Why don’t books have ads? Now textbooks do

A while ago two posts of mine on why don’t books have ads provoked a considerable reaction (you can click them here and here). My argument was there seemed nothing special about books as media and it would be virtually costless for publishers to try it. This was especially so where books sold in larger volumes and also didn’t really have to stand the test of time. Textbooks was something that I thought would at least fit that bill.

One of the commentators suggested that I put my money where my mouth was and put ads in my textbooks. Not a bad idea. Indeed, it seemed like a very good idea. But when I asked my publisher about it, it appeared that the advertisers weren’t interested. Indeed, if we put an example of an ad in the textbook the publisher has to pay for it!

Well that was just one opinion because a firm — Freeload Press — has done just that. They have put ads in textbooks (click here for the story). And what is more, the textbooks are free as a result. They basically survey students, construct a pdf of the book with ads in it and students can download it. No big publishers but alot of assignments nonetheless.

From The Washington Post:

As to objections that textbooks shouldn’t have ads, Doran notes ads already appear in academic journals. He says Freeload’s ads won’t be distracting; they will be placed only at natural breaks in the material, and won’t push products like alcohol or tobacco. Schools with other concerns could customize their standards; for instance Brigham Young University, founded by Mormons, could nix ads for caffeine products.

Ultimately, whether Freeload changes the industry or fades away will likely depend on its ability to attract popular textbook authors. Fordham University professors Frank Werner and James Stoner had each written several finance textbooks for traditional publishers, but after their latest was dropped by one company following a merger, they took it to Freeload. …

Shannon Langston, a rising sophomore at Georgia Tech taking classes this summer while also juggling two jobs, said she often won’t buy textbooks unless she hears from other students that it’s absolutely essential.

But when her accounting professor assigned a Freeload book, she was glad not to have to make that call _ and worry that she wouldn’t be able to sell back a new book because the publisher had already rushed out a new edition.

“I definitely don’t mind ads,” she said, “if it helps with the price.”

The additional advantage of this model is that the second hand textbook market is virtually killed. When books are free to the students and they are electronic, they might as well download the latest version rather than purchase or share a copy. Actually, even if the books were not free, ads have a life beyond the first owner of a textbook and so the second-hand market isn’t quite the disadvantage it currently is.

At the very least, it might help the costs of professors writing and giving away books for free. (Click here for an example of that).

3 thoughts on “Why don’t books have ads? Now textbooks do”

  1. There’s a sloppiness in terminology here. Your original question asked about books and provided no qualification of the term, which suggests conventional printed books and their customary distribution systems. The accompanying discussion confirmed that.

    The product you point to here is really an online product that’s printed out, with the benefits of being able to tailor ads. That’s quite different from a conventional book.

    Terminology is very important in these things.


  2. Tony, point taken but remember that the whole area of books is virtually ad free. Electronic books included. So I don’t see this development as that far removed.


  3. An interesting example is the case of travel guide books. For example, Footprint (a UK based brand) does have ads, whereas Lonely Planet (an Australian brand) does not.
    The ads would have a positive effect on publisher profit margins per book, and/or reduce the price of the book, leading to more sales, ceteris paribus.

    Personally I would not buy a travel guide book with ads since it seems unlikely that an editor would be unswayed by thousands of dollars of advertising revenue.

    I’m not sure whether I am in the majority or not, but this is an empirical question, although somewhat more complicated by virtue of different markets and different product quality.


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