Thursday, May 22, 2008

Review copy stamps

Review copies are something less than gifts. Each party has some expectation. Reviewers agree to consider the book for a published write up of some kind, and publishers expect their overall return (in increased public awareness, specific sales generated, etc.) from sending out x number of review copies to significantly exceed their costs. Publishers hope to get more out of the "deal" or they wouldn't do it. For many reviewers, the book itself is the only renumeration for a significant expenditure of time and effort, and I think it more than reasonable that they receive their copies sans markings. Maybe the Civil War corner of the publishing world is simply a more generous place than the rest, as I've gratefully found hardback stamping and paperback ARCs to be a distinct rarity. Over 90% of the review copies I've received from publishers -- big press, small press, university press -- over the past 5+ years are first editions, and I could count on one hand with a couple fingers left over those that were stamped. I personally appreciate this gesture as I am a fervent collector, too, and condition is a big part of the game.

What inspired this discussion was marketing director Sarah Keeney's post on her blog promoting a publisher's perspective on ink stamping review copies. These markings can be downright ugly or relatively unobtrusive (e.g. a prominent university press stamps them with a mascot paw), but regardless they permanently mar the book's appearance and collectibility. I understand the thinking behind the deed, and the issue is rather immaterial with ARCs, but it always annoys me as a reviewer, collector, and general bibliophile to see a stamp placed inside an otherwise pristine first edition of a valuable book. Thankfully, the vast majority of publishers I've dealt with eschew the practice, and I would urge Sarah and her original correspondent to reconsider their plans.


  1. Hi Drew,

    We have been debating this for some time. We think there at least three types of review copies. I believe Sarah is more concerned with the second category of reviewers than the last):

    1. ARCs (Advance Review Copies). These paperbacks are printed with "Advance Unedited Proof Copy: Not for Sale," and are distributed widely to reviewers, stores, etc.
    These should never be sold under any circumstances. Stamping them would be redundant.

    2. Final Book Review Copies for stores, parks, museums, etc. Often, these sellers ask to see review copies--but of course, never return them even if they do not stock the title. I have seen in a couple instances where they end up being sold without having first been paid for. Because these are not intended for public reviews, and so not deemed "compensation" for individual reviewers, these should always be stamped with "Review Copy: Not for Sale."

    3. Final Book Review Copies for individual published reviews. I have reviewed scores of books over the years. Reviews take a lot of time, and in nearly every instance the only payment is the free copy of the book (which often comes poorly packaged). The risk is there that reviewers will not review them, but the publisher must assume that risk if he shotguns out copies hither and yon. However, when reviewers request copies, or are on standing lists because they have asked to be so situated, then they do not have the right to sell them (which is but one small step away from stealing, in my not-so-humble opinion). However, I think it is acceptable practice to sell a review copy AFTER it has been reviewed.

    Because these books are deemed "compensation," I do not believe it is fair to stamp these titles with "Review Copy: Not for Sale."

    I hope this clarifies our thinking on the distinction between the various "review copy" categories.

    Keep up the good work.

    Theodore P. Savas
    Managing Director
    Savas Beatie LLC

  2. Ted,
    I wouldn't disagree with any of that. I think you covered the issues very well, actually.

    Funny that you mention the prevalence of poor packaging, a broad failure among shippers that's certainly not confined to the sending of complimentary copies. For every book encased in a box, b-flute, or cb fold, there three that arrive in a simple paper envelope or loose bubblewrap with the corners all bumped.


  3. Drew, I concur with what Ted has to say. My policy at Angle Valley Press is to try and send unstamped review copies to reviewers who I trust have high ethical standards. If there is a question then I either would not send a copy or I would stamp it ‘Review.’ There are a few bad apples out there as my below experience indicates. Four years ago when I was very new to the publishing business I contacted the editor of a mainstream magazine in the CW field. I told him I had a new Confederate regimental history to send him for review. He talked me into sending him 2 copies and then tried to sell me advertising in the magazine. I did not bite on the advertising. Two years later after not seeing a review, I sent a nice query letter on my company’s letterhead. The response was he knew nothing about the books as he allows his reviewers to pick from the pile, but he did offer to give me a reduced rate ad in his magazine. I didn’t bite this time either and it was obvious to me that a prerequisite to get a review was to run an ad, which I feel is unethical. This same editor couldn’t take the time to respond on his magazine’s letterhead, but instead scrawled his miserable response on my own letter and then mailed it back to me. I of course won’t be sending him anymore Christmas cards or review copies of our books.
    John Fox
    owner, Angle Valley Press

  4. Paul TaylorMay 26, 2008

    Hi Drew,
    One other perspective. As a first edition collector, I've never had a problem with "review copy" being discreetly stamped on the front pastedown or some other less prominent area. As you know, just because a book is a first edition does not mean that it will ever have any collectible value. The remainder tables are overflowing with first editions. Of course, it will never have any collectible value if it's not, but first edition status in and of itself is no guarantee.
    So for me, anything that can differentiate one from another and to make my copy somewhat unique is OK. Of course, if that review copy comes with some type of publisher's matter, such as a press release or author's photo, then so much the better.


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