Cat Mini Book 2

(cc) B_Zedan (Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic)

Over at the Vroman’s blog, Patrick Brown recently discussed the latest moves by AMZN to patent the practice of putting ads in books (E- & POD). I’m not going to recap that story here, but this new focus on in-book advertising does occasion some interesting speculation.

First, isn’t the underlying implication behind these plans that the book is perfect as it is? Does the desire to place paid ads in book reflect a strategy to squeeze more dollars out of readers by making a substandard product the new norm (book with ads) and thus making a traditional book (no ads) the premium product? If so, is that a sign that AMZN have finally realized that the discount wars have only hurt themselves, and are looking for ways to make readers want to pay the cover price, and thus grow the overall value of the book market?

I doubt it.

I could understand that reasoning, but I don’t think that’s the way AMZN are looking at it. I don’t think the mass market (audience, not the format) will have much of a problem with ads in books. As Patrick acknowledged in his post, cigarette companies used to subsidize paperbacks, and ads don’t seem to be stopping people enjoying streaming TV shows via Hulu. So there may not be any more demand for premium, ad-free books than there currently is for non-discounted books. On the contrary, cheaper, subsidized books may further reduce the industry’s overall revenue from books because the ads themselves will do nothing to grow the audience for books, while their presence will likely bring some consumers to view these books as less-desirable, flawed products. The closer books are associated with advertising, the less favorably they may be viewed. That’s why I don’t see in-book ads as being a positive influence on the book industry.

Ads in books may only drive deeper discounting, as AMZN seeks to maximize sales of those “ad-enhanced” titles at the expense of books without ads. AMZN are only seeking to squeeze more dollars out of someone else’s product, and by doing so will likely benefit from further harm to the overall book industry.