Ads in eBooks

The Wall Street Journal just did an article on companies exploring the possibilities of adding ads to eBooks.

I’m a bit torn on how I feel about this.

On the one hand, I see a great deal of potential here for being able to keep eBook prices as low as possible, even without print revenue to sustain the industry. Right now, eBook prices can be low because most publishers make their money from print; independent houses and digital-only imprints like Candlemark & Gleam have to charge a bit more in order to make back the money spent on actually producing the book, because we don’t have the massive print arm to pay for these costs, but for the most part, eBooks are a pleasant money-maker riding on the coattails of print. If/when print declines, eBook prices will necessarily have to rise to compensate for that lack of revenue – but if readers have gotten accustomed to $2.99 eBooks, well, that’s gonna be tough to pull off.

What’s a possible answer? Ads.

Personally, I wouldn’t be bothered by an ad at the beginning and end of an eBook, or even a few ads tucked in at chapter breaks. So long as these can be paged past, I’m okay with it…but only so long as the ads subsidize my reading habit. If I could get a sponsored eReader, where agreeing to cope with, say, four ads per book bought me my hardware and got me books, I’d be a happy little camper. Heck, I’d even do it for EITHER the hardware or the reading material. But no one seems to have come out with that yet – the WSJ article hints, though it does not state, that a lot of these ad-sponsored books are still paid downloads.

Now, see, if I could figure out how to do an ad-supported eBook model here at C&G, and actually make it pay off for both advertisers and readers, I’d do it. Offer ad-free books for one price, and free ad-supported books for those who don’t want to pay up. We get paid, the author gets paid, and all is well.

However, I can see some trouble with this, too. Once you let an ad company get its grubby little hands on your product, they want more and more. We’ve all seen takeover ads, banner ads, and all manner of incredibly annoying, intrusive incursions into our internet experience. Want that in your reading? Hell no.

And you know it will happen. I’m personally impressed with the USA Network show Psych for figuring out how to get sponsor dollars in the era of DVR commercial-skipping and Hulu-watching: They put product placements inside the show. They started out doing it very tongue-in-cheek, playing up the fact that they were obviously being paid to use certain computers, certain search engines, and eat certain pretzels. And then they jumped the shark, referring to “Snyder’s of Hanover” 18 times in one scene. I like the damn pretzels, and now I never want to eat them again just on principle. Ad placement gone awry.

So yes, I can see this backfiring horribly, with Mad Men everywhere demanding that Gamela offer Shabane a Coke, or that Erlen only write with Parker pens. Heaven help us if they get creative with their demands.

Yet at the same time, I can’t help ponder the possibilities of ad-supported free reads…

What are your thoughts?

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  • http://groovesinorbit.dreamwidth.org/ Patti

    While I can see the appeal, I’d rather pay the money for the book. Ads could definitely take on a life of their own and become more intrusive and possibly dangerous (spyware is a possibility, I’m sure.). Darned camel’s nose under the tent …

  • Jason

    Beyond the intrusiveness factor, there’s also the question of who your “customer” is when you’re ad-subsidized. If sponsors are paying 75% of the bill, they have leverage on your content, obviously. If you’ve got enough pull to have a wide stable of advertisers, you might be able to subsidize that gay werewolf bildungsroman… but you have to justify the decision to publish a lot more strongly to a lot more people. You’re no longer just accountable to the readers, to your consumers… you have another “customer” whose interests may be antithetical to the readers’.

  • Dravenames

    There are so many things that could revolutionize ebooks. When I read this, my wife and I were laughing. We had just discussed this a few weeks before. There are about 10 things, off the top of my head, that could squeeze a whole lot of money out of the ebook community and attract kids to reading them Sometimes I wish I could pitch ideas to an ebook company like the nook. I wrote them, but I didn’t give details because who wants to give things away. Eventually it will all happen, I’m sure. I wouldn’t want ad’s in my books, but that is me. I think people wouldn’t mind. You can always set a book down.

  • http://www.candlemarkandgleam.com Candlemark & Gleam

    I think the key here would be to offer both ad-supported free versions, and paid versions that have no ads. CHOICE is the key to making sure it doesn’t become too overwhelming…

  • http://www.candlemarkandgleam.com Candlemark & Gleam

    Thing is, most publishing companies are ALREADY beholden to a lot more than just the readers. I’ve heard tales from the Big Six wherein the marketing department gets the final say in what gets published, and many books are rejected because they don’t have enough commercial potential, or can’t have as many tie-ins

    Of course, that’s half the reason C&G exists – to avoid that. So throwing sponsors into the mix gets dicey from the get-go. And, as I said, ad placement can get carried away.

    At the same time, it’s an interesting option to be able to subsidize books, and one I may look into in the future. As long as there’s a CHOICE between the ad-supported version and a paid, ad-free version, that is…

  • http://www.candlemarkandgleam.com Candlemark & Gleam

    Choice, I believe, is one of the keys here. You should be able to choose the level of tech and ad-supported-ness and whatnot in your book. There will always be those of us who prefer to read in paper form, with no bells and whistles – but having the ad-supported option to get free books is also appealing, on some level.

    Ditto having “enhanced” eBooks. Could be appealing to youths, but then, we also want them to read, to IMAGINE, instead of being entertained-to all the time…

  • Jason

    Well, certainly, in the Big Publishing House, you’re already playing on the level of marketing success, and for a lot of commercial printing, the ad model might even work. I’m surprised you aren’t already seeing ad-subsidized romance novel ebooks, actually. Fairly solid investment, high turnover.

    But even then, the main concern among publishing houses is still “will readers buy?” as opposed to “Will non-readers boycott sponsors?” Right now, if you think Harry Potter is teaching our children to worship Satan, the worst thing you can do is not buy it. If you hold a public demonstration against it, all you’re doing is providing free press.

    Once you’re subsidizing your books with ads from major corporations, though, there’s an even more complex dynamic. Will associating the company to a book reach more people than it alienates, etc etc…