When NetGalley launched in 2008, many in the industry assumed digital galleys would eventually eliminate print ones.Four years later, digital galleys have proven that they are less of an alternative to the traditional advanced reading copy than an added element to a multitiered marketing and publicity push.
“For the most part, the national media still prefer a print galley,” said Kelly Bowen, publicity director at Algonquin Books. Bowen, who believes you need the physical product to pique the interest of journalists and reviewers, said that although all of Algonquin’s forthcoming titles are available as digital galleys, the press prints just as many ARCs as it did before the advent of the electronic option. “Maybe that will change in the next year, or the next five years, but for now we are doing both and waiting to see what happens.”
While e-galley adoption is widespread—almost all the major publishers have titles up on the two players in the e-galley space, NetGalley and Edelweiss—many in the business say the technology has yet to catch on with the higher echelon of media outlets. Lissa Warren, v-p and senior director of publicity at Da Capo Press, thinks e-galleys are invaluable for getting attention in certain segments, namely among bloggers and librarians, but she doesn’t think they’re very effective beyond that. “No one from the Today Show has called me and asked if something is up on NetGalley,” she said. Warren, who noted that Da Capo’s print galley production levels have not changed since the imprint signed with Edelweiss and NetGalley, thinks digital galleys do help in certain situations, specifically with titles that have color interiors or elaborate illustrations, since these can be prohibitively expensive to produce in print form.
Also resistant to e-galleys, according to some in publicity departments, are booksellers. Karen Auerbach, director of publicity at Kensington, said her company’s sales reps “tell us their book accounts want hard copies.” Auerbach said that Kensington has started using NetGalley, “but slowly.” Internally, she explained, concerns of piracy persist, and training production staff to upload books to the site has been a more laborious process than expected.
Despite some industry reluctance with respect to e-galleys, Susan Ruszula, president of NetGalley, points to impressive adoption stats. She said that, since May 2011, membership has grown from 25,000 users to over 61,000. While those numbers may not reflect the popularity of the technology—a user can sign up for a NetGalley and then never download a title (or download one, but never use the site again)—Ruszula noted that usage has also been climbing. “Our activity has tripled on a month-by-month basis, and we’ve recorded our best-ever months in February, March, and April 2012, activity-wise,” she said. According to Ruszula, NetGalley’s largest member groups are reviewers (including bloggers) and librarians. John Rubin, head of Edelweiss’s parent company Above the Treeline, said Edelweiss has made inroads at B&N in particular; he noted that more than 1,000 B&N booksellers have downloaded an e-galley.
But one of the enduring reasons to stick with print galleys, publishers said, is that they still offer something digital does not: the ability to grab someone’s attention. Bowen’s fear, that an e-mail alerting someone to a forthcoming title is simply too easy to ignore, may be the biggest hurdle to a more widespread reliance on e-galleys. “We put a lot of effort and money into highly designed galleys because we believe there is still the immediate, residual impact of opening a package and pulling out a beautifully designed galley with a powerful jacket,” Bowen said.
Others believe that change happens slowly, and e-galleys will likely become the norm eventually. Beth Parker, associate director of publicity at Penguin’s Gotham and Avery imprints, acknowledged that librarians and bloggers have been the “early adopters” of e-galleys. Although Parker said that the national media still wants the print product, she believes a tipping point is on the horizon. “There will be a time when we are printing fewer galleys as e-readers become more prevalent in the media, but right now we still rely heavily on the physical book. We are looking at it as an education for media—in six months or a year from now we’ll probably be using fewer physical galleys and more e-galleys. And, in a pinch, when someone needs a book faster than overnight, many more people will accept a NetGalley.”