As a renowned blogger, author John Scalzi receives many advance reader copies (ARCs) of books to review—more, in fact, than he can actually read.

Today, Scalzi writes of HarperCollins imprint Eos sending him a couple of e-ARC cards—cards with a scratch-off field containing an access code to download the electronic version of an advance reader copy from HarperCollins’s website.

Scalzi remarks that this is an excellent way to get him not to read the books—he has plenty of other physical ARCs he could read, has no desire to read a whole book on his computer or iPod Touch, and doesn’t feel like going through the process of setting up the user account on the HarperCollins website necessary to download the books.

He also mentions a prior attempt by another publisher to get him to read an e-ARC, whose DRM would require him to validate his computer with a third party and would expire in 30 days. Scalzi replied that he did not see the point of him going to extra effort to look at a book someone else wanted to publicize, and didn’t like the implied lack of trust inherent in 30-day expiring DRM.

Scalzi writes:

Dear publicity folk: You know I love you, am philosophically inclined to and aligned with your goals, and I know you’re trying to do your job in innovative and interesting ways. I can’t blame you for that — indeed I applaud you. But this is a simple fact: The moment you make me jump through all sorts of hoops to access a book you want to publicize, you lose me. Because I am lazy, because I don’t take kindly to having to leave even more information about myself in someone else’s hands, because I don’t like feeling I’m not trusted and because I have lots of other books competing for my interest which don’t require me to do anything else but read.

It’s an interesting point. I can see where e-arcs would, theoretically, make things easier for the publisher—but for publishers who don’t believe in DRM-free offerings as Baen does, the DRM just ends up getting in the way of the potential reviewer.

And when you’ve got a much-in-demand reviewer like Scalzi, anything you do to make it harder for him to read your book means he will instead turn to an easier one.


  1. As much as I find Scalzi so completely annoying to the point where I have used his name in quips to my online friends (ie “You are pulling a Scalzi”), he has a totally justified outlook on this issue. But the more important issue underlying this is that these hoops to jump through are annoying barriers that everyone, including technophobes, are FORCED to jump through by these companies all the time. This is just one more example in how these companies are going to drive their customers away or underground.

  2. I review lots of books for a popular sff review site which I co-edit and I love e-arcs and try to get them as much as possible as opposed to physical books which just fill my house.

    Generally the smaller imprints and independent authors are happy with providing pdf’s (my PRS 700 usually handles them well and in many cases Calibre does also a good job to convert to epub) while the big houses offer them only occasionally, but I have to say that I never got protected books; there are publisher sites that are password protected *to get to the* e-arcs which is commonsense if you want to offer all/most your line for review consideration rather than provide each reviewer “a la carte”, but the pdf’s themselves and sometimes other formats like epub/mobi are drm-free.

    Some have watermarks on each page, some have notices like “review copy” but no drm of the restricting kind.

  3. I don’t disagree with Scalzi at all, but looking at it from the other side I can understand where the publishers are coming from. There as long been a paying market for ARCs, which are not intended to be sold and for which the author receives no royalty. Now imagine the frustration an author would feel watching an ARC of his book hitting file sharing sites before even the official e-book is released. As ebooks gain in popularity and become more mainstream, the demand for unpaid premium content is only going to increase. I wish there was some happy medium. Ideally we should be able to treat people as honest and they would live up to our expectations.

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