FutureBook’s Robin Harvie has a post speculating on whether e-books will soon be more widely adopted to send review copies. The costs for sending review copies of physical books can run into the hundreds of pounds for just a single book, and this would seem to be an area where e-review copies could save publishers a bundle. However, there isn’t a system in place yet to allow this.

At the moment there is no structure in place that allows review copies to be delivered directly to the reviewer as an eBook. Publishers rightly furrow their brow over DRM and how files can be passed around too easily, but was this not always the case? NetGalley provide a service that is most likely to give us what we want, but it is still unchartered territory in this country. And emailing files directly to reviewers’ Kindles is now done more frequently, as it was for this year’s Booker Prize judges, but the spectre of DRM still lurks.

Though Harvie doesn’t mention this, a lot of publishers have been trying e-review copies, but in such a way as to turn off the very reviewers they should be courting. Witness John Scalzi’s annoyed reaction to the hoops publishers expected him to jump through to read e-ARCs.

As I see it, there are a couple of easy options publishers have for sending review copies electronically. One such option would be to forego the DRM and send the e-copy unencrypted. I’m pretty sure Baen does this already, but the idea gives most publishers heartburn. But I would be inclined to ask: if you trust this person enough to want him to review your book, why are you treating him like a possible criminal who will scatter it to the digital winds?

But that being said, I think another option should be pretty obvious: send the reviewer a gift certificate code to let him “buy” the book himself from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or whatever other e-book store the publisher wants to use. (This is how Jenna Moran made a review copy of Nobilis 3rd Edition available to me for my review of it here.) The publisher would probably have to cut some sort of special deal with the store to make the e-book available “early” to such would-be reviewers, but it handily avoids the DRM hoop-jumping problem—the reviewer need jump through no more hoops than he would if he bought the thing for himself.

And the way that Amazon is partnering with Overdrive and libraries suggests another alternative: instead of “buying” the e-book, reviewers could be allowed to “check it out” from a very private section of Amazon’s e-library. The book evaporates after the review period is over, and isn’t left cluttering up the reviewer’s own e-book library.

The problem of getting an e-book from the publisher to the consumer has already been solved. Getting an e-book from the publisher to an early reviewer should really just take a minor adjustment to that process.