Not For Resale

| 15 Comments

first posted 2006-09-24 12:46:15

Last week Alyssa Brugman, an Australian author, reported ACHUKA to the Australian Society of Authors and to Faber for listing one of her proof copies on eBay.
An ultimatum from Faber has prompted the following, which I hope will in turn prompt responses from authors and publishers and other second-hand booktraders.
I shall look forward to getting feedback, both public and private. For public feedback leave a comment here or on ACHUKACHAT.
Thank you in advance for helping me do the right thing.

N.B. If the Comments link does not automatically open the Cmments window, right-click your mosue and select 'Open in new window'.

NOT FOR RESALE

I'm just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh no, please don't let me be misunderstood

�I hope that you will cooperate with us by removing all Faber proof titles from your site. The books are sent to you in good faith for review purposes, not for financial gain. I am afraid that if you continue to sell these copies we will have to remove you from our mailing list.� Head of Children�s Sales, Faber

Before the final production of a book, an �uncorrected� proof copy is circulated to various people. The principle purpose of this proof copy is to allow the author and the copy editor to eliminate lingering typos or to make any other revisions they deem necessary. Authors are warned at this stage that revisions should be minimal and that any significant rewriting is likely to incur costs that will be deducted from their advance.

That being the case, the bound proof copy is as near as damn-it to what will be finally published and it therefore serves another purpose � as a promotional advance version of the book to be sent to booksellers, literary editors, reviewers and anyone else whose interest in the book might be profitably aroused.

It follows that the more notice a publisher wants to give of a forthcoming title, the more proof copies will be produced. Indeed, the number of proof copies of children�s and young adult fiction swirling around nowadays is far greater than it was five years ago.
Not only has the number of proof copies increased, so has the quality of their production. There was a time when a proof copy would always have a plain sugar paper cover printed in black ink. Now the majority have glossy, laminated covers and a stylish cover design that often replicates the design of the finished book so closely it is difficult to tell them apart.

Because final revisions are still possible at this stage, reviewers are warned (a warning that is particularly valid in the case of non-fiction) not to highlight errors of style or fact until they have verified them with the finished book.

For obvious reasons, neither publisher nor author likes a proof copy to enter the public domain before the finished title is published. There was a time when even a review of the book was not supposed to break the publication date embargo. In practice, many reviews (especially of children�s books) appear several weeks before publication date, a date which in itself is rarely followed to the letter by booksellers.

I have never, and would never dispose of a proof copy until the finished book has been published. Once that has happened the proof copy�s job has been done and a pre-publication embargo no longer applies.

In times past most proof copies bore a �NOT FOR RESALE� notice. These days the picture is patchier. I have a Kingfisher proof copy which carries no such notice, or any other. The Chicken House state on the back page of their proof copies �This is an uncorrected proof copy and is not for sale. It does not reflect the quality, page size or thickness of the finished book.�

Whatever the wording, and whatever the publishers� intentions, the irrefutable fact is that the second-hand bookselling trade has always considered trade in proof copies to be a legitimate market. There are approaching 30,000 uncorrected proof copies being offered for sale on abebooks.com. Indeed, exactly because of the rise in profile of children�s books and the consequent increase in the circulation of proof copies, they are seen as increasingly collectable.

If NOT FOR RESALE was ever intended as a blanket for-all-time embargo it has obviously been one that has been impossible to sustain or enforce. I am not sure that the statements printed on proof copies have any status in law or were ever intended to do more than prevent them being sold as new.

Once the primary purpose of a proof copy has been served, what�s to be done with it? More to the point, what is a reviewer to do with the stacks of them that arrive each month? Regular review copies are easily disposed of. Relatively. School libraries and playgroups receive the majority of ACHUKA�s, with novelty and some series titles going to charity shops. In the latter case care has to be taken that a reasonable time has elapsed since publication date. And I know of one reviewer who was discouraged from donating books to a grand-child�s school library because it was affecting orders submitted to the local bookshop the school had an account with.

A proof copy, because it may and probably does contain errors as much as for any other reason, can never be put on a library shelf. What is a reviewer to do with the stacks of them that arrive every year? The purists will no doubt argue that they should be shredded or returned to the publisher (and what will the publisher do with them if not shred them?).

Book-lovers tend to be uncomfortable shredding books or sending them to land-fill sites, so most people who receive proof copies retain them in their personal libraries or release them to the second-hand market.

ACHUKA recognises that publishers have had legitimate concerns about proof copies being released to this market prior to a book�s official publication date. After all, this is tantamount to piracy. And because of the huge increase in the numbers of proof copies produced and distributed there have been cases of individuals acquiring significant quantities of a single title for speculative purposes. These individuals have often been closely connected with the publisher and its distribution networks, so this is an issue that needs addressing inhouse by the publishing companies themselves.

As I�ve already said, ACHUKA never disposes of a proof copy until well after the publication date has passed. We never seek to acquire multiple proof copies (heaven knows, we don�t want more of the things!) and nor do I at book events get an author to sign a proof copy to enhance its value.

For the last two years I have been openly selling proof copies on eBay (not on ACHUKA�s main site, let it be noted), a fact that the whole children�s publishing industry has been well aware of, since ACHUKA�s lead page includes a link to the eBay listings and the fact has been prominently featured in our eLetters. Out of the blue, Alyssa Brugman, an Australian author of young adult novels has demanded I stop listing a proof copy of Being Bindy. She has reported ACHUKA to the Australian Society of Authors and to Faber, whose Head of Children�s sales sent me a strongly worded email threatening to remove me from the mailing list.

I know I am not the only reviewer to sell proof copies on eBay; I may be the only one doing so openly. Whereas others tend to use disguised eBay usernames, I took the decision to sell the proof copies openly on eBay, alongside the other second-hand titles I have dealt in for much longer - principally Puffin and Penguin first editions.

I did this because it seemed more honest, less underhand. I might, for example, have chosen instead to enter into a private agreement with a dealer (I have been offered this kind of arrangement). But as my primary purpose was to raise funds for the upkeep of the website, it seemed much the best thing to include the trade under the ACHUKA name, so that all proceeds could be declared in the end-of-year accounts I pass to the accountant.

All profits from eBay trading are declared in ACHUKA�s annual financial return. Indeed, all my freelance work outside of teaching, including payments for reviewing from the TES and The Scotsman, form part of that return. The website would be running at a loss if that were not the case, and I would be hard-pressed justifying to my wife the amount of time I spend on its upkeep. Essentially, ACHUKA does run at loss, since I would be financially better off if I shut it down tomorrow, and concentrated on reviewing and other writing. I have had no time for �other writing� since starting ACHUKA in 1997.

Trading on eBay, and in particular the trade in proof copies, did bring in helpful funds in the first year, much less so last year. But whether a proof copy changes hands for �2.50, �25 or (extremely rarely) �250, I have always felt, up to this point, ethically and financially at ease when dispatching it to the successful bidder. Avid book collectors love completion. There are still some of the early Puffin originals up to #100 that I would love to acquire. Nowadays, a collector of first editions will often want to acquire an author�s proof copies, for exactly that sense of completion. I can quite see why, for example, a fan and collector of Meg Rosoff, would want to own,in addition to the first edition hardback, the proof copy of Just In Case, a glossy proof which replicates the hardback design on the outside and has stylish black pages at inside front and back.

It�s not only collectors who have an interest in acquiring proof copies. Researchers and academics can use them to study textual differences between the proof, the first and later editions. (Another reason I would never be happy destroying a proof copy.)

I have put this matter out into the public domain so that there can be wider discussion of the issue, and of ACHUKA�s approach to proof copies. Either it has been and continues to be acceptable for ACHUKA to trade on eBay in the manner it has been doing, or it is not.

If it�s not acceptable, it seems amazing that it has taken over two years and the inexplicably urgent, irate demands of an author in a different hemisphere to be told so.

If it is acceptable, it must be acceptable in all cases, including Ms Brugman�s.

Your feedback, please!

15 Comments

I have no problem with books obtained for the purposes of writing a review being sold, whether they are uncorrected proofs or the final product. Often the book is the only payment the reviewer gets. While I appreciate the awkward position Faber have been placed in (they have to act on a complaint from one of their authors) it's my view that publishers who want their grotty uncorrected proofs not to be resold should at the very least provide the necessary envelopes and stamps for their return.

posted on behalf of Zoe Marriott

I tried to imagine what my reaction would be as a writer in this circumstance; after some thought I realised I couldn't get my brain to work the way that this lady's obviously does. She is apparently doing her damnedest to cause trouble for, and make an enemy of, a respected children's lit information and review site. To what end? What is she hoping to achieve?

Obviously selling proofs in advance of publication is a despicable thing to do, but selling them afterwards - why on earth would that be a problem? Why would an advance proof of a book be any different to any other copy of the book sold second hand? I don't think that it could impact on the retail market for new books in any appreciable way. Unless she also intends to try and prevent any other second-hand sales of her book, it seems pointless. I imagine the person at Faber who sent the email was probably cringing the whole time.

I try to get my hands on proofs and advance copies wherever possible, but it has never once stopped me from ALSO buying the final version. I have three copies of Garth Nix's 'Old Kingdom' trilogy. Having the original Australian versions (bought second hand) did not stop me buying the proofs when I saw them for sale. Getting my hands on the proofs did not stop me from recently going out and buying the new UK trade paperback versions from my local bookshop. Book sales are good for authors: if not directly (in advances earned and royalites paid) then indirectly, through raising awareness of the work and creating fans.

Edited to add: I have tried to post this on the Achuka Blog - but even once I had created a TypeKey account it would not let me sign in. Oh, well.

Zoe Marriott
www.zoemarriott.com

Agreed - the wait is very much appreciated.

I have no problem at all with proof copies of my books being sold on ebay, especially by reviewers.

If publishers give out proof copies, they should do so with no strings attached.

I do not know what I would do in your shoes. I might be reluctant to sell a book which says 'Not for Resale' on it. But I do appreciate that you wait a good long time before doing so.

Thanks for your hard work on this site.

I too see no problem with selling proof copies after the publication date, though I have occasionally seen them offered on Ebay pre-publication. What disturbs me most is the way Brugman has handled her complaint, which reminds me of a neighbour who calls the police and his lawyer about an overhanging branch before discussing the matter with the party directly concerned.

No one buys a proof instead of the finished book. Books are brought by fans and completists - they're often librarians and so on - the very people who keep the World of Children's Literature turning. It seems mad to complain about them. And especially in this case where it's Achuka - to whom we all so much - that benefits.

posted on behalf of Sophie Masson:

I really don't understand why there has been this fuss over the sale of proof copies. I've often seen proof copies for sale in second-hand bookshops, and you're right, they only appeal to people who are collecting (in one case I know of, someone who'd bought every single title of a particular author's books--full price proper publications--and was also collecting memorabilia such as proof copies.) In many ways, I think it's flattering if people want to collect proof copies, it usually means they're great fans of yours! After all they generally don't look half as good as the finished book. It's usually very literary people who buy them rather than your average reader.
I've had several of my books been previewed in proof copies, am sure that some of them have ended up sold, and don't worry about it a bit. It's had no impact whatsoever on sales--after all, there's only ever a small number of proof copies around--and I'd rather they were sold, and treasured by someone, than end up in the recycling bins or the shredder. Obviously it's not on if people sell proof copies before the book's released, but that's definitely not the case with you. Otherwise, I don't see the difference between selling a review proof copy or a review finished copy. After all, those are often stamped 'For Review Purposes.' Does that mean reviewers are forbidden to dispose of them in the way they see fit? Pity their poor bookshelves!

I'm with the majority in believing that uncorrected proof copies are, on the whole, bought by collectors who value proof copies in the same way as they value hand-written manuscripts or heavily annotated notebooks from their favourite authors. Selling your proof copies on Ebay will not damage book sales, particularly when you adhere to a six month embargo. If the profits help to keep Achuka going, I'm all for it.

However, not everyone is ethical about selling their proof copies. I regularly come across proof copies of recent (sometimes very recent) books on the children's fiction shelves in my local second-hand bookshop. This does disturb me. Proof copies look so much like the finished article these days - and I'm sure the young readers I see trawling the shelves on a Saturday morning don't appreciate the implications of the 'proof copy' label. Yes, the revision process is almost complete at this stage, but a proof copy is still a slightly sub-standard reading experience. There are flaws, typos and minor irritations yet to be ironed out.

This quibble aside, the words 'mountain' and 'molehill' do spring to mind with regard to this controversy. Perhaps there should be a standard clause in all book contracts. 'Do you agree to the distribution of proof copies for the purposes of obtaining publicity and review coverage?' If an author agrees to this, it is understood that she is also accepting that said proof copies might appear on Ebay - or even on the shelves of her local second-hand bookshop.

posted on behalf of Julie Bertagna:

There are plenty of reasons in today's book market for authors to feel aggrieved that people are intent on making a fast buck out of them (astronomical discounting, 3 for 2s, cheap second-hand copies sold alongside the 'full' priced item) but reviewers selling proof
copies is surely a red herring. I'm with Darren on this. (Though I did once suddenly feel 'too tired' when a great thumping pile of proof copies were ungraciously slammed on a table by a surly dealer...) When I've been alerted to an overpriced proof copy of mine I've been quite chuffed. It's a kind of compliment and that can only be good for a book. Compared to 'selling' 50,000 copies of a popular book to The Book People for �500, it's a non-issue. And in the case of Achuka where reviewing, notable by your Jake Hope, is approached as a real craft in the spirit of the late Jan Mark, and you are probably not rewarded for the time and effort, I can't help thinking,
yeah, go for it...

I'll chime in on behalf of selling proof copies. It does seem very unlikely to me that it would affect sales of a book, and as you say, what else are you supposed to do with all those proofs? The fact that you're waiting until well after the publication date removes problems, in my opinion...

Given how much work you put into your site without a regular salary for it (!), I for one am happy to see you make what little bit you can on this extra bit of commerce.

The proof market is a collectors market and, as stated in your article, this means that someone buying a proof is almost always doing so because they feel the item they are buying is a desirable collectable, either because they already own the book in question (in which case the author can�t really complain) or because they feel the book is doing well and therefore a proof copy may be valuable (in which case the author should thank their lucky stars!).

Your average reader - certainly your average reader of children�s books! � is not a collector and does not brose ebay for proofs and advance reading copies. The idea that �average reader� might see a proof as a cheap way to obtain the latest title they've seen in waterstones is rubbish. This simply does not happen. If a reader is afraid of the rrp on a book they will either not buy it, or buy it at heavy discount from Amazon or a supermarket.

In other words, the number of copies of Alyssa Brugman�s latest book will not be affected in the slightest by a proof copy sold via ebay as that sale is attracting a totally different buyer I should think, than the published edition. Either that or the same buyer - ie, someone who has already purchased the book and is a �fan�. I would say that authors like Brugman should be more worried about current trends for discounting and multi-buy offers. If someone wants a book cheap, they will use these discounts, and since a little known author like Alyssa Brugman is unlikely to be included in waterstones multibuy offers, or on the shelves of Tesco, then she has far more to be worried about from this hurting her sales than from a single proof copy of her book being sold on ebay which, after all, is probably doing more to promote her than faber have...

I for one would only buy a proof copy of a book I really know and love well and already own the hardback, paperback, audio book and special signed and numbered slipcase edition of. That is, unless the book is on ebay a significant period before the official publication, in which case I might be tempted by a �sneak preview� of the novel. But again, if I am looking forward to the book enough to pay often over the odds prices for it than I have already purchased the authors back catalogue and will almost certainly be buying the final version on publication. Furthermore and book which has a preview printed in such large numbers that copies can be found on ebay prior to publication is likely to be from a highly successful author who will not be hurt in any way by a few ebay auctions.

Thanks for chipping in, David. I don't think people who buy proof copies do so to get a cheap alternative to an expensive hardback. They do so because they actually WANT the proof copy. I don't follow a hard-and-fast rule, but usually wait some six months after publication date before listing.

I'm afraid I don't approve of the resale of proof copies in 90% of cases. I believe that at the very least there should be an 'earliest resale date' agreed between publishers and recipients of proof copies as to the first acceptable date for same to be put onto ebay. I understand that a new hardback sells most copies in the first two months following its release - why the hell shouldn't trusted reviewers wait until after this time to sell?

I'm very interested in this discussion as I've recently started receiving uncorrected proof copies, as well as final versions, of books to review, and I'm wondering what to do with the ones I don't want to keep once I've read them, since they state on them "Not for Sale". Final versions of books which I don't wish to keep get donated to the local library, or passed on to friends without money changing hands, since I feel that if someone's going to read them, they might as well have them, when I didn't pay for them in the first place. But I've no idea what to do with the uncorrected proof copies that I don't
have the space to keep and would hate to shred...

posted on behalf of Darren Shan:

Personally I've always been happy for proof copies of my books to be sold and resold. If I wanted to stop that happening, I'd ask my publishers not to print any proofs (a simple enough solution), or else demand that proofs be returned when a book has been read by those it has been sent to (possible but messy -- I think you'd need to be a real diva to make such a demand!). If thousands of proofs of a title were being published, and sales of the proof were hurting sales of the actual book, I could understand a publisher's concern and desire to act. But, in practice, that's not the case. Indeed, I would imagine most proofs are quite hard to sell on. Those that do sell for good rates, sell because a book is doing well -- and those who buy them will usually have bought a copy of the published book already.

In my experience, the proofs market isn't huge, and has no real impact on any author's income. I know some authors don't like the collectible side of the industry, and are infuriated by collectors who deal in first editions, signed copies, proofs, etc. But I've always been of the opinion that what's good for the industry is good for the individual. A thriving market, where books are seen to be valuable, is a good thing as far as I'm concerned, and I'm always delighted when I spot one of my books selling for a fat, exorbitant price!!!

I think Faber have been put in a hard position. If an author complains, a good publisher should always take the author's side, regardless of their own personal wishes. I've never heard of Alyssa Brugman, but, again, a good publisher stands up for their smaller authors as well as their "stars". I believe this author has overreacted, and should have contacted you directly rather than involved her publisher. I'm sure you would withdraw from sale any book if asked politely -- not that I feel you would be obliged to, as I believe you have every right to deal in proofs sales as you see fit. This should have been an issue between Alyssa Brugman and ACHUKA, not between Faber and ACHUKA, and most certainly not between the publishing industry and ACHUKA.

My vote goes to free trade and the right to sell proofs. I will always be happy for ACHUKA to trade in proofs of my books -- hell, I might even, as I have done in the past, buy a few of them myself!!!!!

Leave a comment

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by achuka published on September 28, 2006 7:26 AM.

Banned Book Week was the previous entry in this blog.

Guardian Winner is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Monthly Archives

OpenID accepted here Learn more about OpenID
Powered by Movable Type 5.2.2