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.


  1. It seems to me that the logistical issue is a non-problem. The real issue is two fold. Publishers self harm by insisting on the stupidity of DRM, and the fact that delivery is only one small part of the real task.
    The real task, the desired outcome, is not just to achieve ‘delivery’ it is to persuade the recipient to read and give a favourable review to the work.
    Such an outcome cannot, surely, be successfully achieved by starting off not even trusting the reviewer, and then requiring him to jump though technical hoops to even get to read the title.
    If paper is the medium best suited to achieving that goal for a specific reviewer, then paper should be the choice. If eBooks are best then eBooks should be the choice. The Publishers need to focus on the desired outcome and not the minutiae of the technology.

  2. I would have left a comment over on Harvie’s blog, but the comment system there requires separate registration, a lengthy EULA, and apparently is only used by spammers.

    …oh, was I supposed to be making a point about DRM? Consider it made.

  3. One comment on the suggestion for time-limited reviews: While I know publishers and authors want timely reviews posted, many of us who act as unpaid, independent reviewers often have more than one book to read, especially at the end of the month. I have received “codes” to remove pricing fees from books, which works fine at sites like Smashwords for example. These coupon codes are good for a few days during which I download the book to my computer for my reading queue. If the book has an arbitrary “time out” built into its DRM code, I may not be able to finish reading it in, say, two weeks time.

    Publishers are going to have to estimate the potential value and risk of un-DRM’d eBooks being ‘shared’, versus shipping and printing costs of pBooks that are also subject to ‘sharing’ though not as widely. Is anyone really able to confirm that eBooks are being scattered all over the internet and thus depriving authors of fair return? Is that fear founded? I would suggest that adult literature fans would be far less likely to pirate books, than would adolescents with meager finances to share songs and games.

  4. By the way, librarything now has a thriving member giveaway program which allows indie ebook authors to post their titles and send review copies to interested readers in exchange for reviews. Here is the member giveaway link . I send DRM-free copies to reviewers for a Worker’s Writebook.

    Also, indie review exchange is a site run by Melissa Conway which does essentially the same thing.

    Yes, AZN/BN are way behind on ebook reviewer copies — it’s appalling. Maybe they plan to implement a kind of Amazon Vine for indies.

    I’d be curious from people who have used Librarything’s Member Giveaway (either as a reader or a publisher) about whether it works well.

  5. Hi Chris,
    Lindsey from NetGalley here, chiming in with our two cents.

    While the idea of using retail coupons for free review copies is potentially interesting if the title is already on-sale, the timing would be wrong for pre-publication galleys. Much of a publicist’s job with review copies happens before the final product is ever available to retailers, and I imagine publishers would be hesitant to send galley files (which are typically not-yet copy-edited or proofed) to retailers. There is a big difference between the final e-book that’s sold to consumers and the galley/review copy file–not just content-wise but also in terms of the file itself (not yet being converted or created in epub format, etc).

    From the NetGalley perspective, we provide a place for publishers to offer those pre-pub files securely and in a variety of formats. We strive to make it really easy for professional readers (reviewers, booksellers, librarians, bloggers, etc) to have a successful experience, even if the technology hasn’t yet made it foolproof.

    Thanks for continuing this conversation!

  6. The problem does not seem that difficult to work around. Most e-book readers can handle more than one format, and the author or publisher has the rights and the ability to send the book in the format the reviewer needs.

    Coupons to download from Smashwords or other sites seems a reasonable workaround, but another would be just to save a pre-published version as an EPUB file; you can work in the words “Draft” or “Advance Copy” into the page headers if you want. Use a program like Calibre to convert the text and send it to reviewers.

    If anyone says that they can’t do this, they’re making obstacles for themselves. The idea of publishing books is to get the content as widely distributed as possible! If a small number of people are making copies for free, then consider that promotion-any buzz that’s created by the distribution or copying of free files is going to translate into sales.

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