Amazon Just Made Ads in Books Work – Whether We Like it or Not

So I’ve been saying to anyone who’ll listen that this year, Amazon will release a standard Kindle for $99 or less, making the prospect of buying a device like an e-reader that much more palatable (and possible) for ebook readers. What I didn’t really think about – but Amazon’s announcements overnight made clear – is that for the first time we’re going to see ad-supported Kindles hit the mainstream and make the awkward marriage between advertising and book reading an inescapable reality.

Amazon has been hawking its “Kindle With Special Offers” for nigh on six months now, so the ad-supported model is not something new. Many people complained, when they launched the new line, that the ad-supported Kindle wasn’t worth the $30 saving and made cheap and nasty the very idea of a book. I argued both.

The ad-supported Kindle has been selling relatively well, by all reports, but not shockingly well. This morning Amazon announced four new Kindle models (actually only three): the Kindle Fire (a tablet for $US199), the Kindle Touch with 3G ($149), the Kindle Touch ($99) and an updated standard Kindle ($79). Holy crap, that’s $79.

But the reported price points are all for the ad-supported version of the Kindle:

All three new Kindle e-readers also come with special offers and sponsored screensavers that appear when you’re not reading. Customers enjoy special money-saving offers delivered wirelessly sponsored by AT&T, the Dove beauty brand and Amazon.com Rewards Visa Card by Chase.

There will be an option to pay more for no ads, but it’ll cost $30. Ask yourself whether you’re willing to pay $30 to remove ads from your book. Then remind yourself that you’re reading a blog dedicated to ebook reading that you probably came across on Twitter. Then pretend you’re an ordinary consumer, the kind of person Amazon has always appealed to. The kind of consumer who feels like Amazon is doing them a solid when they undercut all the competition and sell books for less than what they’re worth.

The new line of Kindles is the first time that a brand new shiny has been released that will cost you more to buy if you don’t want ads. The previous ad-supported models were released mid-cycle (a very clever move in hindsight). Nothing about those “Kindle with Special Offers” was new, and so it was easy to ignore what was happening. But these new Kindles are. And Amazon’s customers are very price conscious. Are they going to be bothered by a few screensaver ads if it means they can get a $30 saving? And when Amazon have a couple of hundred million devices floating out there with the in-built ability to display advertising – what do you think those ads will be worth?

They’ll certainly be worth a lot to publishers. Publishers have always wanted an avenue to advertise books that specifically reached book readers. They’ve paid millions in dollars in co-op payments to Amazon and many other stores to promote their books at the front of store (or on the front page of a web store). How much do you think they’ll pay to have (virtually) every Kindle reader in the world looking at the cover of a book they’re selling?

As I said in the headline, Amazon just made ads work in books, whether we like it or not.

25 thoughts on “Amazon Just Made Ads in Books Work – Whether We Like it or Not

    • Why is it sad? What is wrong with ads in books, or in this case near books? There are ads in almost all artforms: films, tv, even exhibitions are sponsored by one company or another. Why should books be exempt? It isn’t going to make one iota of difference to your reading experience if you have to swipe away an ad before you start reading. And if advertising makes books more profitable as a business then isn’t that a good thing?

      • There’s a fault in that argument – if it makes not one iota of difference, if it has no effect because you can just swipe right past it, why would advertisers continue to pay for ad space?
        Reality is, it will either work as an advertising platform, in which case the reading experience is altered, or it won’t, and the dollars will disappear.

        • What about junk mail? There are plenty of forms of advertising where it is difficult to prove how ‘effective’ the ad has been. You could argue the effectiveness of pretty much all ad space. Does seem like advertisers are persisting with those pesky discount flyers in our letterboxes though doesn’t it? That’s not what we are discussing here anyway.

          I don’t understand your point about ‘if it does succeed as an advertising form it will alter your reading experience’? How exactly? If you open an ebook and the first page is an ad, and then you flick through to the book, that is exactly the same as when you open a magazine and the first page is an ad and you flick through. There is an ad, but your reading experience is the same.

  1. I wouldn’t go for ones that did random ads, but if the ads were related to books you had – say, ads for ‘more books by this author’, list of links to other books in the series, or the whole Amazon ‘books you might like’, then I think that would work.

    And it’s also good that the ads appear while you’re not reading (but activating the screen would drain the battery) and not, as a lot of people fear, ads WHILE you’re reading. That would be completely unforgiveable.

    I know a lot of people won’t like the ads, but that’s why there’s a range of devices to choose from. Will Amazon incorporate ads into their apps on Apple and Android, maybe?

  2. Funny how the human mind works. A $30 surcharge makes you pay for the uninterrupted experience. A $30 discount would have made me feel like an ad tramp.

    Interesting that you think this is a boon for publishers – do you really think publishers will be the buyers of the ads? Do they have the buying power to compete with Dove, AT&T etc?

    Also, do you think authors/publishers have the right to withhold their books from publication on these types of Kindle? Or determine what kind of ads would be in each book? There’d be some kind of irony for, say Dove ads to be in The Beauty Myth.

      • BIG can of worms. I’m not dead against it (ok, I am but I’m trying to be open-minded. I’m just not trying very hard) but there are a lot of questions. Like who’s to say the advertising would stop with products? What if political/activist groups decide they want a piece of the Kindle advertising market – would you want a radical right-wing group to be associated with your books?

        • The advertising isn’t associated directly with a particular book with the Kindle model. It’s all about the device. At the moment, publishers might not compete with standard advertising dollars, but if Amazon can make this kind of advertising work, there’s nothing to say they won’t do it on a larger scale with more affordable options.

  3. In fact I think publishers should be getting in on the ad act themselves. Get sponsorship for their books. Imagine you open the new Matthew Reilly. On the title page is the title, Reilly’s name, the publisher’s logo and then the logo of say, Coca Cola. You flick past and start reading. Your reading experience has not been compromised in any way. Coca Cola are happy, they have got 150,000+ eyes on their logo. The publisher is happy, they have some extra revenue from the ad money and Reilly is happy he’s got a cut too. What would be wrong with this? The opera has sponsorship, the football has sponsorship, tv has ads, highways have ads. It won’t ‘ruin’ the book for you if you have to look at an extra logo on the front. And the publishers will have more revenue to publish more quality titles. Everybody wins.

    • First, surely there’s a difference between sponsoring an opera production which could not have gone ahead without that sponsorship, and advertising in a book that will sell 100,000 copies? Because it will be the books that sell 100K that will attract the advertising. Sponsorship and advertising are not the same thing.

      Second, as a reader, what’s the benefit? Sure, Kindle want you to sell your literary soul for $30 but if publishing houses start deciding to put it in the actual file, will that ebook be cheaper? Will the ‘Always Coca Cola’ version of Matthew Reilly be sold at a discount? And if it does, will the numbers measure up to make it worthwhile to the publisher? (ie will the advertising dollars make up for the revenue shortfall when you have to cut the price of the book itself).

      • Advertising and sponsorship are exactly the same thing. If you are trying to argue that sponsorship is ‘worthier’ than advertising than why does the Commonwealth bank have their emblem at the beginning of the opera? It’s because they want to be associated with the opera – they are promoting their brand. If they had no emblem, if they were a silent partner then that would be different. But they aren’t, they are trying to get the attention of consumers by being associate with a product ie the opera. That’s advertising.

        What is wrong with the big books attracting the big ads? Isn’t that exactly what happens in all other mediums? The superbowl has the biggest most expensive ads because it has the biggest amount of eyeballs. What is wrong with Matthew Reilly’s next book having equally big advertising support? More money for everyone!

        What the benefit is to the reader? What’s the benefit to tv ads to a tv viewer? You’d have to ask an ad man about that.

        I think this all boils down to a ‘smell of books’ response to advertising. You think the the sanctity of books is being violated by having ads. Well, there are ads in all artforms and finally the book industry can take advantage of that too and make some extra cash. Books are a business and every business opportunity should be explored and exploited.

        • Advertising and sponsorship are, by definition, different things. Sponsorship promotes a brand, it cannot communicate specific product attributes. It creates a positive association rather than provides a directed sales pitch. The opera is brought to you by Mazda, not the Mazda 3X-7 zoom zoom.

          You didn’t answer my question – if the reader is going to put up with the ads, what’s their pay off? If you start messing with the reader’s experience (and regardless of your argument that you can just swipe past the ads, it does alter the reader’s experience), without compensating them in some way, you’re going to end up with some annoyed readers. Maybe they’ll just cop that, who knows? But is it worth the risk of alienating your audience?

          Maybe I am up in arms about the sanctity of books. Maybe I’m being a snob. But I’m not saying this shouldn’t be explored. I just feel that the sense of urgency with which this is being pressed may make us careless, and before we start moving headlong in this direction and end up asking ‘where are we going and why are we in this handbasket’, there are some questions that need to be asked and answered.

  4. A distinction should perhaps be made between ads in books and ads on devices which is what Amazon actually appears to be doing here. To me this is more akin to the now omnipresent ads on web pages – from online newspapers to Facebook games to blogs to Google searches, the content itself may not contain ads, but the margins of each webpage containing the content are peppered with increasingly personalised offers (depending of course on your individual browser settings, cookie policy and ad-blocking software).

    It would surprise me if Amazon didn’t include ads in their apps as well as on their devices, many apps across all categories already have free ‘lite’ or trial versions featuring ads which can be ‘cleansed’ by purchasing the full version.

    And yes, I’m sure the publishers will jump at the opportunity of finally having an advertising space which connects them directly with known book readers, but the general idea of advertising inside books is hardly a new concept. From the ‘you may also be interested in these titles by the same author/publisher’ pages in the back of old paperbacks to more explicit full-page ‘look for the new blockbuster in this series coming in [insert month here]‘ promotions in the back of some more recent releases, publishers have always looked for ways to introduce readers to other titles from their lists. One of the downsides of this has always been that the titles being featured become dated as time passes – perhaps this new technology will enable this style of promotion to actually remain current, presenting readers with a constantly updated list of titles they ‘may also be interested in’? Unfortunately that same technology may also make it possible for a book to be ‘brought to you by McDonalds, would you like fries with your novel?’, or ‘proudly sponsored by Jetstar, you’ll have plenty of time to read while you wait for us to take off’… which would certainly be less appealing …

      • Purely a personal preference – I’d simply rather see ads for other books inside my books than ads for burgers or other unrelated items…

        • (and this part only related to ads actually placed inside the books themselves, not ads on devices or in apps, where I’m happy to ignore anyone’s ads in the same way I ignore them on TV or on websites)

  5. Pingback: Amazon announces Kindle devices with touch screen & colour display – Book Thingo

  6. Provided I’m given a choice, I’m happy and I would always pay the $30. I see it more as a $30 discount to become an ad-watcher as opposed to a $30 surcharge to be ad-free.

    But my question is how long will this choice last? Without sounding like an old man, I’ve been to some chain cinemas a few times recently (first time in years) and I couldn’t understand why I had to sit through about 15 minutes of adverts each time before I got to watch the film I’d paid to see? If I’m paying £12-£14 a ticket (which is loads more than it used to be) why must I also be forced to watch sexy people live in sunny countries and have beautiful girlfriends all because they drink ______ (enter brand name. Every advert had this premise). Why, despite paying a ludicrous price for the experience, do I still have to be advertised to?

    Advertising creeps into everything over time. Look at youtube. Google took over and there were tiny, transparent bar adverts at the bottom. Then they became solid coloured adverts. And now sometimes you’re stuck watching a 20 second advert for an Anne Hathaway film before you see the kitten fall off the table.

    I fear it could be the start of it becoming the norm and that will make me angry. Every advertising scum out there (if you’re one, I don’t mean you. I mean the others) thinks they have a right to preach to us at every moment and that it’s a choice to listen or not. I disagree. Can some activities and areas remain advert free?

    My name is Simon and I hate capitalism.

    • While I agree with the ads at the cinema (‘Stop the madness! Start the movie!’), what makes you think you’re entitled to what is essentially free entertainment via youtube? Sure, you paid for your computer and internet but you’re not paying anything for content. If a person had the nous to push a kitten of a table, surely they’re entitled to make a buck out of it?

      • Does the advertising money on YouTube go to the kitten pushers themselves? Or just to YouTube?

    • Sam, does ‘the economy’ means that advertisers automatically have the right to my attention? That I have to opt out or pay more for the right to not be interrupted? Are you one of those strange people who talks to telemarketers?

      • There is a balance to strike as margins for entertainment products plummet. We have an opportunity in the publishing industry to subsidise what we do with advertising. That will mean we can compete with other industries who can offer comparable entertainment at lower price points – something which is currently holding back books. If we do that, what makes you think you’re entitled to books without advertising whilst not having to pay extra for the privilege? I think in the future, we’ll be lucky with book because publishers (sensitive to those who consider books to be sacred) will continue to offer multiple options at different price points. We don’t have the same option with cinema or YouTube videos – as Simon pointed out.