The Value of ARCs

Because 1) my brain froze during the Polar Vortex 2.0 and 2) I then melted it working feverishly on revisions this weekend, I done goofed in not pulling together the Day in the Life post I’d been planning on (stay tuned for March!). But Erin came to my rescue by asking a really interesting question–something I’ve actually been pondering myself:Screen Shot 2014-02-04 at 9.57.44 PM

I think this is a really relevant topic, not only in relation to ARCs, but all the marketing materials that publishers are producing. Now, to give you a little context: I’d consider the golden age of marketing promotional materials (“promo,” if you want to use the publishing lingo) happened probably five or ten years before I ever arrived onto the scene. You should hear the way my coworkers talk about it! We’re talking large quantities of little bottles of “fairy dust,” t-shirts galore, more bags than you would ever need in your life, super fancy brochures, beach towels–you get the picture! Nowadays, we stick mostly to paper: postcards, guides, one-sheets of activities, bookmarks. Not quite as, you know, radical as bottles of fairy dust! I think what changed was that while marketing budgets tightened, money also had to be set aside for new digital assets. It’s actually very expensive to hire companies to produce book trailers and cool, interactive websites. And while website advertising still isn’t quite as expensive as print advertising in magazines and newspapers, it can run pretty high depending on placement and the length of the campaign.

ARCs have always been considered marketing materials by publishers. They pay to have them printed at a total loss–meaning, they don’t make a cent of actual profit off giving the product away for free. (This is also why publishers/industry types get grouchy when it comes to booksellers and bloggers reselling ARCs despite, you know, the little “Not for sale ” burst that’s usually included on the ARC cover.) They’re giving the ARCs away on the good faith reviewers and store owners will use them to help build buzz by sharing them with others. This allows publishers to solicit quotes/blurbs they can include in their marketing and sales materials, too.

The way an ARC is presented can actually tell you quite a bit about a title, and how much support a publisher is throwing behind it. A few years ago, publishers started producing “deluxe” ARCs. In layman’s terms, these are the ARCs with the super fancy covers–covers with the kind of effects (foil, emboss, spot gloss) that you’d generally only see on finished books. These are expensive to print, so only a few titles on a list are bound to get this treatment, and those are the titles with bigger marketing budgets behind them–“lead titles,” as we call them. One glance, and a book buyer knows that it’s a book they need to pay attention to. Similarly, including marketing plans on the back cover or inside back cover is the more traditional way of showing-without-stating-explicity a title is a big push for the house, or… a not-so-big push, but still an excellent read.  These plans also reveal the target market for the book.

If a book doesn’t have an ARC, it’s usually because the manuscript came in late and missed the mailing deadline, it’s the third/fourth/fifth/sixth book in a series with an established fan base, or the title is e-only.  Every house has different policies on this.

To answer Erin’s exact question: yes, I’d wager that almost all publishers would agree physical ARCs are still a valuable part of any marketing campaign. Distributing ARCs at conferences like ALA and BEA is an incredibly efficient way of getting the story out there into the hands of industry bigmouths. Though, that said, it wouldn’t surprise me to see publishers cut back on the number of ARCs they’re printing, or a shift to producing digital-only ARCs for quieter titles as a way to continue to trim marketing budgets.

Digital materials are a way of potentially reaching a broader audience outside of the publishing community—they’re more “discoverable” to the general public, if you will. Publishers can curate them on their websites by category to help readers find readalikes to series and genres they already love.  Unlike print ARCs, digital galleys come at no cost to publishers and through NetGalley and Edelweiss, they can still ensure they reach reviewers, buyers, and librarians. And, yes, book bloggers too! The pitfalls, of course, are that e-ARCs are starting to be pirated with more frequency, and those without e-readers are left out of the fun.

One last thing about chapter samplers–publishers use both digital and print samplers. Like I mentioned before, most of the promo publishers produce today are paper-based, and these are, all things considered, relatively inexpensive to print and distribute.  They get a lot of bang for their buck, so to speak, by including samples from multiple books that fall within the same genre. Chapter samplers seem to have the most value when they’re being distributed at non-industry events such as concerts and movie theater screenings–they’re light and small enough to be easily stashed in a purse or pocket. The ultimate portable tease! Expect to have a few come your way if you go see DivergentVampire Academy, and The Maze Runner later this year!


9 Responses to The Value of ARCs

  1. Jen Feb 5 2014 at 9:28 am #

    Interesting post. I was actually just thinking about this the other day

  2. Erin Bowman Feb 5 2014 at 11:24 am #

    Thank you SO much for answering this, Alex. For me, this topic seems closely tied to word-of-mouth. I think WOM is perhaps one of the most crucial elements for any writer. ARCs or not, an author needs people talking about their book, and continued sales tend to stem from just that. On that note, ARCs, by nature, generate tons of WOM buzz. People talk about wanting to read, or snagging a galley. Then they read, review, pass it on. All of this helps spark conversation around a title, and I think that’s very valuable.

    However, I’m starting to feel like ARCs are very important for stand-alones or first-in-series, but but perhaps not as valuable for sequels and subsequent installments. With series, it’s mostly the fans and existing readers that tend to keep reading and are anxious to snag a copy, so perhaps ARCs aren’t as important after book 1. Could sending too many sequel ARCs into the world translate to lost sales (readers reading an ARC and never picking up a hardcover)? Maybe very small runs make the most sense here–for trade reviews and that’s about it. Who knows. Either way, thank you again for sharing your thoughts on this! The topic’s been on my mind awhile. 🙂

    • Alex Feb 5 2014 at 11:40 am #

      Yes to all your points! Something interesting to note is that even ARC “collectors” (the ones who make the haul vids about how many ARCs they snagged but don’t ever seem to read/review/share them or use them to trade for other ARCs) are still contributing to WOM by virtue of “advertising” their covers and names to viewers/blog readers.

      I think the general wisdom for sequel ARCs is that it makes sense to do it for books 1 (to gain that audience) and 2 (to maintain and try one last time to grow the audience). With book 3, you’re (generally) working with an established audience who will buy the book no matter what. I know from work that one of the first questions I always get asked when we stack ARCs to grab at conferences is, “Is this a sequel?” If it is, they generally don’t take it.

      I do think it’s possible to produce and distribute too many ARCs. There’s a very fine balance between encouraging demand and limiting supply in such a way that you’re getting a lot of buzz while still forcing most people to buy it if they want to read it. 🙂

  3. Alexa S. Feb 5 2014 at 2:28 pm #

    I certainly loved reading your thoughts on ARCs, Alex! Thanks for sharing some insider info, and more importantly, your opinion on ARCs, digital or physical. I always think about how much a publisher spends just producing a physical ARC and it still blows my mind every single time that they’re willing to do so!

    Generally, as a blogger, I love that ARCs are produced (especially the “deluxe” ones, as you’ve termed them). It’s always fun to receive a book from big publishing/book events or from the publisher! But I do think that e-ARCs are actually a more practical, environment-friendly way to go. More people can gain access to the books that way, and it lessens expenses for the publisher too.

  4. Natalie Aguirre Feb 6 2014 at 7:10 am #

    Great post. As a blogger (aspiring author too) who interviews lots of mostly debut authors, I find that ARCs are invaluable for getting interest in the author interview and the book. I do all my interviews with ARC or book giveaways because I know I’ll get a way better response for the author if the post is tied to a giveaway. And even popular book review bloggers like Mundie Moms don’t get many responses if there’s not a giveaway.

  5. Kallen @GeekyLibrary Feb 6 2014 at 2:53 pm #

    I love this article!
    I was almost worried that ARCs, or at least physical ARCs, were going to disappear in the near future.
    Although I do have an e-reader, I also give a lot more consideration to a print product. It feels like there was a lot more marketing effort expended and so therefore is worth my time as a reviewer.
    Despite this, I can understand the simplicity and cost-effectiveness of an e-ARC.

  6. Juhina Feb 6 2014 at 3:59 pm #

    I agree, ARCs are still valuable. Using physical ARCs gives the book more exposure than eARCs.

    Great piece!

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