The Adman Cometh

It’s no surprise…that ads have come to the Kindle. The good news — relatively speaking — is that you can save a few bucks by purchasing an ad-enabled machine:

Although the hardware is identical to the standard $139 Kindle, the new Kindle with “Special Offers” will feature advertisements and deals as its screen saver and on the bottom of its home screen. But for that added distraction, the company will take $25 off the price—dropping it to $114.

If ads on the Kindle are inevitable — and they are, as are ads on every imaginable surface and device — I think this is a smart way to introduce them. Rather than inject ads into every Kindle, thereby infuriating all those nice people who helped make the Kindle a success, Amazon is giving the customer a choice and motivating that choice with savings.

As a result of this innovation I assume the people who buy and sell things in the publishing world (agents, editors, publishers, advertisers) are having yet another breathless conversation about what this means, where it might lead, and whether or not ads might be injected directly into the content of books as a means of making lots of money. So far Amazon seems to be holding the line:

The screen saver and home screen bar are the only places customers will see ads and offers, according to Russ Grandinetti, vice president of Kindle content. “We are not interested in doing anything that interrupts the reading experience,” he said.

If Amazon was facing more competition or in need of revenue I’m confident the reader’s experience would be the first thing on the auction block. Then again, it’s not like these things haven’t happened before, and some have actually failed. While advertisers would be happy to have ads on every page of a book — and would still complain bitterly about that limitation — consumers have shown that there is a limit to what they will tolerate.

On a related note, for a while now I’ve been seeing an odd announcement when I use my Gmail account: “Coming soon: Better ads in Gmail.” Now, I don’t know about you, but not only am I not interested in better ads in Gmail, I’m pretty sure Google’s idea of ‘better’ and my idea of ‘better’ are wildly divergent if not mutually exclusive.

So how is Google making my Gmail ads better? By mining my personal data, of course:

Google says that the system uses signals similar to those utilized by Priority Inbox, the automated system launched last August that attempts to highlight which of your incoming email is most important. These signals include things like who sent the message, whether or not you read it, and keywords that appear in the message.

(What I like most about this opt-out change is that Google has introduced the abstracted word ‘signals’ to replace the easily recognized term ‘personal information’.)

Why is Google improving its Terminator-like ability to target specific ads at specific keywords and the people who use them? Well, it might be because Google is facing increasing pressure on the search front:

Bing is expanding its reach as a search engine, according to new data from Experian Hitwise. In March, Bing powered nearly a third (30.01 percent) of U.S. searches.

The amount of Bing-powered searches has been steadily increasing. In February, they accounted for 28.48 percent of traffic, meaning the March figures are a 5 percent increase.

I don’t know anyone who clicks on Google ads. I don’t know anyone except SEO consultants who talks about AdSense anymore. If Google’s dominance in search erodes it’s going to have to make up that revenue somewhere, and since its main business is advertising it’s a given that Google is going to be bringing more ads to more surfaces and devices in the future. Like the Kindle.


This is a reprint from Mark Barrett‘s Ditchwalk.

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