Monday, June 17, 2013

Are eBooks An Advert Free Zone?

Yahoo has filed two US patent applications which are based on delivering adverts to ebooks and even offering a variable price that is dependent on the advert placement. Some will cry, ‘not on my watch and it will never happen,’ but perhaps we need to at least consider the implications further before we dismiss it.
If we step back to the Victorian and Edwardian times, the book was often full of adverts for goods which had no connection to the genre or story. The Pamphleteers of the Victorian age also included many adverts in the ‘Penny Dreadful’ and periodicals. Dicken’s own Pickwick Papers included many adverts that told their own story about the culture, products and trades of the day.
Today the only adverts we see in books are those for other titles by the same other, publisher, or in the series. But as the digital book market approaches respectable figures, will that now change, or will tomorrow’s eBooks always remain advert free? Is the Yahoo move an indication of things to come, or merely a patent filing for the shelf and just in case?
Google first gave us Ad Words and Search Engine Optimisation and we appeared suddenly to discover the holy grail. Companies placed their bets and got suckered into a spiral of marketing investment, which may have given a return when you were top of the list, but you had to pay ‘blind man’s buff’ to get there. Technology has long been able to crunch information and drive targeted marketing from the results. Major retailers and especially supermarkets have become experts at analysing not only what we did buy, but also what we didn’t buy that we should have and even what aisles we didn’t buy from. Some thirty years ago US supermarket Vons were one of the leaders in the coupon driven market of the time.
Technology enables us now to be able to target advertising to; recent purchases or items viewed, demographic groups and profiles, searches, key words within text, even changes within our local weather or breaking local news. The key change is that the analysis and results can be now be generated almost instantly and the same advertisement offer can be dynamically tailored to fit the individual.   
The questions we have to ask are about who owns the customer relationship, the advertising contract, revenues and the information? Amazon and Kobo already offer full-screen adverts when the device is switched off and smaller ones on their menu screens. So who drives the advertising dollar? Would the advertising be driven by the retailer, the publisher, or a technology or service provider?
If advertising were seriously introduced into books, it would potentially work with ebooks, but pbooks would remain largely as they are today. So how would, adverts in ebooks be sold to the reader? Would the revenues generated reduce the cost of the ebook as suggested by Yahoo, or will they cross subsidise the tile irrespective of form? Would the revenues count into the royalties net revenues, or be lost outside of the ‘sales’?
We should also recognise moral rights but who would be able to exert them and would they be universally recognised?
In offering that the advertising will pay more and the reader given a greater discount based on how distracting, or intrusive their adverts are to the reader, Yahoo raise an interesting concept. They also suggest that readers could be offered adverts as hyperlinks within the book's text, in-laid text or even "dynamic content" such as video. They suggest the sponsored book, which could be brought to you by Company X and in that we must remember the industry’s acceptance of the MacDonald deal with WHS that we wrote about a few months ago. They also touch on the sensitive aspect of offering sponsored rewards our gifts in children's books.
Books have been a relatively advertising free zone for many decades, but is this has been more driven by the restrictions and economics of the pbook. In the past it was only possible to economically provide mass market driven adverts, but is that now changing with the ebook and internet? We expect to see adverts in papers, magazines and on web pages, so is it acceptable to see them closely aligned to books? With magazines and newsprint the advertiser can reference circulation listings and know roughly who the audience is and how big it is. With TV and film again the audience is well defined but with books some would suggest we enter the world of the unknown.

So do we expect to see ebook adverts soon?


Michelle Louring said...

I think adverts in books are an interesting idea, and I'm sure it won't be long before someone attempts it on a larger scale.
The question is how readers will react.

The Rodent said...
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