Paul Carr at TechCrunch has the best take on the “ads in books” hysteria kicked up by the WSJ (original article conveniently paywalled) I’ve read yet. It’s even smartly titled “Eat Pay Love”:
The crux of the argument is this: books are the only word-based medium currently free of advertising (unless you count the pages full of ads for other books at the back of most mass market paperbacks). This isn’t – as you might think – because ads kill our enjoyment of literature (many magazines publish fiction surrounded by commercial messages) but rather because until now it’s been difficult to sell ad space in books. The lead times in publishing – and the shelf-life of paperbacks – are simply too long to deliver timely commercial offerings: who hasn’t experienced the amusement of picking up an old paperback and being invited to send off for the previous title in the series for just 25c?
But now, thanks to e-readers, all that is changing. With electronic books, ads can be served dynamically, just like they are online – not only does that remove the problem of out-of-date ads being stuck in old books, but it also allows messages to be tailored to the individual reader. Those reading the Twilight books at the age of 14 can be sold make-up and shoes and all of the other things teenage girls need to attract their very own Edward. Meanwhile, those still reading the books at 35 can be sold cat food. Lots and lots of cat food.
Why, that sounds fantastic! What’s the problem again?
It’s a compelling argument, but like so many compelling arguments made about the future of books, it’s also hampered by consisting almost entirely of bullshit. For one thing, publishers are really not geared up to sell ads: they’d have to recruit armies of ad sales people who would be forced to actually sit down and read the novels and historical memoirs and chick-lit-churn-outs that they’d be selling against. Not going to happen.
Now that’s very true. That scenario will not happen.
If only there were some large company with a dominant position in the e-book business that had lots of demographic data about what you read and other things that you buy online who could whip up a smart software algorithm that automatically generated product recommendations based on this information, who’d be willing, I don’t know, to electronically host and deliver these ads in the e-books on behalf of the publishers, in exchange for a fee, or better terms on each sale of a book.
Yep, if there were a company or three like that in the e-book market today, then we’d be talking about something.