There’s a fair bit of sound and fury on the writing scene at the moment over the reselling of ARCs (Advance Review Copies) of books. Some are hurt, betrayed, enraged and all the rest of it; others are less sure what the big deal is. Is it piracy to flog on the review copy? Are you really hurting the author by doing this? Are the resellers absolutely raking it in when that money should be going back to publishers and writers?
As far as I’m concerned, it depends whether the ARC is a paperback or an electronic copy. Selling on ebooks you were given to review is Not Okay. Pirating of ebooks is already a big problem: many authors spend days sending takedown notices to sites flogging unlicensed versions of ebooks, and if you sell an electronic copy of a book, you are in the position of having sold it and yet still having it to sell again – and again.
Sticking a paperback (or even a hardback) on eBay is more of a legitimate perk for the average reviewer. It was regarded as a perk back in the old days, when review of books (and music) were generally written by people who a) knew what they were talking about/could write amusingly and well and b) were paid for their work, even if not very much. Many a music journalist would routinely get a stash of weekend beer tokens by taking an armful or two of the contents of the review cupboard down to the nearest second-hand dealers; when I used to review porn DVDs I would wait until I had accumulated a couple of bags of them and make my way to a sex shop I used to know (couldn’t sell the things individually without getting my collar felt as I was not and never have been licenced to sell R18 product).
It was widely regarded as poor form to sell things in advance of their actual release dates, of course – especially if they were albums or novels that people were really eagerly anticipating. This still is poor form, not least because whatever bastard buys it will probably, nowadays, post spoilers all over the internet. Actually, it’s also fairly poor form to beg for a review copy and never leave a review at all.
But it definitely isn’t piracy to sell a paperback you got sent for review six months ago. If you didn’t like the book, selling it on is no more depriving its author of a sale than if a customer bought it, read it, decided it was such crap they regretted paying for it and managed to get their money back.
Of course, the fact that people can get their money back off Amazon if they didn’t like an ebook probably does a lot more damage to authors’ incomes than a few paperbacks being sold on for pennies…