Coming Soon: Advertisements in E-books

In What's the Buzz by Helen Gregg

By Helen Gregg

In a Wall Street Journal opinion piece published this morning, Ron Adner, a professor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, and William Vincent, a former Houghton Mifflin editor, declare the inevitability of advertisements in e-books. Falling e-book prices (and profits for publishers), combined with the advertising-friendly digital format, may very well make in-book advertising and product placement the best option for publishers.

After briefly stating what many have said before, that the publishing industry is facing, at best, an uncertain future, Adner and Vincent show that e-books are ready for advertising in a way print books never could be. Because many e-reading applications are updated frequently by the user logging in to a central system, advertisements in books could be updated frequently as well, keeping them relevant and valuable to both advertisers and consumers. Advertisers could also place ads across several of a publisher’s e-book titles, and help publishers earn revenue from sample chapters by adding additional advertising in free content.

Adner and Vincent do not see this as a seamless transition, however. In addition to reader frustration, they predict authors will want control over the content of advertisements in their work. Professionals from what were outside industries will become part of the process, creating tangled relationships: “Ad agencies will be involved in creating a standard form for digital ads. Technology companies will be crucial to implementation. A new set of contracts will have to be created to manage these new costs, revenue sources and control rights.”

For the two authors, advertising is about catching consumers’ attention and buying a bit of their time. In this regard, time spent reading books is time that advertisers have not yet really been able to reach. They see e-books as providing an opportunity for this to change, and they predict publishers’ financial worries will necessitate advertising in e-books. Amazon has already taken a first step –- the company recently filed for a patent for advertisements on the Kindle.

Even though consumers have become accustomed to advertisements in media content, even those (like cable television) that they pay for, advertisements in e-books will certainly be met with at least some resistance from readers. Adner and Vincent point out that Google already runs advertisements next to their Google Book archive, but there is a difference between advertisements in a web browser and advertisements in your mystery novel. The title of the article, “Get Ready for Ads in Books,” is an acknowledgment of the resistance that would follow. But if the content of e-books becomes too devalued, either by falling prices or pirating, publishers will be faced with even slimmer options and may see advertising in e-books as the best and most viable solution.

About the Author

Helen Gregg