Why Tablets Will Lead to Ad-Supported Books

The tablet revolution, by making it possible to place advertisements within digital e-books, is about to change the publishing world forever. Imagine commuting to work while reading The Great Gatsby on your Kindle for free, thanks to the generous sponsorship of a financial services company like Chase. Or, imagine being curled up in your pajamas reading Doctor Zhivago at night, while tiny contextual ads for 1-800-Flowers pop up on your Kindle anytime there's a romantic scene between Yuri and Lara. Dedicated fans of physical books have already watched on in horror as Kindle sales began to outpace paperback sales on Amazon. Get ready for the next big shock: companies like Amazon will forever change how we think about books by using advertisements to pull down the costs of e-books. 

Think of it this way -- we've already cleared one hurdle on that path, and that's getting people used to the idea of the ad-supported e-reader (first Amazon's Kindle with its "Special Offers," then Kobo). Moreover, publishers and booksellers are quickly warming to the idea of new business models such as "freemium," mostly because they have no other choice if they want to stay in business. America, unfortunately, is no longer a nation of local independent booksellers -- your basic choice these days if you want to buy a book is to hope there's a Barnes & Noble nearby or just do what everyone else does, and that's download books from Amazon for the lowest price you'll find anywhere.

The next step is to go beyond just ad-supported e-readers, and that's to put the ads right smack inside of the e-books themselves. If recent polls of readers are any indication, then we’ve reached the point where a growing number of readers are actually ready to buy an ad-supported book. And the big tech companies like Google are certainly on board because they realize the same technology that can be used to target readers as they move from website to website across the Web can also be used to target readers as they move from page to page within a book.

And it's not totally without precedent - for the past decade, there have been on-again, off-again attempts to introduce ads into e-books. In fact, ads have appeared in massmarket paperbacks since the 1950's. What confuses people half-a-century later is the notion that there's something supposedly "sacred" about a book that even marketers and advertisers understand . But that was never really the case -- the only reason that marketers and advertisers steered clear of ads in books is that physical books were actually terribly poor vehicles for advertisements. Think about it -- if you're a big retailer and you have a promotion going on, you want to reach people right now not in two weeks, not in two months or two years from now. With physical books, you never really knew when a person would see an ad. However, that's precisely the promise of today's digital technology - getting the right ad to the right person at the right time.

And for people who say that advertising-supported e-books are going to pull down the whole craft of writing, have you ever actually analyzed how much cash writers are getting paid for the paperback and hardbound books they're writing today? Suffice it to say that writing is not a lucrative career. One could actually argue the converse --- that the writers of today have no real motivation to write the next Great American Novel because there's no money to be made. Right now, they're better off writing marketing jingles and advertising copy than they are living an ascetic lifestyle and commiserating with the characters in Rent.

Who knows? Once we pull advertisers and marketers into the book business, it could lead to entirely new ways to think about the book and entirely new forms of storytelling. In short, a flood of cash from in-book advertising could lead to new types of innovation. As WIRED pointed out this summer, one hopeful area of development is something like Russell Quinn's The Silent History -- an innovative book concept that's actually more along the lines of transmedia entertainment with a wealth of interactive features that help to draw in readers. 

It’s exactly those types of innovative features that could become the back door for advertisers to get inside your book. Don't worry -- in the same way that you’re willing to endure 30-second spots for household cleaners, beer, chips and cars in order to get free TV at night, you will be ready to endure 30-character ads on your Kindle or iPad if it means that you get free books at night.

image: Businessman hands use tablet / Shutterstock

Related Articles

Scientists discover what caused the worst mass extinction ever

How a cataclysm worse than what killed the dinosaurs destroyed 90 percent of all life on Earth.

Credit: Ron Miller
Surprising Science

While the demise of the dinosaurs gets more attention as far as mass extinctions go, an even more disastrous event called "the Great Dying” or the “End-Permian Extinction” happened on Earth prior to that. Now scientists discovered how this cataclysm, which took place about 250 million years ago, managed to kill off more than 90 percent of all life on the planet.

Keep reading Show less

Why we're so self-critical of ourselves after meeting someone new

A new study discovers the “liking gap” — the difference between how we view others we’re meeting for the first time, and the way we think they’re seeing us.

New acquaintances probably like you more than you think. (Photo by Simone Joyner/Getty Images)
Surprising Science

We tend to be defensive socially. When we meet new people, we’re often concerned with how we’re coming off. Our anxiety causes us to be so concerned with the impression we’re creating that we fail to notice that the same is true of the other person as well. A new study led by Erica J. Boothby, published on September 5 in Psychological Science, reveals how people tend to like us more in first encounters than we’d ever suspect.

Keep reading Show less

NASA launches ICESat-2 into orbit to track ice changes in Antarctica and Greenland

Using advanced laser technology, scientists at NASA will track global changes in ice with greater accuracy.

Firing three pairs of laser beams 10,000 times per second, the ICESat-2 satellite will measure how long it takes for faint reflections to bounce back from ground and sea ice, allowing scientists to measure the thickness, elevation and extent of global ice

Leaving from Vandenberg Air Force base in California this coming Saturday, at 8:46 a.m. ET, the Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite-2 — or, the "ICESat-2" — is perched atop a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket, and when it assumes its orbit, it will study ice layers at Earth's poles, using its only payload, the Advance Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS).

Keep reading Show less