Pay to Peruse?: What ARC-Gate Means to Readers & Reviewers

There’s a little drama playing out all across authortube, and while I realize this is a reading blog, I feel as if I would be remiss if I didn’t address this issue that may affect our reading lives as the book publishing realm continues to change.

For those of you who are unaware, Creative Entrepreneur and Young Adult/Self-Help author Kristen Martin sparked a bit of controversy when she announced how she was going to handle advanced reader copies (ARCs) of her upcoming releases. Martin has started a Patreon community, where fans of an author or artist’s work can subscribe for exclusive content, sneak peeks, and early access to offerings. Martin announced her plans to offer ARCs to those who are subscribed to her Patreon at the highest level of $50/month for at least 3 months, which prompted many to speak out against her $150 ARCs.

#ARCSAreFree
A small portion of the videos that come up when you search “ARCs are free.” Notice 3/4 pertain to Kristen and ARC-Gate

Traditionally, publishers offer advanced reader copies to reviewers, hosts and influencers free of charge. In fact, many send additional gifts to top influencers, all in exchange for mentioning/reviewing the book. The cost of the package they send is their price of admission to access the audience. It should also be noted that the goal of sending out ARCs is to create buzz ahead of a book’s release with honest reviews and endorsements. As the indie publishing sphere has grown, authors who self-published have started offering ARCs as well. The practice isn’t new to either group, and it seemed everyone accepted the fact that ARCs are about exposure and future profit, not a product for immediate profit. Martin’s move shook up the writing and reading community and called us to examine whether the way it’s always been is the way it should continue to be.

As a writer, reader, and reviewer, my thoughts have thoughts on this approach. The first thing I thought was that Martin’s business mentor or coach messed up. Maybe the person/people she’s looking to for guidance on growing her business didn’t fully understand the bookish community and saw an untapped opportunity for profit in a space reserved for exposure and honest early feedback. Maybe Martin focused in on an option offering exclusive access to her most invested fans without realizing how it would appear. Maybe she didn’t think people would conclude she’s charging $150 for access to her ARCs. As far as I’ve seen, Martin hasn’t addressed this at all, so I don’t know what her thoughts are on the backlash. What I do know, is that the rise in indie publishing and changes to the publishing industry in general have allowed us all the ability to question how things have always been done and whether that’s the best course of action going forward, even when it comes to something like this.

In my opinion, the purpose of Advanced Reader Copies is to generate buzz and reviews for a book ahead of its release. In order to keep the review process honest, no one should have to pay for a review copy, and no one should be paid by a publisher or author for writing a review. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with giving your biggest supporters ARCs of your book first. This is pretty much the purpose of launch teams. Launch teams—and, I would add, influencers, Patreon subscribers and members of similarly exclusive groups—are given other gifts in exchange for promoting the book, but they don’t have to pay for the privilege. I know the inherent cost of producing and distributing ARCs can be prohibitive for some, but this cost shouldn’t be past to those who support you the most.

A long time ago, when CDs were the way we consumed music, I got a bee in my bonnet over Usher’s Confessions album. I went to Best Buy when it came out and bought my copy like a real fan instead of illegally downloading it or waiting for the bargain bin. After the album had been out for a while, an extended version with additional songs was released, and I felt like I’d been punished for buying it earlier. They wanted me to pay the price of another CD for three or four additional songs, and I didn’t think it was fair to do that to real fans of his work. If anything, the first run of CDs should have had the exclusive content, in my opinion.

I feel the same way about ARCs. ARCs are usually uncorrected proof copies, not polished products. They are sent out for critical analysis ahead of the book’s release. True fans who are a part of your launch team or Patreon or other exclusive group should be given more than an ARC to show your appreciation. If I really enjoy an ARC, I buy the book when it comes out, even if only to sponsor a giveaway. I know how much it costs to offer a book for free. I’m committed to being better about reviewing the ARCs I receive for this reason as well. The official position of By Her Shelf is “Keep ARCs free, and reward your supporters with some other exclusive offering.”

What are your thoughts on Advanced Reader Copies? Should authors/publishers be paid for them? As a reader, what do you expect from authors and early reviewers? Let me know what you think below!

7 thoughts on “Pay to Peruse?: What ARC-Gate Means to Readers & Reviewers

  1. It’s a moneygrab, pure and simple. She is signing ARCs for her superfans and selling them on Patreon. Her superfans should worry about this practice… But, how many $50 tier fans does she really have? Why is her signed ARC worth more than a signed “published” novel?
    At least we now know that any pre-release buzz from this novel will come ONLY from the $50 level tier Patreon members.

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    1. You make a great point here about how this calls the validity of pre-release buzz for her book into question. I don’t know Ms. Martin personally and can only speculate on her motives, but I want to believe this is a misstep and not a moneygrab or way to manipulate the early reviews of her work.

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  2. Very interesting. This is the first time I’ve heard of an argument to pay for ARCs. I think that loses sight of what ARCs are, however. They’re not free little perks to fans. They’re not a loss of money. They are marketing tools. Giving out ARCs is, in theory, a smart way to spend some money in order to gain more money later through exposure.

    Asking for fans to pay for ARCs also seems a little insulting because it suggests that bloggers and reviewers aren’t doing any work in exchange for the book. But reading the book, taking notes, writing a review, doing any pictures or social media posts, etc–that all takes up a lot of time. So, in the end, I would argue that the ARC is not entirely free; it’s being given in exchange for labor. Labor that now reviewers are supposed to pay to perform?

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    1. I agree with you that ARCs aren’t entirely free. Bloggers and reviewers do work in exchange for early access to a book. I believe a big reason publishers have bought into launch teams as of late is because they see how much work they get from readers in exchange for the price of a book.

      And yes, ARCs are marketing tools, not perks to fans. They have a purpose that’s distinct from rewarding a fan base. Authors often provide bonus stories, additional epilogues, or other exclusive content to their fans through newsletters and exclusive groups like Patreon. I think this is a much better way to reward readers who love your work while keeping the early review process more honest.

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  3. Honestly, I could get behind her plan if she was charging way less. $150 is ridiculous. I hope ARCs remain free and agree with all your points, but I can see why an indie author might charge or use Patreon. But it should be for a much more reasonable price.

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    1. Thanks for reading and responding. I think the price is one of the issues people have with this incident. I would say exclusive access to the ARCs for her supporters is the other. I think people are taking issue with only offering ARCs to those in your Patreon, or acknowledged supporters, and not offering any for review by others.

      As an indie author, I have no problem with authors and other creatives using Patreon to supplement their income. But ARCs aren’t traditionally used to generate income directly. They are given to garner reviews which will hopefully lead to income. ARCs can be expensive to produce and distribute for an indie author, but there are ways to mitigate this cost like eBook copies for review. Another thing I’ve seen in traditional publishing and indie publishing is having launch team members pay for a copy of the book instead of getting one free. Since launch teams are made up of the author’s supporters who would buy the book otherwise, this doesn’t seem unfair and is a great way to defray costs for authors/publishers.

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