by Joseph T. Sinclair
It strikes me that we have a culture of print publishing business models superimposed upon the new digital media that restrains experimentation with new economic prototypes. For instance, it’s difficult for authors and publishers to experiment with the inclusion of advertising (third-party sponsorship) in their published digital works when Apple, Amazon, and Google put restraints on such advertising in the name of good taste. In this case, good taste means a threat to their revenue-producing monopolies.
It also appears to me that demand publishing is slowly taking over the printed book market for information publishing. As I pointed out in a previous blog post, demand publishing is primarily supported by marketing and advertising. It’s obvious to me that advertising provides a huge potential for the future of digital book publishing but is sadly ignored in most publishing conversations.
Books are an unusual media in that they go back to the Gutenberg press in 1450. Although it’s true that some books were paid for by patrons, the patrons were generally acknowledged at the beginning or the end of the text and not inside the content. And it came to pass that most books were created and distributed by publishers who paid the author a royalty out of the proceeds from the sales of books to consumers. That tradition was well ingrained in the minds of the public long before the age of advertising and sponsorship in media, an age which blossomed in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Because the consumer pays for a book, there is no need to have advertising to sponsor it. And because a book cannot be infinitely replicated except at great expense, book publishing is not a medium that lends itself well to modern advertising. In addition, consumers often keep their books for a long time, sometimes generations. Much advertising would be stale after the first few months after publication or certainly after the first few years.
Magazines and newspapers (disposable media) were the first media to be sponsored by advertising. They too cannot be infinitely replicated without great expense, so consumers are required to pay enough to at least defray the cost of replication. Nonetheless, it is advertising that pays for the major portion of the content delivered in these two media.
Next movies came along and with a kind of business model similar to books. Consumers pay to see movies. And movies go from beginning to end without any disruption from sponsorship or advertising. But most movies are entertainment, and people pay specifically to enjoy the entertainment. For consumers, it’s an expensive 90 minutes, but it’s doubtful whether advertising would be tolerated just to provide a discount to the the price. Since film performances are not infinitely replicated without great expense, the consumer must pay.
Nonetheless, movies do support advertising and sponsorship in their own way. First, in many movie theaters there’s heavy advertising, usually local, before the feature film and afterwards. Second, the movie industry itself uses the time before and after movies to advertise its own products: trailers for other movies.
Third, in modern times movies also get revenue from product placement. The Ford car you see racing through the movie in a crime thriller is not there by accident. It’s there because Ford paid to have it there. In addition, some movies (e.g., Star Wars) create an industry of movies souvenirs and memorabilia that are sold in retail locations outside theaters. Consequently, the movie industry is not exactly devoid of advertising.
Then along came radio and television: the broadcast. The broadcast is infinitely replicated via radiation from a broadcast tower. There is no need for the consumer to pay for the content, and the content includes not only entertainment but all types of information too. Although consumers pay for the receiver and even for services that provide better reception, consumers do not pay for the broadcast content.
Cable Channels It is true that certain cable channels provide specific high-quality content and are paid by consumers (subscribers), but such channels comprise only a small fraction of the content viewed on radio and television.
Culture and tradition changed very slowly and then often move ahead with great leaps forward. The idea of the digital book has been around for several decades. It took on the character of printed books; that is, it has been sold to consumers without advertising in a manner identical to printed books.
Amazon came out with its Kindle ebook reader and Apple came out with its tablet both of which made reading more convenient and less expensive. This was a great leap forward. The digital book is infinitely replicated at a very low cost. (Indeed, a well recognized marketing technique is to give away ebooks free to get a word-of-mouth buzz going about them so that the people who do not have or are unable to find a free copy will buy a copy.) Thus, the digital book looks more like radio and television then any other media.
Yet through the momentum of culture and tradition, everyone’s idea of an digital book closely conforms to that of a printed book; that is, content is uninterrupted by advertising or sponsorship. In fact, the primary purveyors of digital books (ebooks and book apps) have a specific biased against permitting digital books to carry advertising. The question is, can this idea about digital books weather the winds of time? I think not, and here’s why:
- People absorb much free content from websites, blogsites, podcasts, and other free Internet media supported by marketing and advertising. They become quite used to seeing advertising in their consumption of media.
2. Printed books continue to be an expensive means of distribution to the public, and print publishers have not found a long-term business model that will support their publishing in the future when printed books will be rare and digital books will dominant the marketplace.
3. Apps that are books (book apps), just like other apps, can be automatically updated. This means that for book apps that carry advertising, the advertising can be updated at any time to keep it fresh. There is no reason this same capability cannot be programmed into ebooks.
4. The technology that delivers Internet advertising enables precise targeting; that is, ads can be delivered that are directly related to the content being consumed. Such advertising is much less annoying, for example, than the general advertising that everyone endures well watching television. Indeed, such advertising can be useful to consumers.
5. Basic ads are easy and inexpensive to create and place into digital media. It doesn’t take an ad agency to pull it off, and even ordinary people can do it.
6. The book publishers have lost a huge amount of market share in the informational genres to independent and even novice publishers. It is the democratization of publishing. In this new era of publishing, the new publishers are not as devoted to advertising-free content as the print publishers have been. In fact the new publishers are searching for ways to monetize their publishing efforts, and new types of advertising and sponsorships for digital publishing are being invented and used.
7. The rigid lines between the media of yesterday are being blurred by the devices used by everyone, particularly the younger generations. The smart phone is used to talk to others; to communicate with others in a variety of ways; to read books, magazines, newspapers and other information traditionally provided in print; to watch digitized movies; and to generally provide all the information and media in just one device that one needs to be a happy and productive citizen in the digital age. With the distinct lines between media being blurred, how much longer can the traditional proscription against advertising in books last?
The question you have to ask yourself as an author is, Where do I stand in this media perfect storm.? What interest do I have in helping to continue the constraint of advertising and sponsorship for book content? The answer is, none. Advertising and sponsorship of all different types for books is a substantial opportunity for writers who want to be authors and publishers and make money for their content-creation activities.
Purists will intellectually adhere to the old print publishing business models. But all the whining and whimpering will not serve such neo-Luddites well. At this point Doubleday and Random House, Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and Apple and Google are very vulnerable when it comes to publishing content. It is up to authors to help forge new business models specifically for digital publishing so as to provide themselves with a greater share of the publishing revenue in the future.
Authors of printed books are already required to provide their own marketing at a time when royalty advances from publishers are diminishing and the number of copyrights ceded to publishers are growing. But in the new digital age if authors take the next step forward to seek sponsors and advertisers to include in their digital publishing products, they will ensure their independence and get a step ahead of traditional publishers and distributors.
The author of this article, Joseph T. Sinclair, is the author of twenty How To books published by national publishers.
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©2015 Joseph T. Sinclair. All rights reserved.