When I worked for Pearson, one of our largest group of expenses related to complimentary copies for lecturers at universities and TAFEs. Over the years, "comp" policies were refined and improved in attempt to bring down the cost but they were a necessary evil - you had to give a copy away in order to create the adoption and multiple copy sales. Apart from the marketing and sales reps costs, you had warehousing and distribution to add to the initial print and all associated development costs. So it all added up. It was part of the business model.
Earlier this week the company I work for held a joint forum with EBL on e-textbooks - librarians in one corner, publishers in the other. It was a really good discussion with around 100 participants but I'll keep my notes for that reserved for elsewhere. I only bring it up on my own blog because Wiley spoke about the inspection copy process being an expense but an essential part of the academic publisher's business model. They spoke about using ebooks as comp copies. Regardless of the platform being used, ebook comp copies are quick, efficient, cost effective (ultimately) and more importantly they deliver the content directly to the reader without a strain on the environment. Whether or not ebooks are greener than print I refer to a link from this blog from July 2009 and leave that discussion for those who are more "in the know" about these things than me.
As some of you who live and breathe ebooks will also know, Springer announced more than 10,000 books for review on their website. The online book review copy service is designed for journalists, editors and reviewers, who receive temporary reading access. Ten books are allowed for simultaneous review and access is for 6 months. Books that have not yet been published can be reserved and reviewers are notified by email when they are available. What I like about this is that the reviewers can then upload their published review and once it's date of appearance has been confirmed, they can order a print copy free.
So the ongoing costs of inspection copies for lecturers and review copies for the media is effectively handled by their ebook service. I love this model. It's quick, the content is fully available, and the print copy is still part of the equation. I wonder how much this service cost in terms of development and ongoing maintenance and what the ROI would be. Considering the number of gratis copies that publishers send out, I think this is a brilliant way of working the ebook technology to bring a better result to all involved. The financials would be fascinating to see, wouldn't you agree?