Sales of used trade books over the Internet have skyrocketed in recent years. And although the sales of galleys on eBay and other sites represent only a fraction of used book sales, it is a practice that galls many publishers. Recently, a few of them began taking measures to prevent resales on eBay by numbering galleys.
Number the galleys and keep track of who gets which one, the thinking goes, and if a galley winds up on eBay, you'll know who put it there. So you'd imagine that when galley number 89 (of 450) of Neil Gaiman's Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders, which Morrow will publish September 26, appeared on eBay earlier this month, the house would've jumped on it, ending the auction and removing the recipient of that galley from their comp list. Instead, the auction continued for a week, until the winner landed the prize, for $102.50. A similar galley went for nearly twice that, $198.50.
Morrow associate publisher Lynn Grady said the house printed a limited number of galleys of Fragile Things for booksellers and media, numbering them for two reasons: "to stop them from ending up on eBay" and to "help them stand out from the pack." Yet Grady said the publisher does not patrol eBay looking for galleys.
Morrow's numbering of the Gaiman galley is unusual but not unheard of; other publishers have assigned numbers to galleys, especially for genre fiction books, which have a large collector's market. And while Scribner does not number galleys for Stephen King's books, the publisher is clearly intent on discouraging resales. A letter from executive v-p and publisher Susan Moldow accompanies galleys of Lisey's Story, which pubs on October 24. In it, Moldow acknowledges that Scribner has been "stingy with the galleys" of King's books because they often turn up on eBay, a practice Moldow calls "categorically unfair to many parties, from the author, who received no royalties, to those die-hard fans who chose not to profit personally, and indeed to the publisher." Moldow urges readers to read the galley and "hold on to it or share it with a personal friend or donate it to a charitable institution," preferably "after our publication date."
Publicists at (little) Random House, Simon & Schuster, Warner and Wiley confirmed they do not number galleys, although St. Martin's reportedly has numbered galleys of certain commercial fiction books. Sourcebooks president Dominique Raccah has not resorted to numbering galleys, although she noted that in instances where her house sends out 1,000 or 2,000 galleys, the resale of them on eBay "has significant effect." Wiley v-p of marketing Larry Olson noted that in instances where a Wiley galley has been spotted on eBay, the house has contacted the seller to stop the auction. However, Olson added, numbering galleys "might be counterproductive," because in doing so, publishers are adding value to the item. "They're almost making it an official collectible."
Still, galleys continue to sell on eBay. A Warner publicist recently received a call from someone who'd purchased a Warner galley on eBay; disappointed that he had not received a finished book, the buyer called the publicist, who was able to track down the seller and removed that person from Warner's complimentary list.