There's nothing more exciting to a book reviewer than to receive an Advance Review Copy of a good-looking book sent to them. However, in the dark ages, when the world was still backward and primitive, the only way a reviewer could be guaranteed a fairly regular flow of new titles was to either be a member of an invitation ARC program like Amazon Vine, or sign up individually to dozens of publisher websites and/or jump through "giveaway" hoops that took more time and effort than most reviewers had to give. After all, we didn't want to spend time playing "book lottery" - we wanted to be reading and reviewing books.
When e-readers came along, it was almost inevitable that e-ARCs would follow, but I can imagine it was a hard sell to both publishers and reviewers: publishers wouldn't relish being denied the fun and expense of having to print off a complete run of paperback ARCs that almost certainly would end up gathering dust in a warehouse waiting for their "giveaway" day, and reviewers wouldn't be able to be buried under a mountain of paperback ARCs that they could then later lug to the rubbish heap because "regular" readers don't want to read ARCs, riddled as they are with two or maybe three errors that usually aren't caught prior to publish anyway.
Kidding aside, I'm sure the e-ARC idea was a hard sell, because publishers and authors have traditionally feared copy piracy, and reviewers have traditionally been resistant to "time bomb" ARCs that are only theirs for a general time period, which is why I'm really impressed that NetGalley has managed to put together such an impressive list of participating publishers and such a easy to use website for reviewers to work with.
What is NetGalley?
NetGalley.com is a website that provides electronic Advance Review Copies of books to interested reviewers in the easiest manner possible. NetGalley serves as a hub between publishers and reviewers: reviewers can register a single profile on NetGalley and then browse the e-ARCs on offer from dozens of publishers affiliated with NetGalley.
How do I join NetGalley?
The fastest way is to fill out the registration form on their site. It's also worthwhile to read their f.a.q. before signing up as well as their publisher approval preferences page - after I read the approval preferences page and made a few corresponding tweaks to my profile, I went from a 70% approval rate to nearly 100% (more on that below).
How does NetGalley work?
Once a reviewer signs up for NetGalley, they can then immediately browse all the titles that NetGalley has on offer. Users can browse by recent additions, by associated publisher, by genre, or can search for specific titles. At any given time, there are almost a thousand NetGalley titles available - new ones are added almost daily, and older ones are removed as they become published.
When a reviewer sees a title that they would like to receive, they simply click a "request" button attached to the book's profile, and a request is sent to the publisher. The publisher will perform a cursory check of the reviewer's NetGalley profile and will approve/reject the e-ARC request - usually within 24 hours of the request. The simplest and easiest way to a high approval percentage is to provide as much contact information and "internet presence" as you can - email, twitter account, personal blog, the works. You really don't need to be "kind of a big deal" online (I'm certainly not!) - the publishers just like to check to see if you're active.
Want an easy way to be active online? Post your ARC reviews on GoodReads.com and then use the GoodReads Facebook/Twitter/Blog integration tools to flow your reviews automatically to your other accounts. Instant blog activity and all you had to do was press a button!
Once you're approved to view an ARC on NetGalley, you'll be able to access the title in a multitude of ways. Some titles can be downloaded as unprotected epubs and pdfs; others are only provided as DRM-protected ascm links that can be downloaded to Adobe Digital Editions and pushed to your phone or e-reader from there. Most of the titles have a Kindle delivery option as well, although I haven't tried it. All of the titles can be viewed directly in the NetGalley computer reader, so if you don't have an e-reader, or a smart phone, or a reader app installed on your computer, there's still no reason for you to miss out on awesome e-ARCs.
The ARCs that are provided through NetGalley come with a self-destruct time limit - usually 60 days. After that, the ARC can't be read anymore in Adobe Digital Editions, but a quick email to NetGalley support will reset the clock if you haven't finished reading in time for your review.
Don't think you'd like reading an ARC on a computer? Well, how do you feel about cookbook ARCs and graphic novels? Really, there's something for everyone on NetGalley.
What am I agreeing to, as a NetGalley member?
Surprisingly little, actually. NetGalley seems to fundamentally believe that reviewers are responsible adults, and I respect them for it. As a reviewer you agree to not illegally distribute the e-ARCs you receive, but other than that, there aren't a lot of rules in play. If you review a NetGalley work, they would very much like a copy of the review and a link to where the review went up, but they don't care where the review is hosted, so it's pretty much impossible for your NetGalley membership to impede any exclusive review commitments you might have formed with specific review sites.
Furthermore, there's no "review rate" gate with NetGalley. Unlike with some ARC providers, like Amazon Vine, you don't have to review 75% or more of your ARCs in order to receive more - you can review as many or as few of your NetGalley ARCs as you like. By my math, I myself have something like a 20% review rate on NetGalley, and it doesn't keep me from requesting and receiving new titles daily.
What's so impressive about this willingness to treat reviewers as adults is that it benefits publishers and reviewers so well: reviewers aren't forced to struggle through books they wish they hadn't requested just to get their review rate up to "acceptable" levels, and publishers don't get an avalanche of "oh, boy, I wish I hadn't requested this" lackluster reviews. I'm the first person to advocate 1-star reviews when a book deserves it, but sometimes a book just doesn't grab me one way or the other after the first chapter and I don't want to have to read about something that doesn't interest me all the way to the end just because I got a little "click happy" looking through ARC titles.
What are the disadvantages of NetGalley?
Probably the biggest disadvantage to NetGalley is the "time bomb" built into the Adobe-DRM books. The unprotected epub and pdf versions of the ARCs do not have the 60 days expiration date, but there's not an easy way to tell prior to requesting a title if it comes in an unprotected format or not. Of course, if you're a fast reader (or don't mind writing NetGalley and asking them to reset your timer), then the 60 day time limit won't hinder you getting a review out, but it obviously does differ from traditional paper ARCs in that you can't keep your copy to read over and over again, if you so chose.
For me, this is an acceptable sacrifice because I've gotten to the point where I rarely keep my paper ARCs - in general, I either buy them in electronic format if I really want to read them again or (more frequently) fret over how to recycle them properly. In a house with six full floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and a "To-Read" list of over 700 titles, I just don't want to keep paper ARCs. But I definitely realize this is a personal choice that may be a legitimate hurdle to many reviewers. I genuinely believe that more publishers will move towards unprotected formats in the future, for many good reasons.
Is NetGalley worth it?
If you like to receive ARCs and enjoy e-reading, then absolutely! There's no cost to join, there's no obligation to review, and there's no reason not to check out the site. Even if the 60 time limit puts you off, there's still plenty of titles (I'd guesstimate about 1/4 of the titles) that are DRM-free and can stay in your Calibre (or other epub/pdf library organizer of your choice) forever for your reading pleasure.
Why do you stay with NetGalley?
Obviously I'm a big NetGalley cheerleader, but they're not the only ARC distribution center I'm associated with. I appreciate them the most, though, because they seem to be the most mature and respectable ARC distribution center out there. There's no "giveaway" gimmicks, and no feeling of competition between the publishers or the reviewers - I like that the whole goal of the site seems to be to foster good feelings and professional respect between everyone.
I appreciate how NetGalley remembers that publishers are only half of the ARC equation and accordingly treats their reviewers as equals - emails are always answered promptly and politely, announcements are helpful instead of spam or advertisements, and they prove their dedication to innovation with constant improvements and additions to the list of devices they support. Furthermore, the lack of "review rate" gates really impresses me with their willingness to treat reviewers as mature adults trying to manage their limited time wisely rather than as greedy little children who can't be trusted with more candy until they finish their dinner.
NetGalley has really taken all the "rules" about traditional ARC distribution and have completely reworked them into something I respect and cherish and I support them in that.