jack_black_gullivers_travels_posterThe Wall Street Journal’s Emily Steel has a piece looking at the potential intrusion of advertising into e-books (an idea we have covered a number of times before). Possible proposals include providing free advertising-sponsored e-books and incorporating video, graphical, or textual ads that display at the beginning or along the edges of a book.

The ad business has experimented with putting ads in e-books, but it has never proven popular or lucrative. But now that e-books are taking off and sales of printed books are “under pressure”, the industry is giving it another look.

The article looks at Wowio’s advertising practices, including a deal with Fandango to advertise the Jack Black movie adaptation of Gulliver’s Travels using Jonathan Swift’s book, and Scribd and ScrollMotion’s efforts.

Paper books used to have all sorts of advertising in them: several pages in the back advertising the author and publisher’s other works, and I’ve read more than one “Nick Carter” or other men’s-adventure novel that had a cigarette ad bound into the middle.

Still, it is uncertain that even printed books, let alone e-books, will sell in great enough numbers to interest advertisers anymore. And there are other problems to consider as well.

Regardless, ads will have to overcome the annoyance factor. Imagine an ad for a sports drink that says "Is your day feeling like the worst of times?" that appears in "A Tale of Two Cities" next to the line "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times," or ads for condoms interspersed through "The Scarlet Letter," says Forrester analyst James McQuivey.

"It would be an unpleasant distraction in the middle of a narrative," says literary agent Ann Rittenberg. "This is going to be a lot more complicated than putting an ad at the back of a paperback."

And a Random House spokesman makes it clear that ads will not appear in Random House e-books without author consent.

It’s unclear whether advertising in e-books will ever be able to overcome the annoyance factor—but given Wowio’s patent applications, at least some people think it is worth a try. The question is whether authors and readers will agree.


  1. There is advertising and there is advertising. I’ve bought (and especially downloaded commercial freebies) with things like excerpts from the author’s other works or works by “If you enjoyed $BOOK you might also enjoy books by $AUTHOR(s)”, and not found them bothersome in the least – quite the opposite, I’ve gotten turned onto books I might not otherwise have heard about by reading these kinds of excerpts.

    But stick in ads for sports drinks, condoms, cigarettes, or perfume? I’ll stick to downloading copies from file-sharing sites that somebody has stripped the ads (and the DRM) from first.

  2. The idea of commercials in eBooks, while not ‘novel’ by any means, may royally backfire. In a time when devices are revered for their ability to fast-forward through television ads, many folks have even less little patience for being deluged with advertising in or around other services/luxuries that they pay good money for.

    With all certainty I can say that I would not pay for eBooks with ads in them. I get enough ads on a minute-by-minute basis during the day. Free titles, however, can get away with all the sponsored ads they want.

  3. I have never objected to paperbacks that had some advertising in the back (usually other books put out by the same publisher). So, I wouldn’t care if they did it for ebooks- but NOT in the middle of the text.

    So, if they put it at the end, who would read/see it?

  4. ebooks that have ads at the back…who cares? I didn’t read ads when they were at the back of my pbooks, and I won’t read ads at the end of my ebooks either. I never even read the excerpts from soon-to-be-published books that get tacked onto the end of some books. (Why start what I can’t finish? I have enough ready-to-go books to read, thank you!)

    Ads in the middle—
    Sometimes advertising inserts would appear as postcards in the middle of a pbook. Usually, I just tossed them before beginning to read. Less frequently I’d find myself using the insert as a bookmark, but I can’t honestly say that I ever really looked at the content of an insert. Unfortunately, you can’t pull and toss an ad inserted in the middle of an e-book…and how annoying to have the “mood” of the book interrupted by an ad of any kind!

    Ads at the beginning—
    When I open a book–whether p or e–to begin a story, I don’t want to be subjected to a commercial. Somehow that makes me feel–in the parlance of today’s popular youth culture–disrespected. “You have to see *this* first before you can get to the content you paid for. We don’t care if you’re not interested. We don’t care about you period.”

    Books are one of the few things in the world today where we can actually escape Wall Street’s constant BUY-ME! bombardment for a few hours. Let’s hope it stays that way!

  5. I’ve said it before and will say it again, I will not tolerate ads in the middle of ebooks. Not for a reduced price, not for free. If it were only the quaint one page cigarette ads in the potboilers of years gone by, maybe it could be overlooked with a laugh, but data mining and ad sense techniques suggested are not acceptable. The day consumer ads show up the middle of the text on my Kindle is the day I drive a nail through the center of the screen, cancel my Amazon account, and only purchase DTB editions from used or independent bookstores.

  6. The only advertising a book should do is advertising about the author who wrote it. This should be a bio with a link to their website or social networking page and a list of the other books you’ve written. Why would you want to add tacky ads in the middle of the book (or the end) that advertise somebody (or some product) other than yourself.

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