Tuesday, June 09, 2009

eMarketing Thoughts: 3. Books for free?

Publishers in all sectors have always given away physical books to promote their sale. In some cases we hope to get it reviewed, in others it’s treated as a sample and in others such as education and it’s given with the aim of achieving the book’s adoption. In some the cases, the percentage of inspection copies that are ‘given away’ could be between 10 and 15% of the initial print run and that’s without the associated costs of dispatch and follow-up. In some cases the inspection copy is even invoiced and a return is requested if it is not adopted – more waste. The extra copies can be well worth the cost if they lead to greater sales, but in today’s difficult economic climate and digital world there are now potentially smarter ways to achieve the same and more, for less cost and waste.

People often say that the review practice of giving away physical copies is now better managed and that far fewer books are given away today. Others will point to the basement floor in The Strand bookstore in New York and the shelves of gratis review copies that have been cashed in and some with Editors letters still inside! A trade journal told us that the practice was dramatically reduced. We merely asked them to turn around in their office and describe what they say on their shelves – books. How many had they actually bought let alone read?

Whether its review, sample, or inspection copies, there are now better ways to achieve the same result at far less cost.

Digitally galley and un-proofed copies have been around for some time and continue to grow as they become easier to generate. The challenge here is to ensure that they are created at the appropriate time, that they are secured as assets and that follow up is achieved. Digital inspection copies are now also starting to appear and offer more cultural challenges but significant opportunities for both efficiency and sales across the adoption cycle.

It is not a case of merely scattering digital copies where once we scattered physical ones.

Digital inspection copies should created the opportunity to understand what is read, annotated, bookmarked by whom and when and even if the books was ever opened. They offer the opportunity to better manage distribution lists, offer shared copies, understand what is and isn’t important, capture feedback and follow through the process to adoption. Joining the dots from inspection review to purchase in today’s physical world is often difficult and wasteful. However, irrespective of whether the resultant sales are for a physical or digital rendition, the digital world offers everyone involved in the process reward and benefit. Some may see the digital inspection copy as the vehicle to cut out the campus store and go direct, others as the vehicle to engage the store and strengthen its role in the process and join the dots.

Some may say that reviewers will only accept physical copies and that may be true for some, but not all.

Digital marketing is not exclusive to digital books and removes physical waste.


Brian Clegg said...

I review a lot of books, and will only work from a physical copy. Why should I read it from a screen or pay to print it off?

I also prefer to review from final copies (rather than bound proofs). This is for two reasons. One is I want to review the final product, and sometimes the two are quite different. The other is, yes, after reviewing it I do sell it on. That's how I fund my site and couldn't run it without that funding.

Anonymous said...

So Brian... you fund your site through freebies which you then sell on. Indeed, you say you rely on this as revenue to maintain your business. So in effect you receive cash for 'reviewing' books. Hmmm.

Publishers, like any other business or industry, want to operate as efficiently as possible. If new technology enables them to reduce costs AND reduce the use of paper resources by a big chunk (15% of the print run!), then it seems somewhat anachronistic for a 'reviewer' to continue to expect bound copies when ebooks will do the job perfectly well at much less cost to the business and the planet.

If you can't run your business without these freebies, it sounds to me like you need to find a new business model, as opposed to demanding the world stays still.

Ebooks are opening up a whole new vista to publishers and readers, and the use of this technology to cut down wastage is a positive one. We should welcome it with open arms.

Anonymous said...

Yes you think of yourself Brian Clegg. There is of course only you!!

Peter Mitchell said...

The time has come where there has to be a shift in thought.
We can no longer hang on to an out-dated format, that evidently is failing.
The publishing/printing industry has to react and react soon ,otherwise it will find itself left way way behind with the likes of emerging free publishing and promotion platforms www.myebook.com
Brian Clegg, depending on free copies is proof in itself that your business model is not working, oh and I suspect you do the decent thing and send what ever you receive for it to the Author....yeah right...sure you do.

Anonymous said...

I work for a publisher and send out electronic copies of books, ARCs and finished books--whatever works best for the reviewer. And I don't have a problem if reviewers review a book and then sell it afterwards if they need to. Freelance reviewers are generally paid very little for their work, and if they need to earn extra on the side, why not? They are doing authors, publishers and readers a service by providing thoughtful, well-written reviews. It is a reciprocal relationship.