Squeezing Pennies from a Book

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(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.

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3 comments

  1. uninvoked’s avatar

    I think the publishing industry is hurting from using such a poor model that it is trying to find a way to recoop…without changing its system.

    Look at it this way. If a bookstore wants to move next door it can destroy ALL of its books, get a refund, and order new copies sent to them instead of packing it all up. Sound too rediculous to be true? It’s happened.

    This sort of waste is exactly why I am doubtful as to the longevity of the publishing market in its current state.

  2. Rich’s avatar

    That sounds damning, but doesn’t seem likely in the US (Is it true in other markets? I don’t know.). Only mass market paperbacks & YA paperbacks are strippable (can have the covers removed & returned for refund) by a bookstore. Most paperbacks & hardcovers have to be physically returned to the publisher. Few, if any, stores are likely to carry exclusively mass market and YA paperbacks — and if they did that might suggest why they’re going out of business. (Do you have a link?)

    That said, I think a chain bookstore moving to a new location within the same city might be very likely to strip as many books as possible to offset the moving budget and startup costs of the new location as much as possible.

    Your point that our business model needs fixing is quite valid, but if we’re ever going to improve we should talk about actual business practices.

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