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To E-galley or P-galley: That Is the Question

As all aspects of book publishing become digitized, synthesized, and aggregated through metadata systems, it should come as no surprise that galleys are following suit—even the coveted advanced reader’s copies and uncorrected proofs of yore are taking on a new, digital form.

Carrying the torch in the e-galley revolution is NetGalley [1], a company owned by Firebrand Technologies [2], that helps facilitate and fulfill galley requests from site members by providing them with DRM-protected files authorized through Adobe Digital Editions [3] and accessible on Androids and iPhones, desktop computers, and multiple tablets and e-reading platforms. Through the site, members composed of reviewers, media professionals, bloggers, librarians, booksellers, and educators can peruse NetGalley’s available titles, which are provided by over 100 publishers (and counting), including divisions/imprints from four of the Big Six houses. Members can select titles, and NetGalley serves as gatekeeper, passing along requests to publishers for approval (their website even clearly outlines approval guidelines for each publisher). Publishers can set expiration dates for when the galleys will no longer be available, and NetGalley also supports the aggregation of other digital promotional items like video, audio, or artwork under any title’s record page so that publishers can easily create digital media kits for readers to access along with the galley.

“We currently have over 29,000 readers registered on the site,” says Susan Ruszala, Director of Marketing at NetGalley, “and we’re growing by over 12% each month.”

It isn’t difficult to see the value for publishers in using e-galleys. With the cost of postage and printing running anywhere from $5-$11 per printed galley, digital galleys provide publishers with an unlimited amount of digital copies to send at their will instead of being limited by the amount of print copies their budgets will allow. E-galleys are also greener, cutting down on the carbon footprint of print production. To become a NetGalley client, publishers pay a one-time set-up fee based on the number of titles they publish, along with a monthly fee based on the number of titles on NetGalley’s site. There is no cost for professional reader membership.

Because of the convenience of the digital format and given NetGalley’s rapid growth, it is a wonder that there aren’t other companies that have stepped up as competition. Texterity [4], a Massachusetts-based full-service digital and mobile solutions company, once offered PDF e-galley services in 2002 but has since discontinued them. Symtio [5], another media solutions company, offered e-galley services by manufacturing physical cards that featured a code that unlocked a title’s digital manuscript on a password-protected website. Their “Symtio Cards” were how HarperCollins distributed galleys at BEA in 2009, but Symtio was put on the market in June 2010 and the selling of Symptio Cards was subsequently suspended.

However, just because other third party companies haven’t found success in the e-galley market doesn’t mean publishers aren’t generating and distributing e-galleys on their own. Simon & Schuster’s Galley Grab [6] program is an invitation-only program that allows professional readers access to new, uncorrected e-proofs up until publication. Smaller houses like OR Books [7], which works as an e-book and print-on-demand publisher, also sends e-galleys (and traditional print galleys) directly to trusted sources for promotion. Rather than being featured in a catalog amongst other publishers as they would be on NetGalley, OR prefers the dialog that comes with reaching out to communities that are associated with individual titles.

“Personal contact with people who you know and who know you seems a better way to go,” says Colin Robinson, co-Publisher at OR. “We’ve come to realize that ‘hand selling’ on the internet—identifying the communities that are interested in a book and talking with them on a one-on-one basis—is more effective in getting our message across than big, centralized campaigns.”

NetGalley realizes the value of “hand selling” and targeting certain readers as well, offering a widget that allows publishers to send specially selected readers a pre-approved link to view a title on the website. This invitational distribution system not only ensures that titles get to relevant parties, but it fosters and maintains a feeling of exclusivity that has long been associated with print galleys.

In addition to these favored recipients, NetGalley also taps into an eager, passionate internet-based audience which wants to be a part of that exclusive community. By allowing professional readers who may not otherwise receive galleys (like bloggers, who make up a majority of NetGalley’s site members) to peruse available titles and submit requests through NetGalley, publishers cast a wider net for potential promotional venues. Essentially, the audience comes to the publisher instead of relying on the publisher to find them, and this creates goodwill and ensures that readers have access to work they want to read. NetGalley also helps facilitate that relationship by serving as gatekeeper, answering support questions regarding manuscript files, and sending along reviews to publishers as they are written.

“…digital galleys have enabled more bloggers to access new titles before they are published. This is the same for the library community,” says Ruszala. She also notes, “From the community perspective, our members love that they can access galleys from many different publishers all from one central place.”

For all the convenience of the digital galley format, however, it still may not be the most convenient format for readers, many who, when given a choice, still prefer printed galleys. For Carol Fitzgerald, Founder/President of TheBookReporter.com [8] and its network sites, all reviewers currently work exclusively with printed galleys/published books, and few have the devices to make the most of electronic manuscripts.“Among our six editorial websites right now we have 60 reviewers. We recently asked who owned an eReader. 40 replied and of that number 9 had them,” Fitzgerald says. “I do not see our reviewers all migrating towards eReaders. A few actually specified that they prefer printed books for review purposes as it is easier to flip through them to review notes or capture specifics for their reviews. I would say we probably need a year to look at this question again once people have really gotten into trying this.”

The demand for printed galleys is not something that is lost on publishers. As Robinson speculates, “Some people are always going to want to read on paper, and I suspect that the flagship review arenas of the national press and broadcast media will be the last to accept electronic submissions, if only to try to stem the deluge of submissions.”

Across the board, everyone is in agreement that the rise of the electronic galley does not mean the demise of its printed counterpart. The printed galley will always be an effective format, because its tangible nature allows it to endure past publication date and maintain a lasting, physical impression. Instead of replacing printed galleys, e-galleys help publishers “…use their print galleys more effectively and more selectively, rather than eliminating them all together,” explains Ruszala. “Galleys, in any form, are only one piece of the overall marketing and publicity strategy for a title, and the publishers that have been most successful with NetGalley have integrated their use of the service into their larger campaigns.”

In this sense, galleys are more about function than form, and the decision between print and digital galleys is less about cost effectiveness and more about getting titles into the right hands for the most ROI. A reason why other third party companies may not have been able to profit from e-galley services is because they simply converted and aggregated the materials and didn’t offer solutions for finding valuable audiences. For publishers who have their own digital galley programs, the ease of sending e-galleys themselves cuts out the middle man and provides an easy way to directly gauge interest in a particular title. For those who use NetGalley, e-galleys connect with new readers and create buzz amongst those that normally don’t have access to advance reading copies. Either way, whether it’s NetGalley or an in-house solution, whether it’s printed or electronic, what is most important is that the word is spread as effectively as possible.

“We will send galleys to people who are serious about covering our books in any form they want them,” says Robinson. “But we will work hard at not sending anything to those who are uninterested, for their sake and ours.”