If you are a bibliophile, or even just an ordinary book collector, you may have heard someone talk about Advance Reader Copies. What are they, and why are they important to a completist book collection?
Advance Reader Copies, sometimes called ARC's, Advance Uncorrected Proofs, or Bound Galleys, are part of the promotional system of the publishing world. The first print run of a book is generally produced a few weeks before it is actually released to bookstores, while many reviewers write for periodicals that have lead times measured in months. Since the first two weeks after a book's release account for more than half of its lifetime sales, it is absolutely essential to get those reviews appearing in the issue that comes out shortly before the release date.
In order to get copies of the book into the hands of those vital reviewers, publishers produce a small print run, usually a few hundred, from the uncorrected files while the book is still in production. If cover art is available, the publisher may include a dummy version of the final cover, but many Advance Reader Copies have a generic cover with the title and author's name in plain block printing.
Because of the extremely small print runs of ARC's and the fact that many reviewers make notes in their copies, a new and unmarked review copy soon becomes a valuable collector's item. Many completist collectors like to have the ARC, the hardcover, and the paperback. Other collectors enjoy ammassing a collection of unbound galleys signed by their authors.
It is generally considered good practice to avoid reselling advance uncorrected proofs until after the book's actual release, so there is no question of their sales substituting for purchase of the actual published edition. However, once the actual edition is on the shelves, it becomes more clear that bound galleys belong to the collector market.