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A "Newbie" Ponders the Future of Publishing

Books2In this post by JA Konrath he thinks out loud about the future of book publishing.  One of his more interesting ideas is the notion of leveraging more of an advertising or sponsored revenue model.  In my keynote at ASIDIC I too talked a bit about how publishers need to consider this option.

When this subject comes up, a lot of people scream about the "editorial integrity" of a book vs. a magazine or the "need to avoid cluttering the book page with ads."  Isn't it funny how we're repulsed by the thought of an ad in a book but don't give it a second thought in a magazine or newspaper?  Why?  Because that's the way it's always been.  But what if the very first books to come off a printing press would have included ads?  And what if every book published since then would have included ads?  I'll bet we wouldn't give it another thought today.

Other objections to this have centered around the argument that big-name advertisers might be interested in appearing in a Stephen King novel but not one by some no-name author/publisher.  Maybe, but doesn't it all simply come down to the number of impressions?  Using the simple cpm model that's been around forever, yes, the Stephen King product would generate more impressions than the no-name work.  It might require a thousand (or more!) no-name projects to come close to the number of impressions that the King novel generates.  So that simply means the book that sells a million copies gets a thousand times the advertising income of a book that only sells a thousand copies; it still helps contribute to the income stream for the thousand-copy seller!

I definitely think advertising can and will play a more significant role in the book publishing world of the future.  In some cases it may even go so far as Konrath suggests, where content is hosted and managed by advertisers, meaning they control the distribution.


Michael A. Banks

I’m all for advertising in books--it can help keep prices down, and more. Just no back-cover ads, please.

We did this with my modem and portable communications books back in the 1980s and early 1990s (as did some other publishers). Each book had ads from CompuServe, The Source, U.S. Robotics, Procomm, Hayes, AOL, etc. This was not so much for ad revenue as for co-promotional opportunities to help sell books. Each advertiser did some promo for the book (online, or stuffing inserts with product) in exchange for the ads. Discounts offered by the advertisers gave the gave the books a value-added element.

The ads were in a section at the back of the book (except for the occasional ad inside the front cover). This maintained the editorial integrity of the books just fine, I think. I thikn most readers would find ads in among a book's pages disruptive (as with ads in E-books ... see below), but that's probably where advertisers will want to be.

In a related vein, there have been experiments with add-supported E-books. McGraw-Hill tried this with textbooks in 2005, offering a discount on books with ads. A company called WOWIO offers an interesting range of E-books free for download. Their offerings include the usual classics that all E-book distributors offer, plus more recent works. Examples: The Engines of Creation, by K. Eric Drexler, plus novels by Arthur C. Clarke, Kurt Vonnegut, and other more contemporary writers. I downloaded Player Piano and found that it had six ads. The ads are larger than the text pages, which results in the ads “jumping” out at the reader—rather disconcerting.

Remember when mass-market paperbacks had blow-in ads for off-brand cigarettes and other odd things? That went on in the 1970s and 1980s, maybe in the 1990s. There were a few back-cover ads, too.

Michael A. Banks

In addendum: Something Konrath misses is the fact that advertisers are not going to hand out cash to every writer who happens to mention their product; the scale is too large.

There's also the matter of low exposure. Coca-Cola or Toyota are not going to hand a writer or publisher "a few thousand bucks" when the book's printing is only 5,000 copies, which is true of most hardcover and trade paperbacks.

When it comes to free downloadable books, that's already being done, as noted in the preceding post. WOWIO founder Bill Lidwell has a business model that shares ad revenue with publishers (from there trickling down to authors). He is shooting for a maximum of 1 ad for every 3 pages (where he says magazines often have a 1:1 ratio of ads to content pages). But WOWIO is nowhere near that.

Advertisers will probably pay real money to advertise in books by big-name authors. But paying for an ad in an E-book by an unknown or midlist author is like paying someone who says, "I got a Web site; pay me x-hundred dollars and I'll put your ad on it." There's no guaranteed exposure.

I think we'll see more publishers selling ads, but there will be a pattern of selling ads for products closely related to a book's subject matter. For name authors, the range of products advertised will be wider.

A number of authors will squawk about having ads in their books, though, because they think other writers will expect them to squawk. Some authors whose books don't carry ads will squawk, too.

Javier Marti

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Joe Wikert

Good points, Mike. The scalability of this, especially downward into the lower-volume products, doesn't really concern me. It's all about the number of impressions, so if I have a list of books that will sell 100,000 units in total, who cares whether that's with 1 title or 10?

It's just like how AdSense works. Paying advertisers don't necessarily know which sites their ad will show up on and they don't particularly care whether it's 1 impression on a million sites or a million impressions on 1 site. As long as there's a click-thru (mostly) everyone seems to be happy. In this case, publishers/authors couldn't just say I'm *printing* 10,000 copies, so pay me like all 10,000 will be read -- they'll have to base the cpm and revenue off the number of copies sold.

Larry Yudelson

Does in-book advertising cause a problem with media mail rates?

Joe Wikert

Hi Larry. I'm not aware of any issue with mail rates if this were to be rolled out. First of all, it seems that most books (from Amazon, Bookpool, etc.) are sent via carriers like FedEx and UPS, not the USPS. Second, it's not like there are zero books today with ads in them. This idea has been around for a long time but only leveraged in a very small number of cases.

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