The e-galley investment

In marketing new titles, publishing houses distribute galleys and advance reading copies as standard practice. Today, the overwhelming majority of these advance materials is created and provided to reviewers as printed products.

The decline of some traditional book publicity channels (newspapers, in particular) has publishers looking for ways to tap into new arbiters of content, including bloggers, most of whom acquire and process content digitally. Services like netGalley, which Firebrand acquired in part from Rosetta Solutions in 2008, offer publishers the ability to supply e-galleys to these audiences.

But uptake has been slow, with some publishers resisting the per-title price. Upon acquiring an interest in netGalley, Firebrand lowered the per-title fee to $195, a price that some publishers still find too high. As one smaller publisher recently noted, “I can do a lot of marketing on a single title for $200.”

To which I say: “No, you probably can’t.”

Big picture first: Digital marketing, of which e-galleys are part, gives publishers an opportunity to convert what has long been an expense (publicity and marketing) into an investment. Today, and even more so tomorrow, books are being discovered on the web. Digital content lets digitally based arbiters use reviews, endorsements, qualifications and word-of-keyboard (viral) skills to leapfrog what traditional reviewers once provided.

Now, every book can get reviewed. Now, every reader is a potential reviewer. Now, the role of editors (and marketers) is not to just determine what will be published, but to consider and plan for how that content will be found. And it is already apparent that content is being discovered digitally.

Digital marketing may start with e-galleys, but it extends well beyond. It engages sales reps by giving them digital access to many more titles than they could carry to retail accounts. It includes component sharing for publicity materials like author photos, biographies and the like. And it supports sharing digital assets like author interviews distributed as MP3 podcasts.

As for the money: digital marketing is also cost-effective. Studies we conducted with two trade publishers revealed that the direct (physical copy) cost of a single printed galley or ARC averaged between $3.63 and $3.78. For $195, most publishers could distribute 52 to 54 traditional galleys, many of which would go unread, and none of which would deliver benefits beyond the individual title.

Those numbers don’t include the cost of distribution, and they don’t capture the indirect costs of staff involved in creating distribution lists, packaging materials, drafting and preparing cover letters, mailing physical copies and following up on each new galley. In our studies, those typically untracked expenses cost publishers 28% to 58% more than the direct cost of a printed galley alone.

Publishers who commit to using digital content to market new titles will have to do some things that are hard, up front. Chief among them: fix broken processes so that the e-galley can be created seamlessly. Doing so will help you down the road, no matter what you think of e-galleys.

At the same time, services like netGalley offer medium-size and smaller publishers an opportunity to tap into a hosted, public database of reviewers that they would otherwise not be able to develop cost-effectively. Delivery can be customized to support digital-only, with protected or unprotected files, or even to offer a print-on-demand option for certain reviewers.

But the value of e-galleys isn’t in just the dollars. Publishers need to develop and fine-tune their ability to use digital content to provide information about books where people are looking to find out about them. That future is inevitable. Configuring your house to provide e-galleys shows that you are willing to do what is necessary to place your content in front of the community most likely to buy it. That’s an investment worth making.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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