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.

Credit Where Credit is Due

Would the perceived value of the publishing process be enhanced by a standard acknowledgement? Or should the author get to decide who takes credit?

There’s been a lot of talk on the web lately about the value of the publishing process. Digital self-publishing gurus like JA Konrath claim that publishers no longer have a role in the production of books. The popular belief of readers, bloggers and many self-published authors seems to be that agents and publishers are grasping middlemen, gatekeepers who hold back genius from the public to line their pockets with sales from writers they conned into giving away their intellectual property.

If you take the information available to the average reader in any given book you might even agree. It says so on the tin. In great big embossed letters, which get bigger as each new book comes out. Stephen King. Stephen King. Stephen King. Stephen King. According to tradition, publishers, editors and agents erase themselves from the creative process of book creation to protect the myth of the author-as-genius. It is up to the author, in the pages of the acknowledgements, to credit those who helped them.

I should point out at this point that published authors are mostly a pretty good bunch. Most authors I know have a deep and abiding respect for their publishers, editors, agents and so on. Most of the time authors even credit the people who helped them in their acknowledgements. But my question for today is – why should they have to? Most published books are not the sole creation of the author. The author may have been by far the biggest contributor, but most books are still a collaborative work that could not have come about without the hard work of many dedicated people, many of whom work in publishing because it is a calling – as much a vocation as being an author, and sometimes just as badly paid.

Sure, books are not as collaborative as film – with a list of hundreds of technicians and skilled workers to credit – but there are plenty of people who go in to making a book what it is. Many of whom do so without even the author’s knowledge. Why aren’t they credited? And if they should be credited, how should it be done? Edward Nawotka over at Publishing Perspectives suggests a mention on the copyright page, much as a magazine lists contributors, editors and subeditors. Most copyright pages already credit typesetters, printers and designers. What do you think? Sound off in the comments below.