This is the start of stream that I think will take a little while to resolve. Recently, I have been researching on the role of advertising in selling information content (most notably, television). While preparing a presentation on this I wanted to summarise options with a traditional 2×2 diagram (the staple of MBA courses).
Here are the dimensions: (pay or not) for content versus (ads or not). And some examples:
- Free/Ads: broadcast television/radio
- Free/No ads: public broadcast television/radio
- Pay/Ads: pay TV, newspapers
- Pay/No ads: DVDs (some), books
It is the last one that got to me: books. Why don’t we see ads in books?
The reason I was interested in this is because it seemed to me that if you were selling information and there were advertisers willing to pay to be part of it, then you would be better off by selling some advertising space, reducing books prices and selling more books. [Stay tuned for a formal, technical proof] But, of course, we never see advertising in books.
So why not?
- Too costly to print: doesn’t seem plausible as magazines find that OK and they have colour glossy ads
- Readers won’t look at ad: but if The New Yorker or The Economist can have ads, why not some trashy or popular novel? Why not a textbook?
- Authors won’t wear it: well, maybe JK Rawlings, but Dan Brown or Michael Crichton or some unknown.
- Publishers don’t want it: if there is profit in it, why would this be the case.
- Libraries won’t wear it: OK, then provide a special version for libraries without ads. Often they are charged more anyway.
As you can see, it is a real puzzle as to why there are no ads in books. Actually, some books have ads for other books but why not Coke?
Actually, it gets worse. Think about a textbook such as mine. If you put ads in a textbook, the good news for publishers is that they last beyond the one reader even as textbooks are sold and resold on second hand markets. In contrast to the purchase price, this is a stream of revenue that is robust to resale.
I can’t provide you answer here but apparently a few have asked the same question before. Jason Kottke had a “horrible thought” in 2003: what if books had ads? An interesting debate ensued but no one really provided an answer as to why publishers/authors do not find it profitable even if the world might be a worse place as a result.
One thing that was pointed out was the product placement had occured in books (as they do in movies). Here is an example. Of course, that is somewhat more costly than ads and easier to see why it is not more common.
There were also some examples that publishers may have tried this before. Here is an example from 1971. These historical bits are worthy of more investigation than I have had time to do yet.
But more recently, in February, 2006, Harper Collins allowed one book to be provided free on the author’s website while also selling it the traditional way. The publisher and author agreed to share the ad revenue generated by the site traffic. The book is Go It Alone by Bruce Judson. You can read it here. It is basically a self-help book for would be entrepreneurs.
Anyway, I’d appreciate any comments you might have on this issue.