Chasing down the gossip that a consortium of big publishers are brewing a new strategy for distributing Sony Readers to book reviewers brings to mind that REO Speedwagon song:
Heard it from a friend who/ Heard it from a friend who/ Heard it from another you’ve been messin’ around.
Everyone I called admitted to thinking about getting other publishers to do the nasty, but no one wanted to be publicly identified or quoted on the record.
Of course, this is an idea that has made the rounds repeatedly in various forms over the last few years. But now the moment just might be right - since e-readers have become almost as indispensible as Blackberries to sales reps and executives at Hachette, Random House, Simon & Schuster and other publishers, and the Kindle has become such a hot consumer commodity.
Some Quick Caveats
Before we go any further, bear in mind that no one is proposing that print galleys will immediately become archaic or that the Sony Reader is the only e-reader option. The main idea is to get e-readers into the hands of key reviewers, as an incentive to become more familiar with the advantages and (let’s be honest) the disadvantages of e-readers and e-galleys, given that they will almost certainly co-exist with print galleys for many years to come. I’m assuming here that most publishers will opt for the Sony Reader, since it doesn’t carry the charged political symbolism of the Amazon Kindle for them.
Why distributing Sony Readers to book reviewers is a good idea from the reviewer perspective:
- Instant Access: no more days spent waiting for a print galley to arrive while a deadline looms
- Portability: e-galleys are easier to work with on the go
- Reduced processing costs: e-galleys are easily opened, stored, forwarded, read and archived or deleted than print galleys, which have to be shucked of their mailers, sorted and stored, mailed to other reviewers in some cases, and eventually boxed up for recycling, donation or destruction
- Waste reduction: though designed for temporary use, print galleys are still made of trees, and shipping them around only increases their carbon footprint. Anyone who works with galleys shares in the responsibility for this.
Why it’s a good idea from the publisher perspective:
- Cost reduction: each galley costs $ 12 – $20 to distribute (e.g. $6- $10 to produce and $6- $10 to ship)
- Waste reduction: see above
- Focus on e-reading can’t hurt the e-book market
- Proof positive that publishers are technologically forward-looking and solution-oriented
How can we prevent this from becoming a good idea that a consortium of publishers will never agree on?
Let’s take a look at the issues around distributing e-readers from the publisher standpoint, in the interest of overcoming them:
- Are e-readers worth supporting? The jury of publishers is still out on this basic question, which includes whether electronic readers encourage more reading as print outlets diminish, and its corollary: do e-readers diminish the attention given to printed books?
- How to maximize cost efficiency? What’s the best way to allocate minimal dollars to a maximum number of reviewers?
- How to determine a reviewer list? Different houses favor different reviewers, after all.
- How to navigate hierarchies of reviewers? Is it better to target the assigning editors at a publication or the freelancers who write for them? Is reaching out to some reviewers over others going to create ill will?
- What about indie publishers? Will indie publishers in the consortium be able to attract enough respect and attention from the designated reviewers to make it worth the expense?
- What about booksellers? Will reaching out to reviewers create resentment in other quarters – e.g. will booksellers demand their own initiatives?
- What about platform and security issues? How to cope with the limitations of the Sony Reader or any other e-reader?
Has anyone formally asked the reviewers how they feel about all of this?
Rather than speculate about what reviewers are thinking , I’m going to stop here and open this discussion to comments from them, with the aim to get back to you, dear readers, with a synthesis of the responses within the next week or so, so we can keep this discussion going.
Questions for reviewers to consider as you respond:
- Is it an unacceptable influence on the review process if publishers underwrite the cost of such a valuable professional tool?
- Would it help if e-readers were loaned to reviewers, rather than granted outright?
And for those who can’t wait until the deliberations end
Here are a couple of contests you can enter to win a Sony Reader: