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?