Exam Copies Done Right
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Despite being an unaccomplished and underachieving scholar, I still receive a fair-share of examination copies of academic trade books and textbooks. These are books that publishers provide for free for a “trial period.” Usually, the publisher doesn’t specify the length of the trial period so they are effectively free books, if not explicitly so. However, some publishers have explicitly requested that I ship the book back to them or else I will receive a bill for the book, albeit with an “industry” discount of 20% or so.
Publishers provide these books because they hope that I will adopt them for a course and require my students to purchase them. When I worked at UCSB’s college radio station in the mid-1990s, record companies would similarly provide free CDs for the music and programming directors in hopes that they would play the recordings on-the-air and, consequently, promote sales of the recording.
It seems like a great way to promote a book or a recording, but since everyone does it, the examination/promotional copies often become clutter. My music director used to give me a bunch of CDs that he knew I would like, and I have a pile of under-examined—or entirely unexamined—books on my desk.
In the academic world, the examination copies of books arrive in one of two ways:
- The publisher sends a print copy. They have done so for as long as I’ve been in the game. Although it’s not as many as it used to be, some occasionally arrive by expedited couriers, such as UPS and FedEx. I always thought that to be a huge waste of resources. Haven’t book publishers heard of media mail? The post office basically invented the service just for them. Also, this is a book, not a newspaper or a timely document. There’s no way that an extra day or two will “spoil” the content.
- The publisher provides an ebook.
The ebook makes a lot of sense for examination copies. It costs the publisher next to nothing to supply a bunch of interested readers the book. Moreover, it gets to the reader quicker than sending it by expedited courier. And, again, it costs a lot less.
However, most publishers are utterly terrified of unauthorized reproductions. They’re so frightened about it, in fact, that they burden the ebook with DRM that makes the book unreadable. The most common way they do this is by requiring you to use something like Adobe Digital Editions to read the book. That platform, and others like it, basically render the book and its words, into images of the book pages. In effect, you’re not reading, you’re looking at photographs of text. This makes it almost impossible for reading on small-screen devices, such a smartphone, because you can’t resize the text; you can only resize the page. No wonder phones are getting bigger and bigger.
Not only that, you can’t highlight text—only parts of the page. You can’t look up words by tapping or clicking on them because the computer doesn’t see text—it sees images. And, if you want to read somewhere without an Internet connect, such as a subway train or an airplane, you won’t because you can’t print pages or cache the entire book on your device. Bleh!
I don’t know how recording companies handle promotional copies, or whether they even provide them at all anymore. I would think that since the advent of the Internet, iTunes, and other streaming music services, they would provide radio stations with a digital file or some type. On the other hand, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if they still shipped plastic disks via Pony Express. But let’s say for argument’s sake that, in the intervening twenty years since I worked at KCSB, the record companies started sending programming and music directors promotional MP3s. If these recording companies followed the footsteps of the book publishers, their digital offerings would be as follows:
The music director would be instructed to download a proprietary listening application specific for that recording company’s group. I suppose that’s one good thing about only three recording groups—Warner Music, Sony, and BMG—existing today. She would then download a version for each of her devices: i.e, personal computer, work computer, smartphone, and iPod-like music player (they *still* exist). The sound quality would be reduced through downsampling, resembling something like FM radio: serviceable, but certainly not optimal. The music could only be heard with a live Internet connection: go into an elevator, and you’re listening to the elevator music in the elevator. And lastly, as a final insult, the app would not allow you to change the volume.
Earlier today, the University of California Press offered an examination copy of Precarious Creativity: Global Media, Local Labor, edited by two UCSB scholars: Michael Curtin and Kevin Samson. When I saw that I could download an ebook, I was expecting to see the book in Adobe Digital Editions or something similar crappy. Instead, I saw that I could download an EPUB, a PDF, or a MOBI file. Each of these work with different readers, such as Kindle, iBooks, and many other open source applications.
I was further pleased to see the book was not crippled by cumbersome DRM and that it was the entire book for me to examine. Thanks!
This is definitely the way to go, and even if I don’t adopt it, the book will not be abandoned on my desk. And it didn’t cost the publisher anything to send it.