Examination Copy Policy
KIM MASELLI, NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY PRESS
According to the AAUP Annual University Press Statistics issued in February 1998, AAUP member presses report an average of 18.3% of their sales from college bookstores; this ranges from 12.2% for small presses to 22.1% for large presses. These percentages have not changed significantly over the last four years, and they indicate that the college text market segment has been, and will likely continue to be, a substantial portion of university press revenue.
Perhaps the most effective marketing strategy for university presses in pursuing the college text market is the distribution of examination copies. Examination copies are copies of books provided to college and university faculty for review for possible use in their classrooms. (This practice is variously referred to as text adoption, classroom adoption, or course adoption; we will refer to it as course adoption throughout this paper.) Course adoption of a given text is, of course, desirable; books adopted in courses are sold in quantities that may range from five to one hundred or more copies per course. Further, because instructors' courses tend to remain somewhat static over time, a course adoption may last for several years or more.
Providing examination copies, therefore, is a sound marketing strategy to entice faculty to use texts in their courses. There are, however, several very real costs that a press should take into account when setting or revising their examination copy policy.
Efforts to put books in front of faculty for the purpose of soliciting course adoptions usually consist of direct mail and display at conferences. Occasionally, if a book is inexpensive and the list of prospects is small, a press may send sample copies directly to professors who might adopt the text. Most university presses have uncomplicated, consistent examination copy policies, and generally provide paperback examination copies to faculty who request them. The particulars of these policies, however, vary greatly, and reflect a varied understanding and assessment of the costs involved in providing these examination copies.
Generally, three types of systems are used in the processing of examination copies. Some presses provide examination copies for free, with no expectation of remuneration for the book. Some presses charge a nominal fee (usually in the range of $5-$10), to cover shipping costs. Some presses issue an invoice with the examination copy, stating that the book is provided for a 60-day period, after which the recipient (a) may provide proof that they have adopted the text, and keep the book as a complimentary copy; or (b) may return the book with no obligation; or (c) may pay full price (or full price less a professional discount) for the book and keep it if the book is not adopted.
Two obvious costs are involved in providing examination copies. First, of course, is the unit cost of the book itself. This cost is usually accounted for in the "cost of free books" area of a press's income statement; some presses may charge this type of free book to their marketing departments in recognition of this being a direct cost of marketing. Other presses may simply account for the cost in the "cost of goods sold" portion of the income statement. It should be remembered, however, that every examination copy sent out for review does have costs over and above the unit cost of the book, which impact the press in one area or another.
The other obvious cost is the postage incurred in sending out the examination copy. Again, this expense may be charged directly to the marketing department, or it may appear in the overhead section of a press's income statement.
In the case where a press has issued an examination copy and there is a subsequent course adoption, the economics of the transaction are fairly obvious and beneficial. In the case where a press has provided a free examination copy and there is no subsequent course adoption, however, there is no offsetting revenue for these two costs. In the case where a press has provided an examination copy for only a nominal fee and there is no subsequent course adoption, the press may at least cover some or all of its shipping costs.
Presses that issue an invoice with the examination copy are faced with collecting the monies owed for the book when there is no subsequent course adoption. This may in some cases be a simple and straightforward collection problem. In other cases, however, collecting from the recipient may be difficult, and may result in significant expenditures of accounts receivable staff time, the writing off of bad debt, and/or ill will with the market you are attempting to court. These costs are neither easily quantifiable nor easily measurable; they are, however, very real costs of maintaining this aspect of a press's business. There is a significant opportunity cost involved in collecting these debts, as time spent collecting these debts is time that cannot be spent on collecting other debts.
There is no "correct" way for a press to structure its examination copy policy. Systems and procedures that are effective for a small press may not be effective for a large press, and vice versa. All presses, however, should think critically about their examination copy policies and should periodically reassess them. The following set of questions may prove useful in this reassessment:
(1) How much of your press's annual revenue comes from course adoptions each year? How many free copies can your press afford to distribute for a given level of text sales?
(2) How many examination copies are sent out each year? What is the average unit cost of these examination copies? Multiplying the two, what is the approximate cost of these books to the press?
(3) What is the dollar value of postage that can be assigned to mailing these examination copies?
(4) Can the cost of these books and the postage for mailing them be identified and tracked in a reasonable way? If so, is there a value to assigning these costs to the marketing department? It should be noted that charging the cost of the books and/or the shipping costs to the department responsible for setting examination copy policy may be a reasonable way of exerting some budgetary control over the process; it also bears remembering, however, that tracking these costs will take someone's time; this, too, has a cost. Can that person's time be better spent doing something else?
(5) If you are not now charging for your examination copies, and wish to begin charging, how will that change in policy be disseminated to the "consumer"? And will that change in policy be received favorably?
(6) If you are following the invoice method of billing for examination copies, how many of these invoices go to collection and/or are written off as bad debt? How much time does your accounts receivable staff spend collecting those debts? Given the hourly wage of your average accounts receivable person, are you covering your costs? Could your accounts receivable person be doing something more valuable with the time spent collecting on examination copy invoices?
(7) Are there alternatives to sending actual copies of books for examination purposes? For example, can tables of contents and sample chapters be placed on the press's web page? What is the cost of maintaining and updating this type of "service"? And is this a substitute for sending out examination copies, or is it an additional tool to be used in enticing faculty to request examination copies?
In order to accurately assess the impact of your examination copy policy on your marketing efforts and on your bottom line, it is necessary to assess the benefits of your course adoption marketing (measurable in dollar sales, and—far less quantifiable—in the intangible benefit of reputation effect) with the cost (the quantifiable costs of the books themselves and the postage for mailing them; the less quantifiable costs of staff time needed to monitor and administer all aspects of the policy, from shipping the books to collecting, if necessary, on invoices issued). By thinking critically of these aspects, each press should be able to arrive at a policy that works for it.