Advertising in Ebooks: An Inevitable Outcome

I made a passing comment on Twitter yesterday that led to some heated discussion. My comment was this:

Ebooks will soon carry links, photos, video, etc. They will also, in order to really monetize the medium, contain ads.

Which I followed with this tweet:

Your ebook will start in 60 seconds, after these messages from our sponsors. #wontbelong

Man, that triggered some visceral reactions from a lot of people. Particularly the advertising part. I think multimedia ebooks are inevitable too, but they’re already showing up in some guises. It’s a matter of ereaders catching up that stands between the standard ebook as it is now and the future ebook full of other media.

But when it comes to advertising in ebooks, I think it’s something that people need to accept. There are many reasons, not least the desire to monetize the ebook and keep “cover” prices down. I’m a big fan of ebooks, but I believe they need to be a lot cheaper than print books. I know all about the general production, formatting and so on, but the same applies to print books. The simple fact is that a person doesn’t get a physical object and the price needs to reflect that. Also, with ebook retailers, the margins are much wider. I make a bigger royalty on a Kindle version of RealmShift, for example, than I do on a print version, even though the Kindle edition is $2.99 and the print edition $9.99. But it’s obviously in everyones interests for publishers to make a healthy profit as well as authors. The more money a publisher has, the more authors they can take on and the more books they can produce. The more authors and books a publisher has on board, the more choice and variety the reading public have. It’s a win for everyone. But how to make it happen?

Kindle ad Advertising in ebooks   an inevitable outcomeIt’s a simple fact that we live in a capitalist society. If anything is going to work, someone needs to be making money. Ideally, everyone is making money except the people buying the product, and those people are happy with what they get for their outlay. In that environment, other than producing a quality product, a lot of profit comes from advertising. And is it really so bad to have ads in ebooks?

A lot of people on Twitter yesterday complained about ads interrupting the reading experience. I agree that if ads suddenly popped up when you turned a page, that would piss me off no end. But that’s not how it has to work. When you buy a DVD, you put it in and you get some ads and trailers before the film starts and maybe some afterwards as well. The movie experience itself is solid and uninterrupted. I see this as the way forward with ebooks. Hopefully consumer demand will force that to happen. If publishers start putting ads in the middle of books, customers should rightly voice their rage and refuse to buy from the publisher any more. But if you have to flick through a few pages of ads before the start of chapter one, it’s a slightly annoying but overall not very debilitating chore. Especially if the presence of those few pages of ads means the ebook is a reasonable price and the author and publisher are making money. Obviously, with the presence of ads, it’s the publisher that stands to make the most, but don’t forget my point above about publishers with good profit margins taking on more authors and giving readers more books.

I even see a time when an ebook might open with visual or video ads that you have to endure before the book itself starts that aren’t just the publisher promoting their other books, but third party advertisers buying space. Imagine an ebook of something by John Grisham, Dan Brown or J K Rowling. These are people that sell a lot of books. If their publisher sold advertising space in the opening pages of their books, that space could be sold at a premium. The publisher could stand to make a lot of money. Hopefully we’d see some of that money given back to authors in higher advances and royalties as well as being invested in future projects. I realise this is something of a utopian view and perhaps rather naive, but we can all dream. If the money is there, we can all lobby to see at least some of it spent right.

With most ereaders now utilising wifi and 3G technology, we could even see a situation where a different set of ads pop up every time you open a book. Ideally you’d only ever see ads at the start of the book, but if the advertising code used the wireless networks you might decide to reread a book a year later and see entirely new ads at the start. We’re already seeing video games where the billboards are updated with current advertising in-game. It’s no great stretch to see that happen with ebooks, thereby making that advertising space more profitable. Someone on Twitter (@NomentionofKev) even mentioned that the ereaders themselves might carry the ads, not the books. That risks a situation where every time you turn on the reader, you see an ad. For me, that’s going too far and I’d avoid that kind of reader. But it’s quite possible that we’ll see that situation before long.

Someone else (@Cacotopos) said that they have a demand list for ebooks – 1) no DRM 2) .ePub 3) no intertextual ads. And they noted that price wasn’t even on their list yet. I tend to agree with their list, but I would definitely add 4) Never more than $5 RRP.

Advertising annoys all of us, but it’s a necessary evil in a capitalist society. Sure, it would be great to have an ebook with no advertising, but isn’t it better to suffer a bit of advertising and have more choice of books, more new authors given a chance to get their work out to wide audiences and cheaper ebook purchase prices? I’m convinced that ads in ebooks are inevitable. It’s down to us to think about that and start voicing our opinions now so that we can hopefully help to shape the way that advertising is approached from the outset.

What are you thoughts on the matter?


This is a cross-posting from Alan Baxter‘s The Word.

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