Raiders of the Conference ARC

jones-and-the-idol

This librarian related story about conferences and ARCs (Advance Reading Copy, for those not familiar) blew up on the blogosphere and Twitter to the point where it got its own hashtag (#ARCgate). You can read the blog post that started it all on Kelly Jensen’s blog, Stacked. It’s good background material for this post so you may want to take a few minutes to go through it. For the lazy or those in a hurry, I’ll sum it up.

Kelly, a librarian and YA book blogger, attended the most recent ALA annual conference last week. She had multiple commitments to various committees that held meetings there in addition to giving a session presentation. After attempting to navigate the exhibit hall crowd on both Friday evening and Saturday, on Sunday she went back to meet with publicists as well as get some ARCs that publishers give away as part of their book promotion strategy. The majority of the books she was interested in were not there after being given away over the last day and a half. She was able to get the publicist to send her copies of the ones she was interested in. Otherwise, she did leave the conference with 23 books (according to her post conference blog entry detailing the books she got at the conference. I’m not sure how many books are being sent to her by publicists as she did not elaborate so I don’t know how many books in total).

We now fast forward one week. After posting said blog entry, Kelly did a Google search for “ala book haul” and found a 22 minute video in which a book blogger shows off approximately 150 ARCs she got from the same conference. (The blogger’s sister appears in the video as well and got the same books, bringing the total number of books procured to roughly 300.) Needless to say, Kelly is understandably not pleased with this discovery.

In writing her post, she is calling for a different system for ARC distribution at ALA. As she is a due paying member, Kelly feels a bit cheated to have given up time and money to do things that run the organization as well as educate her peers and missed multiple chances at talking with publishing industry folks and getting some advanced copies. As a solution, Kelly is calling for exhibits only passes to be allowed only one day admission at the end of the conference. That way, people like herself can get first shot at the books and face time without as much competition.

Ok, that sums it up.

On its face, I totally understand and get the outrage factor. That $25 pass that the book blogger purchased netted her around $2,250 in books. (I’m using a conservative average value of $15 a book; at $20 a book it goes up to $3,000.) Given what both sisters got, that puts their total score in the $4,500 to $6,000 range, a 9000%+ return on their initial investment. Compared to Kelly’s $345-$460 ARC value after spending money on conference registration ($220) and association memberships (my guess is about $290 in total on the basis of her blog post detailing her memberships), there is a dramatically smaller and even negative rate of return. In pure economic terms, it’s a slam dunk case.

Alas, this is not a simply case of economics. It has turned into apparently another row between book bloggers and librarian book bloggers, an ongoing epic struggle of book lovers fighting over their mutual object of affection. In looking at it from a step back, it’s a set of opposing forces competing for the same limited resource, the coveted ARC. Publishers can only bring so many a conference or trade show, therefore competition for them is inevitable.

I said it before and I’ll say it again: go read Kelly’s post. Some see her post as an excellent way to ensure that a professional conference serves its members first on a perk that matters most to them. Others see her post as an expression of whiny entitlement in the same vein that every government worker will eventually hear, “I pay your salary, therefore you must meet all my demands”. I invite you to draw your own conclusions. I’m not inclined to share mine since I’d rather move on and focus on the meat of the matter that interests me the most.

The first question: is this “book haul” behavior typical or a fringe case? This isn’t limited to book bloggers or librarians, but it means everyone who goes: how common is this sort of greedy behavior? If it is a minority whose actions are impacting the larger whole of interested individuals, then yes, there needs to be a corrective action taken. I can agree that 150 books is pretty excessive and an unreasonable amount for any one person to take away from a conference. If enough people did that, then it would take away from others.

But if it is a fringe set (the proverbial bad apples in the bunch), then why would an organization like ALA have to completely revamp a system on the basis of the actions of a statistically insignificant few? If one person out of ten thousand fell down a flight of stairs and died each year, it would not make sense to mandate that everyone has to live in a one story house. (For the sake of comparison, your chances of dying in an automobile accident are roughly 1 in 23,000, a risk people take everyday.) To create and implement a more complex system on the basis of a tiny minority element is simply not the best use of an organization’s time and resources. Even at 1 in 1,000 incidence rate with 20,000 people attending this year’s conference, that’s only 20 people. Somebody who is better at crunching numbers would have to figure out the point at which is becomes an issue on the basis of the number of available ARCs and the number of ‘greedy’ types.

The second question: how do you quantify or measure such behaviors? I’m guessing that registration statistics are out since they are not a true measurement of those who are interested in ARCs. What’s left is recorded observations of such behavior (like the YouTube video) or reported observations from attendees. While the former is excellent in being able to be easily shared and evaluated, the latter is subject to its own human observation bias. No one taking over 100 books is going to report themselves. Those who do not get all the books they wanted are more likely to report their dissatisfaction as well as the behavior of others. It would require door checkers observing who leaves with how many books and something to measure it over a couple of days. (Consider the fact that the book blogger got her 150+ books over 3 days, not one.)

It’s not impossible to measure, but currently there is no data set for this issue. There is always personal anecdotes that could attempt to gauge the prevalence of the behavior. Corroborating stories build on each other and create a better picture as to the incidence and prevalence of the “book haul” types. Larger number of reports are harder to ignore or otherwise dismiss when you are trying to convince colleagues to take action. I realize this might sound a bit crazy to ask for data (whether in the form of stories of numbers), but it might one of the few times that there is actual ‘science’ in ‘library science’.

The third question: in presuming that there is enough data to support action, what is reasonable and fair? I’d say that Kelly’s proposed solution is a reasonable one to consider in theory, but not in practice.

My solution — and note this is my solution and mine alone — is that bloggers/non-professionals who pay the minimum amount to attend the convention be limited to one day attendance at the end of the convention. That they be allowed to attend but that their attendance is after librarians and other professionals using this convention to develop as such have the opportunity to get what it is they need and what it is they want out of their own convention. If they choose to pay the full conference amount or are themselves members of the organization, then they can have full access just as anyone else does. I don’t think this is hard and I do not think it’s at all unfair on any side of the equation. Those who would find this disagreeable are part of the problem. (Emphasis mine.)

That’s quite the discussion squelching closer. “Here is my solution. You are either with us or against us.” Nevermind how one determines the difference between a blogger or non-professional and a librarian or professional; I presume Kelly’s solution includes checking that people are from the libraries that they say they are from. (It would be logical to presume that if it is restricted to only librarians/professionals for the first few days, people will give fake information so as to continue to grab books.) Or there is some sort of qualification checking mechanism that is developed, implemented, and run by the organization. If it turns out that fellow librarians are part of the problem, then there will be some other system put into place.

I’m not certain what other solutions are being offered given how recent this development is, but I’m guessing they will embody a “members first” mentality. That’s not a bad thing, per se; we grew up hearing the motto of a credit company that told us “membership has its privileges”. Given the time, energy, and efforts of the membership to keep the wheels turning, it can be an added and advertised perk of joining the organization. In game theory terms, solutions like Kelly’s are a move to not only get to cut the cookie in half but to get first pick of the pieces. This is not the conditions for creating a fair solution in terms of the societal concept of fairness but fairness as it relates to proportional contribution. Given the general mood of neutral egalitarianism in the ALA organization, it would be an interesting fit.

Regardless of what happens, my final question is this: what do publishers think of this entire issue? Slipping into their shoes for a moment, this is an issue about who gets access to things they are giving away for free. For free. As corporate members and conference sponsors to varying degrees, they have already paid for the chance to display their wares, flown in their sales and marketing people for face-to-face time, and utilize the books as marketing and public relations tools. How does implementing an ARC giveaway system of any sort benefit the publisher?

If I was in a publishing house, a question I might ask myself is whether or not it is worthwhile to give an ARC to a casually interested librarian (free is still free, right?) versus a very interested book blogger or other non-librarian professional. I can’t imagine anyone from the industry reading anything that has been put on blogs or Twitter and really feeling too terrible about this ‘issue’. Nor can I imagine other vendors who give away swag to bring you to their booth will be ready to shed a tear.

This whole #ARCgate affair just makes the librarian profession look bad when it boils down to an argument about who gets access to free things. Conference fees and membership pay for many things, but they don’t put a dime in a publisher’s pocket when they print out those ARCs. That point cannot be lost in this mess. One could argue that their reviews drive traffic and sales, but I would say that it is a risk that publishers take on. Changing that dynamic is changing that calculated risk for them, not for librarians. It deserves consideration.

For what it’s worth, the book blogger posted about her conference experience. And she had a great time. I was originally going to post a link to her blog post, but I’d rather not have someone go from this page and be shitty to her. It would not be the professional thing to do.

Update: I redacted the name of the book blogger. I debated

on including her name but since I went over and found a couple of unkind comments on her blog I dropped it.

I’m certainly glad at least two people took “professionalism” into their own hands and set her straight. I do hope some other more supportive people would send her a message and be a bit more constructive. For a profession that touts the value of education, it certainly doesn’t seem interested in providing one in this case.

28 thoughts on “Raiders of the Conference ARC

  1. I also hate to see this turn into us vs. them. My reading and viewing has led me to conclude that much of the “bad feelings” come from the ease with which “Lost Lola” and her sister flouted the social norms. They paid $25 and got access to the exhibits hall for all 4 days of the conference. Would they have behaved the same if it had cost them $25 per day? That is not unheard of in library conferences. Maybe, since the lowest cost for full conference participants is in the $200 range, the exhibits only pass should be closer to $100.

    Yes, no matter what you do you will always find a few bad apples. However, I believe there will be less if you make it harder for the almost rotten apples to go over to the bad side. In their video, Lost Lola and Sis point out that they behaved badly. Then they laugh it off. Maybe they would have behaved well if it hadn’t been so easy to be bad.

    Anecdotes of bad behavior at the two ALA conferences exhibit halls has been on the increase. Does it mean that bad behavior has increased or that communicating those behaviors has become easier, I don’t know. I have heard that 1 complaining customer equals 10 unhappy customers & 1 compliment equals 100 happy customers. (It is a business customer service principle, but I don’t remember the name of it.)

    I think the stink raised by all this has shown it is a sore point that needs to be reviewed and improved on if possible.

  2. The thing I’ve found most interesting is that with all the debate raging on twitter and various blogs etc there’s really almost no comments or discussion aimed directly at the blogger and her sister. (I saw 3 somewhat snarky but also vague comments left on her ALA post and that’s about it) I’m in no way encouraging or hoping for folks to unleash a cataclysm upon her blog but with how strongly some seem to feel about the subject it seems odd to pass judgement on her without opening up some sort of dialog. It seems clear from her video/blog entry that she was super excited to attend the conference and got a bit swept away and is largely ignorant of the concerns being debated by the professionals attending the conference. It just seems like a wasted opportunity to reach out to the other side of the aisle and say “hey book bloggers, you love books, we love books how about we figure out a way we can love books together” so that the next time she attends an ALA conference she can be more conscientious and she can pass that awareness on into the blogging community. Plus why not benefit a library in the process and suggest she donate the arcs she won’t read, extra copies, arcs she has read, to libraries/librarians in her area.

    • I’d be curious as to how an ‘intervention’ would be handled. It’s not like she got a forktruck and carried them out all at once; they went a bag at a time. Does this mean that the bag people need to have someone say, “Be kind, share the love”? Not sure that would go over well. I think this just drives people underground in their hauls rather than share.

  3. I think it is reasonable for people who pay more for a service to get ticked when someone takes advantage. I have gone to a fair number of trade shows (gift industry) that are trade only (not open to the public) and the folks that wiggle their way in with fake business cards, or as a guest of a qualified attendee tend to ruin things for those of us there trying to make a living, place orders, or purchase the (usually discounted) floor specials.

    The ALA should take a look at it’s policies if the membership is concerned, though I too wonder if the “hauler”

  4. I get that many non-youth services librarians are wondering why this whole debacle is such a big deal. However, what I haven’t seen mentioned much is that ARCs are a tool for doing our job. When I attend a conference, particularly when my employer has contributed anything towards my cost of attending, I’m there to work. And a (huge) part of that is collection development, which ARCs certainly come in handy for: I can read a book well before publication, or pass it off to one of my teens for their feedback, and decide if that title deserves a spot in my order that month. Even if a good chunk of teen librarians are also bloggers, it doesn’t change the fact that bloggers paying $25 only are making it much more difficult for us to do our jobs. It’s incredibly frustrating, and I’ve run into it at the last several conferences I’ve attended, including my state conference (Texas, where the exhibits are on par with ALA). This same conversation occurred after midwinter, only it didn’t seem to get much attention beyond the YALSA community. I’m glad the issue is finally getting some attention (clearly we need some sort of solution, whether or not it’s Kelly’s) but its upsetting when it’s made out to be a book blogger vs. librarian blogger issue when it’s really book blogger vs. dues paying librarians.

    • I agree with you, Julia. These ARCs are a professional tool we pay to get access to, and we deserve an equal if not better chance to use them than a run of the mill blogger.

  5. I think the element missing from your argument is a consideration of why, exactly, these ARCs are being distributed in the first place and to what purpose. You ask about what benefit publishers see from handing out free books; the reason these ARCs exist is to allow reviewers to review and buyers to make decisions about purchases in a timely fashion. Bloggers, in this case, function as reviewers and librarians as purchasers. In a perfect system, both parties would acquire ARCs not for personal gain (be it pleasure reading, doing giveaways on their blog to boost hits, selling them on eBay, or whatever), but to perform this professional function.

    I think Kelly’s point was that librarians, because they paid big bucks, because they are doing committee work to support colleagues and promote librarianship, are more likely to acquire ARCs for their professional purpose, as where bloggers (or other non-professionals) are more prone to the “greedy” behavior. And all judgement aside, if the greedy ones aren’t tied up in meetings, there will simply not be any books left for those who seek to use the books for a professional purpose. This conundrum seems to run counter to the function of a professional conference that is run by a professional association.

    So maybe it’s not a issue that ALA should or will tackle, maybe it’s just a matter of economics or human nature, but I don’t think that means it’s a debate that makes librarians look bad. I feel like dismissing this debate altogether undermines the work that purchasing librarians (especially children’s & teen librarians, who have to work hard to stay on top of trends that aren’t necessarily getting any play in major news media) do on a daily basis.

    And this debate also speaks to the roles of bloggers vs librarians as providers of reader’s advisory and access to materials – as much as this landscape of library service is changing in the adult services world, children’s librarians are still expected to serve as mediators between books (physical or digital) and young patrons. Professionally speaking, I’d hope that with my education, I would be better equipped to assess and promote books than a blogger whose only credentials are to have signed up for a Blogger account… but maybe not? Who is to say?

    Anyway, I think this is a complicated issue, but for youth librarians at least, an issue worth talking about, and an issue that goes beyond “stop whining about not getting enough free shit.”

    /soapbox

  6. “And this debate also speaks to the roles of bloggers vs librarians as providers of reader’s advisory and access to materials – as much as this landscape of library service is changing in the adult services world, children’s librarians are still expected to serve as mediators between books (physical or digital) and young patrons. Professionally speaking, I’d hope that with my education, I would be better equipped to assess and promote books than a blogger whose only credentials are to have signed up for a Blogger account… but maybe not? Who is to say?”

    I like a lot of the points made here. I think things should change. I for one wouldn’t mind (as a blogger) bloggers not being allowed at the shows or having to pay the librarian price. I for one pay dues to YALSA, just because I believe in the work that the YALSA committee does.

    However, lumping all bloggers into this in a BLOGGERS SUCK kind of discussion is wrong and does make the person wagging the accusing finger look undereducated about what bloggers do. Anyone can start a blogger account, that is true. A lot of bloggers are hoarding douchecanoodles. That is true. BUT there are bloggers who are partnering with their bookstore. Who have day jobs in and out of the book industry that allow them to have a finger on the pulse better than most. I myself do a million things non bloggery including being a literary agent. I want this discussion to happen, and I want things to change. I want librarians to take their conference back. I only ask that you don’t have to accuse all bloggers of being on bad behavior to do so.

    • Book Expo America offers tons of ARCs as well, and they also have a new component just for book bloggers. Perhaps that is a viable alternative. I love book bloggers when they’re good.

  7. Two things:

    1. Last year’s ALA was my first, and the behavior I observed on the exhibit floor on opening night was almost enough to make me not want to come back to the conference this year. I can’t be sure, but based on the associations listed on name tags, the majority of the pushy, grabby, knock-you-out-of-the-way greed was exhibited by librarians, not bloggers.

    2. This kind of us versus them mentality proposed by Kelly is easily extensible to librarians as well as non-librarians. As a academic librarian, am I somehow less worthy of the YA ARCs I collected at the conference because I won’t be buying or reviewing them for my collection? If the question is of worthiness, or projected use, or being a member of a “club” that would benefit from an ARC then I’m just as bad as the bloggers, even if I picked up barely 20 books. This line of thinking seems to say that those books belong to someone who will use them for professional reasons associated with the intent of the conference, not to someone who will simply enjoy them and pass them on. Am I in the wrong? Am I taking professional opportunities away from certain librarians if I stood in line for a signed copy of “Seriously, Just Go to Sleep?”

    • “As a academic librarian, am I somehow less worthy of the YA ARCs I collected at the conference because I won’t be buying or reviewing them for my collection?” This is an interesting thought. Are they purely for your own use, or in your academic work to have an opportunity to provide reader’s advisory for leisure reading? Ideally your ARCs would inform you professionally in some way, and you will pay it forward. I don’t think we want to get into discussions of worthiness, rather, we want to see limited resources put to their best use. I think much of what we learn and take from conferences needs to be put to the use of our patrons. Yes, we should enjoy mingling with colleagues and having fun, but in the end, we go to conferences to become better librarians, and librarians serve their libraries and their users, end of story.

    • I’ve also noticed the bad behavior with librarians/ALA members at past ALA sessions I’ve attended. Perhaps ALA could just add a note in the program/guide or signs at the entrance to the exhibit hall along the lines of “While it’s easy to get swept up in all the freebies, please remember to think about others and leave enough so that everyone can enjoy them (and publishers won’t feel so swamped!)”

      I think it’s best to nip this in the bud before it gets too out of hand. Yes there might have been one or two (or more) attendees who got out of hand (bloggers or no) but maybe for the sake of the overwhelmed publishers we should think of a way to keep it from getting too out of hand (when we’d wish we had thought of something sooner!) As I’ve said, I noticed it a few years ago and it seems it’s becoming more noticeable over the years.

  8. Back to the economics: vendors pay dollars to ALA for a space in the exhibit hall, vendors want traffic, $25 exhibit pass generates traffic.
    That said, if the exhibits are such a draw, could the economics be rebalanced a bit with a higher exhibit pass price and a slight drop to conference registration prices?

  9. “This whole #ARCgate affair just makes the librarian profession look bad when it boils down to an argument about who gets access to free things.”

    This is not what it is about. It is not about free things. Compare it to the sessions themselves, where you learn about new programs, approaches, and policies; the chance to see and sit on furniture before you buy it for your library; the chance to test out and ask questions about databases before you subscribe to them; the chance to meet and interview nationwide candidates when you’re trying to fill a position; the opportunity to test out and vet vendors and their products before you sign a contract. These are what ARCs are comparable to. It is not about getting “stuff” it’s about acquiring tools to do one’s job.

    • In accepting your position that ARCs are a professional tool, then they do need a better system of distribution. This kind of madcap ‘first come, first serve’ model is pretty 20th century when there are possibly better 21st century models.

  10. I think it would be nice if you’d take the book blogger’s name off your post. I’d hate for some “bad apples” to post continued mean things on her blog since she already took down her video. Let’s not look like bullies.

    • Really??? The video is off YouTube so it never happened.

      I think she will remain responsible for her actions. She’s an adult. She said on video that she knew she was behaving badly, yet she did it anyway. I don’t plan to put her in stocks on the public square, but I also don’t think her name should be expunged.

      • But what do you hope to accomplish? Yes she’s an adult, but do you think shaming her, sending people to her page to post rude comments makes us look good as professionals? A few bad apples being rude can paint all of us as bullies, just as her actions might have unfairly label “all bloggers” as book horders. Just because she might have made a poor decision, I’m sure the kerfuffle has already caused her to wish she hadn’t. Her post brought the issue to light, now let’s move away from acting like butthurt librarians and bullies and deal with the issue at hand: some people (both ALA members/Librarians/nonbrarians) are abusing a nice perk/professional tool/etc. How can we make sure that everyone behaves professionally at a PROFESSIONAL conference?

        It just reminds me of a candy trade show they have. Only people in the profession are allowed to attend to see the latest wares from the makers. While I think it would be really neat to go, I can see why they only allow professionals. If they allowed the public to attend for a fee, someone would GO WILD and/or bring tons of kids and it would turn into a FREE CANDY SHOW!!. With the rising price of books, I can see how the message of “Free books!” could overwhelm what the conference is supposed to be about. It is a professional conference where business is done, things are learned and publishers have a chance to reach out to lots of library staff. While my vote isn’t to bar all from going, I think a “non-professional” day would allow others to attend and even allow publishers to market things specifically towards the general public, including bloggers.

        • I don’t intend to shame her. People that made rude comments on her blog are just as guilty of being rude as she was.
          I dislike revisionist history. She acted. She posted video of that action. Now she’s being held to task by those that feel the action was rude. Removing her nickname doesn’t mean we all forget who it was. You don’t have one of those Men in Black Memory Erasers, do you?
          This Blog is editable by Andy and he has already acted. That doesn’t mean I agree. I believe in producing Erratum only when a mistake has been made. For example: if he’d called her Loud Lola instead of Lost Lola. I thoroughly dislike making changes that obscure the historical accuracy of the record. (That’s my pet peeve number 304.) :-)

  11. For the Record: I emailed Lost Lola on Thursday morning (06/28) via her blog’s advertized gmail account to ask if she knew what was going on / being said on Twitter. I provided the resources for Lola to get involved in the conversation if she desired. I did not receive a response.

  12. Perhaps ALA SHOULD indeed consider the suggestion to increase the price of “Exhibits Only Attendee” and yes, require these participants to pay that price EACH DAY. Then realistically ALA could reduce the cost of full conference attendees, though I dont really think that will ever happen. GIVE the “Exhibits Only Attendees” a different colored badge for each day to help easily identify them too. My goodness I know attendees who spent an entire day in exhibit hall with a schedule for books and authors instead of sessions. I even stood in line for a friend who wanted a book autographed from Henry Winkler but had a conflict with a meeting, so I stood for her. Sucker me, I even bought her the first of the series since he was only signing the second, though it was just $3. But gosh and darn it, registration was outrageous, and it infuriated me to know that some were “sent” to ALA on there organization’s dime and not their own, and they did not attend a single session, just cruised the exhibit hall looking for freebies, schedule in hand that outlined where and when the books and authors were going to be. My total trip’s bill was footed by none other than ME.

    I agree the exhibit hall around the book vendors is like a feeding frenzy particularly during the first two days. I’ve observed this at both my ALA attendances. It was even a joke among the exhibitors, as I commented one time the noticeable cooler room temp on the side where there were more software and furniture exhibits as opposed to publishers, and the exhibitor quipped that I could go back to the “other side” to warm up since there were so many more people over there. His joke was a poke of fun at the frenzy, and did not insult me in the least, for I knew he was spot on.

    Not sure what the solution is, but as I said in FB, those exhibitors shoving bags in my hand is the ONLY reason I picked up a single book, cuz I knew going in I did not have money to ship them home and I was sticking to my “carry-on” rule. So though I thought – wow, cool, really i can have them free? – I also knew I would be giving them away before going home. I generally take pics of my conference swag, and the sheer fact that I did not take a pic of a single book (other than the Winkler book which I stood in line for as a favor to a friend) shows that the books, while nice, were not a big draw for my exhibit hall attendance. My lone book pic was of a book garnered in a session, and that session gave some EXCELLENT ideas for using it in a middle or high school program–so I kept it. http://www.flickr.com/photos/c_nelson/sets/72157630321950508/

  13. Maybe the vendors should give out codes that allow you to download eBook versions of the titles? That way everyone can get a copy! Once again eBooks saves the day.

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