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Ads in eBooks Are a Good Thing. Deal with It.

Kindle Ads Amazon is introducing an advertising component to the Kindle platform.  I love it.  Kudos to Jeff Bezos & Co. for their forward thinking on this initiative.  I'm talking about the less expensive ($114) device currently known as "Kindle with Special Offers & Sponsored Screensavers."  (It's not the sexiest name but it certainly describes the product!  Still, I wonder what Apple would have named this...)

I've blogged before about how advertising and its close cousin, sponsorship, will take on a larger role in the ebook world and most people have criticized that logic.  They say "books aren't magazines", "the book reading experience needs to remain free of ads", blah, blah, blah.

Why?  What makes books so special?  More importantly, who's to say there can't be two flavors of a book?: One without ads (higher-priced, for purists) and one with ads (lower-priced, for everyone else)?

Before I get too far ahead of myself, I need to point out that what Amazon introduced with this new Kindle isn't what I'm describing.  They're not talking about including ads in books.  Yet.  At this point, all this new device offers is a slighly lower price ($25 less), periodic offers from Amazon (e.g., a discount on an Amazon Gift Card) and "sponsored" screensavers.

Wait a minute.  I recently bought a $139 Kindle without Special Offers & Sponsored Screensavers and now I feel gypped.  So I paid $25 more and I won't get any of these nice discounts Amazon plans to offer owners of the new Kindle?  That stinks.  I wonder if they'd let me opt in after the fact.  Seriously, this makes no sense.  They should let all Kindle owners opt into this program, not just the ones that paid less than the rest of us.

I know prices are always subject to change but I really wish Amazon would have initially priced this new device at $99 or less.  As soon as the Kindle gets below $100 they'll have a mass market hit on their hands.  I can't believe I'm saying that, particularly since I gave up on the Kindle a year ago.  Amazon has done some smart things since then though and this is just one example.

Don't think this new Kindle is the furthest Amazon plans to go with ebook advertising though.  They're playing it smart by taking one small step at a time.  There's no point rushing into this, but one day ads will be presented as splash screens when you open an ebook and even somewhere on the screen as you read.  It's OK.  The world isn't going to stop spinning on its axis when this happens.  We'll all be fine.  In fact, this model will put more content in front of more people than could have been reached without advertising.  That's a good thing.  And if you want to pay more to avoid ads I'm sure that option will exist (just like it does today, where you can pay $25 more for a "regular" Kindle.)

Here's where it all gets very intriguing: Will Amazon (and other retailers) compensate authors and publishers for this advertising/sponsorship income?  I'm not convinced they have to, but think about the revenue-sharing models this could present.  Amazon could ask for additional discount points from a publisher and offer that publisher a cut of the advertising/sponsorship income.  Interesting.


Paul Foth

There are aesthetic considerations, too, aren't there? Would putting ads in an eBook be analogous to putting a logo on a painting, or having an orchestra play a jingle at the end of a piece of music? I imagine it would depend on the degree to which a given book is considered a piece of art, but who makes that call?

Joe Wikert

That's absolutely true, Paul. But let's also remember it will be in Amazon's best interest to maintain a great user experience. If they go too far there won't be many/any paying customers, no matter how low the price (even free). Then again, 10 years ago I don't think many people would have said they'd use a free email service loaded with ads and yet that's exactly what Gmail has become.

Tom Ortega

Joe, when's the last time you went to the movies? I'm trying to remember the IMAX movie friends and I saw in Indy (after the conference where you and I met), but only remember the movie, plus I think my friends and I were late. Here in Arizona though, I'm coming to *despise* movie theaters AND movie companies because I don't know who to blame. However, all I know is that I'm sick of tired of paying money (good money!) to go to a movie theater to see a movie and instead, get forced to watch commercials before the movie begins. I'm not talking about the silly stuff they play when the lights are on. Heck, I'm not even talking about the previews for upcoming flicks. I'm talking about the full on commercials they play after it goes dark and you think the movie is starting.

I too saw the special Kindle announcement and wasn't as jazzed as you, sadly. Ads are not the savior of the business world. Tivo has proved it on TV, iPods have proved it for radio, and eReaders have proved it for print. People don't really like ads. Ads are not preferred when a consumer is consuming, but rather only when they're engaging. Let's take your example above: Google. They make a butt load of cash on search/gmail ads because people are actively doing something. Therefore, since they're engaging, they are in the mindset for ads. When people are consuming though, the last thing they want is a friggin' ad. Yeah, some may say, "I don't mind them." but no one will say, "Oh yeah, I love 'em."

I'm with you and John Wilker on the price point though. If it was $50 or free, then maybe I could see the point for this. However, look at NetZero. Eventually, the price comes down so low that the ad-supported discount model becomes moot.

I was talking to John the other day about his latest endeavor into ePublishing. I said one thing to him, "Don't make it ad supported." I can't stand gizmodo, engadget, tech crunch, etc because of the barrage of ads. Heck, Apple built a special tool into Safari to pull the actual content so the viewer can read the article in peace. Please, please, don't make us have to build a similar feature into eReaders.

Let's hope publishers and eBook reader makers don't cop out and try to fully embrace the ads model. Instead, make a better business case and make money that way.

Joe Wikert

Tom, I guess I'm more laid back about the theater experience than most people. I don't go to the movies that often but I don't have a problem with the ads. I also figure if they don't show ads the ticket prices will be even higher. I'd rather pay a bit less for the ticket and watch the ads.

Relevance is a key factor here though. The more relevant an ad is for me the less I'm bothered by it. There's no easy way to have high relevance across an entire movie audience but Google has proven it can be done at the content level with Gmail. I don't look very often at the ads next to my Gmail message but every so often I think, "yep, they're looking over my shoulder and *that* one actually looks kind of interesting...let me click over to it." If it can be done in email I'm sure relevant ads can be placed in ebooks.

Francis Hamit

My question is whether or not I get a piece of the action if they put those ads on my books? I've come around to to Amazon Kindle because of the 70% cut of the gross in the USA and the UK, and, starting this week, Germany, although I wonder if that latter one is going to hurt my foreign language rights sales since most Germans speak and read English as well. The cut drops to 35% in the 100 other nations where Kindle files are sold now. That's still enough to motivate me to pay for professional formatting and cover art and to switch my publishing schedules so that the Kindle comes first (and Nook second since I get a epub file anyway from my contractor) and to use POD for the print segment from now on.

If people are willing to put up with ads to get a cheaper reader, I have no objection even if I don't want that myself. (I'm a dinosaur that prefers to read books that are actually books; you remember, printed on paper, with a binding?) However, if Amazon is developing another revenue stream here off of my copyrighted material, they are obligated to share the bounty or to let me opt out.

Nothing personal, Amazon; just business. Show me the money.

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