13 November 2007


Portland, OR: 7749 miles

Powell's Books in Portland is one of the world's greatest, if not THE greatest, bookstores. I've been a customer there since the late 1970s when I lived in Portland. One of the highlights of my career writing books was the event that I had at Powell's Hawthorne store in 2005 when my first two books came out. There were 35-40 people - an excellent turnout for an unknown author - and best of all it was in a place that I'd fantasized about walking into and finding books written by me.

Yesterday I walked into the main store, on Burnside, and found a couple of copies of GRAVE IMPORTS, my latest book. But it didn't make me happy.

Both copies were ARCs - Advanced Reading Copies. ARCs are uncorrected proofs that the publisher sends out to book buyers and reviewers prior to the release of the actual book. In the case of GRAVE IMPORTS, they had a blank white cover, a number of typos and minor mistakes that were corrected before the final book was printed, and were clearly marked "Not For Resale."

A lot of authors get really pissed off when stores sell their ARCs. It is sort of embarrassing. Still, I'm not one of those authors. I realize that there are collectors who are specifically interested in ARCs and in the case of Powell's, the ARCs were priced at about half the price of the trade paperback, so maybe someone who couldn't otherwise afford to buy one of my books could afford one of the ARCs.

I, however, don't make a penny off the sale of one of my ARCs. Neither does my publisher. In the case of the two ARCs for sale at Powell's, I am fairly certain that the store got them for free. I had personally sent ARCs to the event coordinator at the store, and also to their buyer for their airport outlets - who I had met at a conference.

Now as I said, I'm not one of the authors who gets completely hot under the collar about stores selling ARCs. Not completely. I don't like it. I think it's wrong. But so long as a store carries my actual, published books as well, I can live with it.

Powell's did not have any copies of the actual, finished, published GRAVE IMPORTS. It was available from Powell's, but only online.

Now that did piss me off, plenty.

I considered simply shoplifting the two ARCs, but that seemed like a bad idea in spite of the no doubt sympathetic publicity I'd probably get if I could have blown my arrest up into a big deal. So instead, I took them to a manager and complained. To her credit, she seemed rather embarrassed by my complaint and indicated that she absolutely understood why I was so bothered. She looked online and discovered that Powell's was selling my books online. She said that she would order several to have brought to the store and put on the shelf next to the ARCs.

I hope she does. I hope they sell. If you go to Powell's, please ignore the ARCs on the shelf and buy the real book.

Now don't get me wrong. Powell's sells used books, and unlike some authors, that doesn't bother me at all. Someone, sometime, has actually bought a real copy of my book and then sold it to a used bookstore. No problem. My publisher and I benefitted from the original sale. But that's not true of ARCs. Selling an ARC is a form of petty theft perpetrated on me and my publisher. Petty enough that I let it slide. I even politely sign ARCs that stores put on sale. But I'm only polite about it when they are also selling the real deal.

I still love Powell's. But now I feel like we've had our first really ugly spat and I can't trust them like I used to.


penguindevil said...

I agree with the point about the ARC's not generating any revenue for the author or publishers, but the same is true with used books. As Powell's also sells used books, I would extend the benefit of the doubt that the ARC's that they have on the shelf are copies that they have purchased over the used book counter, not review copies that they received for free and just put out.

Eric said...

Not all that likely as they were sent two ARCs - one to their events coordinator and the other to the book buyer for their airport stores. Other than that, only one other bookstore in Oregon was sent an ARC, and they had me sign it for them at my event there last night, so I know what happened to it.

As I said, I have no objection to their selling ARCs, but as they also sell new books, the fact that they weren't also selling the actual, published, corrected book was what got my goat.