costs, and those who would like an eBook could get one.”

    Printing costs don’t necessarily go down the fewer ARCs get produced, Edmund.

    Beyond this, publishers can of course do their ARCs however they wish. I’ll just choose not to read the ones that make me jump through hoops.

    Blarkon:

    I’m not going to be holding my breath waiting for publishers to send me an iPad, or any other sort of eReader.

  20. As a blogger book reviewer who is “whining for eARCs”, I actually want them *without* the DRM.

    But on the other hand, if publishers aren’t willing to trust reviewers, then really, they just shouldn’t bother.

  21. it’s a case of marketing failing to actually know who they interact with. Happened with Pournelle and Chaos Manor column all the time.

    Look if you got a EARC (sub cat of E commerce), just maintain a DB of who gets sent what category of books and for format and other personalization the publisher has an easy web form/ snail mail questionnaire/ assistant check the format box after a phone call. That way you cover all categories of your ARC hopefuls.

    Remember there is a significant percentage of literate readers who do not worship devices or consider devices interfering with reading a whole book.

    Me:presently updating a system to allow all State of Texas rules to be made available in multiple formats and such over the internet. But they also keep a printed form around for libraries and anyone else who needs a physical format.

  22. One thing publishers should remember when sending out ARCs, electronic or printed, is that they are asking the reviewer for a favor, not doing them one. They are asking, in this case, “John, pretty please, read this book” in the hope that John will take time out of his busy day to do so, and then say nice things about it on his widely-read blog, thereby giving their product very inexpensive publicity.

    To ask a reviewer to do them a favor, and then make him/her jump through hoops to do that favor just strikes me as rude, and publishers have no right to be surprised when they get the middle-fingered salute in response.

  23. I work at a fairly large magazine and hate clutter so I’ve been asking for PDFs. The publicists send them to me or post them on an FTP site, usually within an hour.

    It’s pretty low-tech, but it saves trees and space in my cube. Sounds like I’m working with either extremely good or incredibly clueless PR folks.

    And, by the way, what is an ARC?

  24. Seeing as how you won’t be using these…when might we, your true and loyal readers, expect this unwanted bounty rain down upon us?

    hint…hint…hint.

  25. Baen’s nailed the e-ARC market.

    First fans on the forum are seduced with snippets, then wooed with web-chapters in the Free Library, before enticement with e-ARCs DRM-free, only to be hailed by hardcover, and persuaded by paperback.

    JJB

  26. Looking at Harper Collins site it appears they use Adobe’s DRM on top of epub, so from that standpoint it would work on a Nook, on some Sony readers, and through Adobe Digital Editions PC or Mac reader, the PC one is pretty bad though. Adobe’s DRM is based off of Adobe ID, so they may just assume someone as tech-savvy as you already has one. I do from my Photoshop registration.

    As to why they’d need you to do something other than enter the code and adobe ID/Password, dunno, that is a trust issue. When you get a dead-tree ARC are there normally restrictions on them? I’ve seen various ARC giveaways over time on blogs, and I just wonder, is that generally cool when the folks do that?

    I know that some folks get up in arms over DRM – me, I’ll get a little more worked up over it when it’s more secure than tying a knot around it with yarn. I don’t have to liberate the small percentage of DRM’d ebooks I’ve bought, I just have to know that I could if I needed to.

  27. There is another approach:

    Baen sells DRM-free eARCs to the public. They’re explicitly sold as not-yet-fully-copyedited-proofread. They’re available about four months or so before the books become available.

    FYI, Ryk E. Spoor’s “Grand Central Arena” was so good I’m buying five copies to give out.

  28. Are ARCs becoming a broader publicity tool? I was a big surprised that when I ordered “The God Engines”, it came with an ARC of a Mike Resnik novella. (It actually came with two, which I assume was a packing error.)

    I’m not complaining at all, I like Resnik; but I’d never heard of one being sent to just some random guy before.

  29. Shocking Development!
    Writer zaps publisher in response to electronic ARCs — message thunders around web at lightning speed!

  30. John@20: Thanks. I missed your prior reply to Edmund. Sorry about that. I know you’re not opposed to the electronic format, I just wasn’t sure how it fit into your personal reading preferences.

    Kate@29: Point taken.

    RFS@31: ARC = advance reader copy.

  31. The point about the difficulty to reviewers is a good one, but it also applies to readers. No matter how good a novel is, it is not an essential item (unflattering as that may be to authors). Anything, therefore, that the publisher does to make reading a novel more difficult will cause the sales of it to go down. For that reason alone (and there are others, such as the predictable durability of a print copy against the predictable transience of a DRM-ed electronic copy), DRM is a huge mistake.

  32. HarperCollins gave away almost nothing but eARCs at BEA last year. You had to download them by a certain date and you did get locked out of them after November 1st last year. They didn’t have the silver scratch off on them just a generic code. The also did it with an audiobook to download. It was amusing to see the herds of booksellers avoiding the HarperCollins booth since there was “nothing” to pick up.

  33. Huh. Maybe we just need to wait for better technology?

    Justin @7, SF markets that take e-submissions do not ask the authors to send them a link to a download on a site which requires the editor to register at the site in order to open a DRM’d copy of the author’s work. For absurdity comparison, imagine a publisher sending an “ARC” that was a coupon, redeemable at Amazon, for a physical ARC.

  34. If EOS wants to push eARCs, why don’t they give you an EOS-branded Kindle. Then they could send you whatever ARCs they want and you wouldn’t have to deal with their silly sign-up, log on, download, and DRM.

    Maybe I’m just angling to get you a free Kindle.

  35. @mythago #42 –

    Been there, done that, except it was for Kindle books (not eARCs though). It’s not anywhere near as annoying as just about every eARC DRM scheme.

    I actually wouldn’t mind this scheme for eARCs, except I don’t think publishers in general (save for Baen and others) actually trust Amazon or any other retailer with ARCs of any kind.

  36. Books are required to smell of paper, feel of paper, and be able to ride in my back pocket. If they don’t met these criteria, they aren’t books. And I won’t buy them.

  37. I was swamped with e-ARCS at last year’s BEA. I was a bit intrigued, because I was flying internationally and had no chance to post books, so thought I could bring more to use in referrals here in Germany. Turns out that the Adobe editions that were being used were not compatible with my Mac. In any permutation. After I wound up setting up accounts and downloading on an Eeepc, i was able to access them, but the download process was so onerous, having to read them on the netbook so annoying (not compatible with Kindle), that after starting the first book (and watching the clock start ticking to the expiration), I just threw them all away. Even the few that I had been anticipating. No recommendations to English language stores here, or publishers, or reviews. No discussion with the press that I work with. Just really annoyed.

  38. I know exactly which publisher had the expiring eARCs, and it struck me as a monumentally silly thing to do. I get a lot of ARCs since I review SF/F for RT and at this point in time, I don’t have an e-reader. So I need the physical book because I only read books on my computer if I have no other choice.

    Now, if I do get an e-reader, my position will likely shift–but I can’t imagine that I will ever be pro-DRM, pro-expiring eARCs (the latter for no reason other than the fact that I read review books on my schedule, not the publisher’s).

  39. Harper did eARCs for my book at BEA last year. I was glad of it, because all the paper ARCs were gone months and months before my book came out (after the ARCs were released, the publication was delayed by several months). Had there not been eARCs, there would not have been anything to give to potential readers in the time leading up to the book’s release. And for every complaint that I got about wishing for a paper ARC, I heard from someone who otherwise would not have had a chance to read an advanced copy at all. So, six of one, I suppose. It’s a question of exposure — yeah, some readers might refuse to read an eARC, but without them, some writers wouldn’t have any ARCs to share at all.

  40. E-ARCs don’t consume physical space (office/home), and that is preferable to me. But a 30 day limit almost assures that with the volume of books received, I may not have the time to examine and fully evaluate the book. Poof. One less book to worry about guilt free. Another advantage to e-ARCs is the ability to carry a lot on a plane, without the weight… I guess that’s redundant: e-ARCs don’t consume physical space.

  41. I really don’t understand. I love scratching that silver stuff off. Every time, I think it’s going to say, “You win a million dollars!”

  42. No one ever sends me ARCs, electronic or otherwise. But if they did send e-ARCs, they’d need to send the code to me electronically, too. I don’t see my physical mailbox very often, and both the notices and the books would sit there, soaking up the moisture from the recent rains. Or the physical ARCs would be at the post office, because my mailbox would be too full to hold them.

    I’m a big fan of yours, but if someone gave me a physical copy of one of your books, it would sit unread, next to a hardbound copy of Stephen Baxter’s Flood that I foolishly bought, because I try to pack light.

    I’ve gone digital, and I don’t think I can go back. Give me Kindle, give me iBooks, or count me out.

  43. This strikes me as another iteration of ‘how much personal information are you willing to give up for [input something you might actually be interested in owning here]‘. Dubious.

  44. Steve @ 36, John @ 37:

    They are indeed just being cool. After several SubPress orders, I also got an ARC of a past Tim Powers book. The packing slip said something to the effect of a customer appreciation bonus.

    I think they were just trying to clear out some space, but knowing the type of people who buy books directly from small/limited presses, tossing in an unexpected ARC could only be greeted with joy.

  45. I don’t like eARCS. And I certainly don’t like this new disturbing femme fatale angle with young adult fiction nowadays. Male authors, fine. The houses are actually spending both the time and money on cool traditional sci-fi-ee cover art. Female writers, au contraire. The cover art for female novels is as formulaic as it is simplistic: a half naked female hero packing heat. I’m surprised more female writers aren’t taking a stand, taking steps to rid the literary world of such sleazy sales tactics. I still can’t get over the near-pornographic cover for Charles Stross’s Saturn’s Children. It’s a science fiction novel, Ace, for god’s sake, one of my favorite science fiction novels in the last ten years, not a serial from some porn mag. The cover should have had the ferris wheel in LEO, Telemus, or perhaps the moving city of Cinnabar on Mercury. Commissioning out such a painting wouldn’t be that expensive, would it? Heck, cash-strapped publishing houses should just send eARCS out to all the freelance cover artists with a note: will trade 100 eARCS for some cool cover art. I mean, it doesn’t “cost” anything to email an eARC. And science fiction, with true-to-book-artwork, would fare better in the end.

  46. Yes, Baen has its head screwed on right. Why bother with DRM? It’s not like anything you release won’t be pirated anyway. If you make it harder for legit customers to read something than the pirate, you’ve failed.

    And for ARCs, it’s even dafter. At least just email a freakin’ PDF or something. Gah. You’d think they don’t want reviews.

  47. I wonder if they went the eARC route after the Academy had so much trouble with people pirating screener DVDs?

    Not that the experience or incentives are actually at all equivalent, but stupid suits in boardrooms think content is fungible.

    This strikes me as the sort of boardroom idea that gets uttered when the portly, silver-haired chairman says “What about some of that internet stuff? People love that stuff!”

    It seems to me more likely that it went:

    (INT. A BOARD MEETING AT A MAJOR PUBLISHING HOUSE)

    Hollywood-geeky tech guy: “You know, we could save a boatload of money if we just distributed these ARCs electronically.”

    Portly silver-haired gentleman: “I don’t know about that, my grandkids keep talking about downloading music and movies for free. For free! That can’t be right! We’ve got to put something on these files that will prevent people from stealing them!”

    Tech guy: “…”

  48. Dirty Wizard Hunter @56 Saturn’s Children was an explicit story about a frustrated femme fatale sexbot. If a film were made of it the certification would be R18 in the UK, I am not sure how hardcore porn is certified in the US. If he had submitted it to Hustler they probably would have been happy to serialise it. Complaining about the cover reflecting the contents? Perceptive, intelligent, hilarious, satirical, thought-provoking, moving, inventive erotic science fiction, as it should be at its best.

    Many of my favourite classics of SF would be impossible to film for Hollywood.

  49. And don’t get me started on the subject of how naked Hercules and Spartan women like Helen of Troy should be…

  50. +++Baen’s nailed the e-ARC market. First fans on the forum are seduced with snippets, then wooed with web-chapters in the Free Library, before enticement with e-ARCs DRM-free…+++

    Angry Robot, the new HarperCollins SF/F imprint, do something similar. There is a sign-up involved, via their “Robot Army” site, but once there you get a flow of e-ARCs. If you put up an online review they send you a free physical copy when the book comes out.

  51. There is a simple way for publishers to send out eARCs in electronic format without DRM.

    In intelligence circles it is called a “Canary Trap”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canary_trap

    “A canary trap is a method for exposing an information leak, which involves giving different versions of a sensitive document to each of several suspects and seeing which version gets leaked.”

    What the publishers do is canary trap the ARCs.

    Then if it gets pirated they can easily find who released it.

    The leakers go on an “untrusted list” and never get another eARC and/or get the fact that they pirated it publicized.

    After a few repeats of this, with the concomitant loss of trust, I think the receivers of the eARCs would get the idea that their name would be mud if they participate in piracy.

  52. Sounds like they are trying to save a little money by forcing people to use electronic books instead of paying to print and mail out arcs. All those other steps are stupid. It is basically saying “we are doing you a favor by letting you read our book”. They are not giving you a gift. They are looking for publicity.

    No one asks me to read their books for them. I don’t have a blog with 45,000 readers.

    Then on top of that they want your email address so they can send you marketing emails.

    I feel bad for the poor author. Their publisher is doing them a disservice. If I was a best selling author, I would be inclined to dump this publisher.

  53. David@63, thanks for the info on canary traps. I’d never heard of that before, and it’s incredibly interesting.

  54. I read through some of the posts. It looks like they did not do this to save money. They are just trying to be cool. There is a new technology out and they want to jump on it. I think people often don’t realize that it takes time for new technologies to permeate down to the whole community. I first heard of HD TVs around 1990. I saw them in the store in the late 1990s and they were $10,000. I got one when they dropped to $2500. It was just in the last 3 years that there were alot of HD Channels.

    I remember around 1980 my family had a black and white TV in the kitchen. It was old. Color TVs came out in the 1960s.

    I don’t own an iPod or any kind of device like it. I like to listen to audiobooks. My library has a big select on CD and alot on cassette(they are older). Just this year they started buying alot of eaudiobooks, but they still have their older stock. I may buy an iPod like device in the next two years if my library really stocks up on eaudiobooks. I don’t see the point to get one yet. Every year they have more storage, more battery life, and new features. So what is my hurry in buying one?

    Not everyone is an early adopter and it takes time for new technologies to permeate everywhere. Another thing to look at are hybrid cars. I believe that automobiles will be required to have 35.5 mpg by 2015 (or something like that). People are not going to run out and buy a new car because of this. They will drive their cars until they want to get rid of them and then buy one of these higher mileage cars. So we are looking at 2020+ before high mileage cars are the majority of cars on the road.

    Wow this was long. I should start my own blog.

  55. I find it a little odd that a SF writer like John would not seem to embrace these industry trends, more enthusiastically! This is green technology at work. Green is so now, so hip, so edgy, wonderful. I think sending the paper book is at least giving you something of value, especially if you like the book. You want a real opinion, send a real book.

  56. John:
        On first read, I thought this was a repeat of something you posted some years ago. Turns out I had confused the current article with your 2008 writeup of the doomed marketing idea of a stupid, deluded _music_ corporation– nothing at all like the strategies a publisher’s marketing team might concoct. Nope, not even close.

    How many months do you reckon this eARCs fad will last? [2]

     

    Dear publicity folk,
        Your recent approach to electronic distribution of ARCs strongly resembles the “bridge” marketing model which led to the launch of Sony BMG’s MusicPass, an event remembered to this day by sundry bloggers and dozens of trivia buffs.
        Although available artists and sales from Platinum MusicPass remain underwhelming to date[1], this alone is insufficient grounds for challenging the validity of your publicity campaign strategy. Indeed, your approach includes an essential element which MusicPass lacked:  its inclusion cannot fail to impact acceptance by readers and reviewers alike.
        DRM is the vital element which will make the difference in your campaign’s success. The inclusion of DRM in new eARCs foisted upon offered to your target reading audience is a truly bold move on your part and offers new hoops for the future.
          (signed)
          W. T. Effmann

    ________
    [1] Currently offering works by 39 artists if I counted correctly — an increase of two(!) artists in as many years, with “more to be added.” (Source: gifts.musicpass.com)

    [2] Your insight is valued, despite MP outlasting your prediction:
    > This MusicPass thing: six months at the outside.
    They only got you on a technicality, man!

  57. John,
    Its great to see someone else looking at this issue the same way as me. Over the year+ I’ve been officially writing reviews, I’ve begun to take on a certain mindset whenever I see an eARC in my inbox instead of a request for a mailing address. It speaks of a certain lack of confidence in the work on the publisher’s part, which has been reflected in the actual works I have received. Very few electronic copies have turned out well for me and consequently have received good reviews. I’m seeing a correlation here beyond laziness or bandwagon-hopping.

    Your description of that other wireless technology is going to become my new calling card.

  58. At Steve Burnap in #36: That’s just Subterranean being cool. My copy of Engines came with an ARC of Mieville’s the City and the City.

    Though in my case I thought it was momentary psychosis resulting from the realization that the package’s going all the way to Finland and there’s just one book just one book aaaarggh.

  59. Sorry for the double post; I wanted to go back and edit my previous one after I found more things to say but apparently WordPress won’t allow it.

    Have you ever been sent any Baen e-ARCs (as mentioned in #33, #35, #58)? I know they sell them to individual readers at a $15 premium, but I’d be curious whether they ever use them to fulfil the “real” purpose of ARCS and send them in advance to reviewers for free.

    In regard to #25, about getting sent an iPad or e-reader: speaking as a writer for an e-book blog, I’d say from experience you could probably get an e-reader at least on loan if you requested a copy of one to review. In fact, you could more likely get one than I could, given that you’ve got a much bigger audience—and I’ve already reviewed a couple of them myself.

    In fact, I’d strongly encourage you to do so—I suspect that the trademark Scalzi snark applied to an e-book reader would make for very interesting reading.

  60. Chris Meadows:

    a) Not that I’m aware that it’s your business, but the reason that I’ve not run Hodgell’s big idea is that she wasn’t on the schedule. She pinged me about it but I didn’t say “yes” to the query, for reasons which I choose not to explain to you. I believe she sent in an unsolicited essay, which I don’t recommend people do.

    b) One way to genuinely annoy me is to ask me in an unrelated comment thread why I’m not doing a thing that you had no active role in, and about which apparently you do not have complete information. I really want you not to do it again. I know you mean well, but I don’t like people randomly inserting themselves into my business.

  61. John, for the publishing-impaired, how about explaining your acronyms, the first time you use them, as in eARCs(electronic Advance Release Copies), and then you can use it, as frequently as you like without further reference. When I see an undefined acronym, it reminds me of the hundreds of acronyms that are used in computer and electronics, and how over the decades in that business we were forced to define them for YOU.

    Turn-about’s fair play, after all. Yes, I know they all seemed to figure it out and even I did, by the time I read all the comments, but is that what you want? We should read your post, have no idea what you are going on about, and read 74 comments, to get it?

    Just a minor kindness, okay?

  62. Tinker:

    I know your request is not meant to come across as being written in a deeply annoying manner, but guess what? It is. When you want someone to do something for you, this is not the way to do it.

    I do grant that I may be otherwise irritable, but even if I was full of sunshine and light I’m pretty sure the casting of your request would not make it work the way you want it to.

  63. John, even I have to admit I was sitting here wondering wth is an ARC? My brain caught the E as in Electronic for the work, and I stared at the what I guess is cover art for the book. Pretty.

    I finished reading your article and then dove into comments, figuring another reader would either ask, or just outright answer what an ARC was. Always good to know, that with as many readers as you get a day, I’m not the only one sitting there scratching my head over terms with in the publishing world.

  64. Tzia:

    Oh, sure, the content of Tinker’s request was perfectly reasonable, and I do usually try to make obscure references clearer, and forgot this time.

  65. John Betancourt at Wildside has the best way to do it for me. I don’t get nearly the review ARCs you do, but he sent an email asking if I’d be interested in a certain book. I said yes and got another email with an attachment. I read the book and had a review up.

    Not a lot of effort to get it on my part.

    Oh, the book was good.

  66. Harper/Eos have been among the most frustrating companies for me to deal with as a reviewer period. Pretty much everyone else in SFF publishing is sending me review copies now as a matter of course, as you’d expect after my having done this for close to 9 years. It just isn’t a big deal. But Eos? Getting review copies from them has always been a major pulling-teeth exercise, to the point where I’m like, “Screw it, if they don’t want review attention for their books.” When I have 40 other titles stacked up from all their competitors, why put in the extra effort?

    Now I see they’re doing oddball stuff like this. Do they really think I’m going to bust my ass registering online accounts and stuff for some generic urban fantasy when I’ve got Miéville’s Kraken and Novik’s Tongues of Serpents sitting right here?

    Strange. You’re right, John, a smart publisher wants to make it both breathtakingly easy and appealing to a reviewer to read their stuff. Asking me to do all kinds of online registration, and then giving me a window in which the book will even be readable before it self-destructs (newsflash, Harper, I determine my schedule and order my reviewing queue, not you) is, shall we say, doin it rong.

  67. I wound up purchasing a Kindle this past December solely because publishers, authors and publicists were sending me a lot of PDFs; or free books or magazines were available in PDF form and I wanted to read them but find reading off a computer screen to be uncomfortable. Unfortunately, I find reading the Kindle to be, if not physically uncomfortable, not nearly as great an experience as reading a physical book.

    I adore books, and apparently not merely because of what they contain. I love being surrounded by them (we have an extensive library, my husband and I, with 42 jammed-full bookcases and books and/or magazines in every single closet and cabinet in the house), I love the way the smell and look and feel. The Kindle experience is so sterile that it just isn’t the same thing at all.

    If I had to jump through the hoops Eos is asking, with a deadline on which the book would become unreadable, I’d probably skip it, too. But I do appreciate websites like NetGalley, where after registering I can get copies of books I choose to read. Still not as good as real books, but not bad. (And my thanks to the poster who wrote about Angry Robot’s program, which seems somewhat comparable.)

    And by the way, there was an article in the New York Times the other day (April 4, on the op-ed page; I don’t know your policy, John, about links, so I won’t do that) about the comparative environmental costs of electronic books vs. dead-tree books. The conclusion was that the most environmentally sound way to read a book was to go to the library and check out a dead-tree book.

  68. Dear John

    Please don’t chew and pre-digest my intellectual food for me, I’m an adult now. If I see a reference I don’t get I can Google it. Your context made it perfectly clear what the ARC was for. I assumed it was Author Review Copy until I looked it up but I wasn’t stressed out by it. When you are cooking it is a marvel to watch, don’t break off to explain what frying is. That was a different metaphor by the way, not stretching the first one.

    Thanks.

  69. Uh, what’s an “ARC”? Just because you’re familiar with the jargon, it’s a mistake to assume all the people coming here will be, too.

  70. Mr. Scalzi-

    Okay, not the place to put it, but I wanted to drop you a line about the on-line format to Agent to the Stars. I looked it up after enjoying The Old Man’s War series. Anyway, with the iPad and similar devices out I was looking for an eBook of it and couldn’t find one, so I cooked one up to run on my old Sony Reader.

    I copied the text from your site and pasted it into Microsoft Word. Then I ran the file through a freeware program called Calibre. You can save it as just about anything that way–Kindle, eReader, etc.

    Not trying to steal anything or subvert any copyrights, but since you had it up for free I thought you might want to post the novel up in one of the new reader formats.

    –and thanks for a great series!

  71. Christopher:

    “Okay, not the place to put it”

    Then why put it here? There’s a thing called e-mail, you know.

    I have the text of Agent as I want it on my site. If people want to put it in different formats for their own personal use, that’s fine with me.

  72. Hi John,

    My biggest pet peeve is any website that forces me to create an account for simple site interaction (such as commenting), so, yeah.

    But, to be fair to the publicist,I doubt it was a publicist who came up with the execution other than the eArc format idea. At that point, a bunch of legal folks stormed her/his office and said “Great Idea! Let us destroy it for you.”

    All other criticisms, yeah, ditto.

  73. Are you sure the described eARC-fail were not sent by a competitor, to keep you from reading the actual ARC which would be arriving soon? The described scheme … (shakes head) they think we’ll do anything.

  74. Here’s a possible model for making eArcs work conveniently. The publishing company sends the hoped-for reviewer an e-book reader, then automagically adds eARCs to that reader on a regular basis. Effort required on the part of the recipient: zero (other than opening a box full of shiny). DRM: intact, and mostly invisible. Cost? Answer unclear.

    That’s where I’d like to hear from someone in publishing. Obviously, that first eARC would be expensive. But if one publishing company sends the same person many eARCs, it seems that the money saved not printing and shipping physical copies would catch up with the up-front cost of a reader. Does anyone with experience in this area have a decent guess how many eARCs a publisher would have to send to a person before this system would make economic sense?

  75. Apologies in advance for any incoherence in this post, but pollen ragnarok has set in here in Atlanta and my sinuses are attempting to blow the top of my head off.

    I wanted to chime in on something you wrote that really hit a chord with me. I’d had a mild interest in ebooks for a while because of my traveling (a portable library would be nice), but always been put off by the various technical issues, DRM, and just the high nuisance value involved. Then I discovered something interesting in the back of a David Weber hardback I bought…. a CD with a BUNCH of their books (some I didnt) in various formats. That CD saved my sanity when I was stuck in an airport and as a selling tool it worked wonders since I bought hard copy verious of several books on that CD. I also bought some books through their web service because I decided I could trust them (and it was easy).

    That to me is an example of doing it right. They made it easy for me. I have no interest in annoying myself when attempting to relax, and their method was, well easy. (did I mention easy?)

  76. I’ve picked up some eARC’s like this at conventions before, and think it’s an excellent venue for it. I’m not an author, reviewer, or other media type who gets ARC’s sent to me. I’m just a fan who goes to conventions. eARC’s are the most likely way to make me take home a free book – it’s an easy fit in the luggage.

    On the other hand, it’s a very different sort of marketing than the traditional ARC they send folks like Scalzi. And if I was a reviewer or other media type, I’d be a bit insulted if I were asked to jump through hoops so I could give them free publicity.

  77. I can see John’s point here. I’ve been asked several times to do something — even to vote in a small company contest — and then discovered I have to tell them everything about myself in order to do it.

    I don’t mind giving my e-mail address — it’s expected in this day and age, when dealing with e-anything. If I don’t trust you, I’ll give the addy I rarely read, so I don’t have to read your spam. I’ll give my name if I think it’s worth it.

    But if you’re not sending me something by post, I don’t see why you need my address. If I’m just signing up to participate in someone’s NCAA bracket, I’m not going to tell you where I work or how much I make. If you’re giving away something for free, I’m really going to re-think giving you my credit card number.

    If I’m already giving you something you asked for — in my case, a vote; in John’s case, a review — why should I risk my identity or my privacy to do it? Why should I join yet another ‘group’ or ‘club’ that I’ll probably never look at again?

    I’m sorry for the rant, but this is something that has been bothering me for some time.

  78. I see that others have already mentioned eARCs are BEA (put me down on the Fiasco list). On the other hand, though, Harper Collins also made their catalogs all electronic, which I fully support. Paper catalogs are a huge energy and money sink, especially for giant publishers with a zillion imprints, but most retailers already order electronically anyway, so most catalogs are just so much landfill anyway.

    A good idea taken a step too far, sounds like.

  79. “oh, for the publishing-impaired, how about explaining your acronyms, the first time you use them”

    People, it’s called GOOGLE. It’s your friend. Use it.

  80. I find it somewhat ironic that publishers are so paranoid about electronic versions of their books being set loose in cyberspace where many people could read them without paying for them. These same publishers I’m sure still enjoy selling physical copies of the book to libraries where many people could then read them without paying for them.

  81. I think the Harper Collins electronic marketing mechanisms in general are fail. I actually signed up for their blog to post a couple of comments/questions, but they don’t respond to comments on the blog, so clearly I shouldn’t have bothered.

    So after a while, they start spamming me with newsletters, one of which included “FREE! Download this new Feist book!” And I felt all nostalgic about returning to Midkemia, so I went and clicked on the link. Which took me to a Harper Collins page where I hoped to be able to download the book (or at least read through their painful Browse Inside thing). Instead, the page was solely there to tell me about all these other e-book retailers where I could download the free book. Fine. I’d used some of these before. But I checked a half dozen of these e-book retailers and was appalled – five did not have the book and the last one was charging money for it.

    Guess whether I’m going to read that new series.

  82. Ah, yes, HarperCollins, who doesn’t know how to do free ebooks right. When I tried their free ebooks, I had to register and provide a payment method; sure, the ebook was free, but WTF? And they used something with a crappy reader and DRM so screwy that I couldn’t get it to transfer to my new computer. I wrote their “free” ebooks off a while ago; I’m totally unsurprised they’re doing goofy things with eARCs.

    Also, folks, please don’t blame us tech folk! I (and others in my department) occasionally must argue against Sales & Marketing and Legal, who want to do stupid things (with simple web pages!) to “protect” subscriber-only content, that would just inhibit normal use of our products by paying customers. ;-) Fortunately, we’ve won those arguments so far.

  83. This is why I like Baen’s Webscriptions…

    If I want to read the e-ARC, I can buy it – if I don’t I just wait till it comes out on Webscriptions or wait for the single book to release independently.

  84. Didn’t see the email buried in the ‘About’ section; some people don’t offer direct contact off their blogs. But…real nice, man. I liked your book enough to find someplace loosely related to offer a suggestion. Shoot me.

  85. John,

    As someone who wants to think about possible futures of publishing, I am wondering what would be good ways of providing eARCs.

    I can think of a couple of schemes, one thanks to a previous comment of yours (one-shot or few-shot URL, unique to the recipient, emailed) but if possible, I’d like feedback on what immediately occurred to me.

    Would you consider a flash memory stick with the eARC stored on it and the name of book and author somehow labeled on the stick as “suitable” (I don’t know what it would cost to actually print the stuff on the stick would be, but worst case it should be pretty cheap to print labels and glue them on)?

  86. 93 BJ: the answer is that all of these “votes”, “pools”, or other giveaways are just that – giveaways. What they *want* is your information – it’s a research gimmick. Whether they just use it as an account (hoping you’ll come back, and spend this time), or whether their job is to collect lists of information and sell those, doesn’t matter.

    And those companies who want to register a credit card so that it’s “convenient” to buy something more when you want it – um, no. Convenient it is; for the people on the downline of the money. Having that “do I really want to spend this” check on this consumer’s side is a Good Thing, and I want to keep it, TYVM.

    In other words, the companies sending out free ebooks that require a credit card are a) trying to get you to read, and read their authors, and maybe buy their books (good, and reasonable), and b) getting you into a one-click “want-driven” selling model that doesn’t involve you actually doing anything with money (that’s a big reason for ” Points” that you buy, too – you can’t use money to do anything but buy Points, but you use Points to buy stuff – one remove away from the actual “this is how much it costs” is all it takes).

    Companies sending out eARCs, where they actually *do* want a favour (as opposed to personal information or money or a disconnect between their products and your money used to buy them) that use the same distribution chain (because it’s already there) are just stupid. It’s understandable – they have the system already in place, and building another is a large cost – but stupid, and they should know that. Customers *know* they’re being shafted, but it’s worth it for the benefits they’re being given (the game, the vote, the free ebook, the game server). Reviewers also know they’re being shafted, and they are being asked to put themselves out more into the bargain.

  87. Hi everyone. Great discussion on eARCs and marketing techniques. Thanks to John Scalzi for sharing his experience with this particular eARC method.

    Since Terry Weyna mentioned NetGalley (thanks!), I thought I’d chime in. I’m the Digital Concierge at NetGalley, which basically means I’m the liaison between our reader and publisher communities.

    NetGalley is a way for publishers to offer digital galleys (eARCs) to reviewers, and reviewers can use the site to browse and request galleys they wish to review. NetGalley is intended for “professional readers”: book reviewers, journalists, librarians, professors, booksellers, bloggers, etc. Anyone who reads and recommend books can use NetGalley for free.

    Edmund suggested some benefits of eARCs. He’s right that they allow publishers to save paper and money (both printing and shipping costs). But perhaps the even bigger benefit is the unlimited nature of digital materials and distribution. Publishers using eARCs can give many, many more people access to their galleys — including those who wouldn’t normally receive a printed one (like bloggers or librarians). At a time when “traditional” book review and media outlets are dwindling and the ways people hear about books are changing, it’s increasingly important for publishers to connect with new communities of reviewers and readers. This goes to the question from Steve Burnap: Are ARCs becoming a broader publicity tool?

    Diana’s comment also relates to the unlimited quality of eARCs. Any publicist will tell you that the bane of every publicity cycle is the dreaded in-between time — when you’ve run out (or are about to run out) of galleys but still have another week/month to go until you’ll have the printed book. I love Diana’s tradeoff: And for every complaint that I got about wishing for a paper ARC, I heard from someone who otherwise would not have had a chance to read an advanced copy at all. So, six of one, I suppose. It’s a question of exposure — yeah, some readers might refuse to read an eARC, but without them, some writers wouldn’t have any ARCs to share at all.

    And John Scalzi brought up another great benefit: image/illustration/graphic-heavy books. Anything from children’s titles to cookbooks to comics generally suffer from black-and-white or nonexistent advance materials (eARCs, blads, chapbooks, etc) due to the high cost of producing in color. Offering a full-color PDF not only provides a much better experience than black-and-white on paper, but in many cases is the only way publishers can distribute these titles pre-publication.

    So those are some of the benefits. But the main issue seems to be how should a publisher use eARCs effectively? Obviously, the answer is different for every publisher —depending on their size, budget, subject area, manpower, etc. But I’m happy to tell you a bit about how it works for publishers who use NetGalley.

    NetGalley is committed to remaining neutral in the format and security settings that a publisher provides. It is entirely up to each publisher – for each specific title – to choose which format and what levels of security (DRM) are offered. Publishers are able to offer both DRM-ed and DRM-free galleys via NetGalley. If they offer DRM-ed galleys, then they can select an expiration time (most choose 60 days). If the reader needs additional time, they can simply log back into NetGalley and press the DOWNLOAD GALLEY button again to get another 60-day copy of the file.

    If you are invited by a publisher to view a specific galley, we ask only that you enter your name, address and “member role” (reviewer, librarian, etc.) If you want to then request a different title from the catalog, we’ll ask for a little more information about you so that the publisher can approve or decline the request. That information (preferences about the types of books you read, for example) is also used by us to connect you with galleys you might like, in the subjects you prefer.

    We never do anything with the information we get from our members – we do not share their contact information or use it for any purpose other than notifying them about titles in NetGalley. Also, readers can be anonymous NetGalley members.

    It’s critical to us, and to the adoption of digital galleys, that readers have the fewest number of clicks to the content. It’s also important for us to balance that with the needs and requirements of our publishers (in terms of security and copyright).

    I encourage anyone who’s interested to check out the site: http://www.netgalley.com. We welcome your participation and feedback.

    Thanks again for a great thread.

    Lindsey Rudnickas
    Digital Concierge, NetGalley

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