Monday, November 12, 2007

Why digital galleys are not scary

I’m currently working with a product that has, among other features, the capability to send digital advance reading copies to media and reviewers—a concept that they are working diligently to under-emphasize because of the instinctive “that wouldn’t work for us” reaction they have received from media, reviewers and publishers alike.

This is unfortunate and short-sighted. Yes, of course, we aren’t at the point where digital galleys can replace the good, old-fashioned portability of the physical book---for a full read. But outright rejection of the digital underscores the many other ways reviewers and media use content.

Full-text digital galleys are searchable, for one, invaluable for fact checking of reviews and articles. And especially helpful because galleys often are sent without indexes. Publications could benefit from digital galleys when preparing roundups (Essential Cranberry Cooking for the Holidays—New Hot Recipes from 10 New Cookbooks and all). And let’s not forget that for certain types of media, reading the text isn’t essential—a colleague of mine gave me an example of a gossip columnist who might skim or search a text for a reference but whose need for speed would always usurp a full, critical read. Radio and television producers often mine upcoming books for content of interest to their audiences or host, and what better way to pass along a potential find than digitally? For large organizations with multiple levels of approval this is especially salient.

Finally, there is the green element, of some interest as evidenced by
BISG’s and Green Press Initiative’s recent U.S. Book Industry Climate Impacts and Environmental Benchmarking Study. What interests me about the green element is the potential for media to use digital galleys to read first chapters, often an essential step in deciding if a book will be reviewed or covered.

Overall, publicity is about selling. Even reviewing, albeit more high-brow, is about recommending worthy reads. Why wouldn’t publishers and media want to share their content faster and more accurately? A production soldier at a major publisher told me that many authors, agents and editors lament the inaccuracy of galleys, since the text often changes between the time the galley goes into print production and is mailed. Digital means capturing a timelier version of the text, and aren’t we all happier for that?

I am not advocating a truly paperless advance publication workflow; that time has not yet come. But as an industry we could be braver about trying digital galleys as a supplement to print. I think the results would be surprising.


Anonymous said...

Your post is very intriguing and I am sure that many people have thought about this idea. I would be interested in hearing more about the product you are working with.
I am not on the reviewer side, but work as a publisher. I am sure that most books only survive the first chapter of a review process and never get any further. I know this would entail additional work, but how about proposing sending only the first chapter, with content images, to the reviewer. If they show interest, the remainder of the book can either be sent electronically or via printed galley, increasing down on the "Green" element. Although this might ruin the flow of the reviewers reading, an electronic version can be sent instantaneously. This can also reduce the shipping costs and help smaller publishers reach a larger reviewing audience.

Anonymous said...

Hi anonymous, I would be happy to talk with you more about the company I am working with. Shoot me an email at