This Book Brought to You with Limited Commercial Interruption

by Patrick on July 7, 2009

Photo by motdin (Creative Commons License) via Flickr

Photo by motdin (Creative Commons License) via Flickr

By now you’ve no doubt heard about Amazon’s plan to put advertisements in some ebooks.  (Click here and here to read the actual patent applications.  They’re really hot reads!)  Anybody with an iPhone can see how this might work:  it’s already working for the popular Apple App store.  Want the ebook for free?  Get a version with Google-ad-like advertisements peppered throughout it.  Don’t want the ads, pay full price (They also seem to be paving the way to put ads in POD books, harking back to a generation or two ago when a cheap paperback might subsidize itself with cigarette ads).  Here in Los Angeles, the Arclight Cinema, the best movie theater in the world, charges a bit more for its movies than does the competition, and one of the reasons is the lack of ads for Coke or Vonage or Levis before the movie (you still get ads for future movies, but most people don’t mind a few of those).

But would this work for books?  I don’t think so.  To begin with, reading a book, even an ebook, is different from surfing the web.  It is absorbing in a completely different way.  The wonder of literature, for me at least, is how it can transport the reader into a consciousness other than his own.  In order for this to occur, some absorption must take place.  The reader must lose himself in the narrative.  I imagine this would be significantly harder with an ad popping up every now and then, pulling back toward life.

Another problem with this is that “relevant ads” might not really exist for all books.  Just because I wanted to read John Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven doesn’t mean that I want more info on the Mormon Church or Ski resorts in Utah.  We already see how these kind of ads are clunky and so often wrong on sites like Facebook (try mentioning something like herpes in your status update and see if a raft of pharmecuetical and dating ads don’t pop up in the sidebar), and at least on those sites, there’s a user, someone actively entering information.  With a book, the subject matter is fixed.  I can’t wait to read Ulysses and hear about “Great Prices on Flights to Dublin!” I pity the algorithm that has to deal with a book about consumerism like Don DeLillo’s White Noise.

Then there’s that whole “Some places should be free of advertisements” thing.  I think this is the most important one of all.  Reading is a refuge.  To soil it with even the most briliant, unobtrusive and relevant ads would be wrong.  Of course, I’m a guy who has slowly been trying to eliminate all ads from his life, adding adblocker to my web browser, watching TV only on DVD, not buying magazines or newspapers.  If you want to advertise to me, you better make your ad seem like content (and I don’t mean those lame “special advertising sections” that look like fake articles).  I guess I think books are sacred.  Am I crazy?

What do you think?  Could you deal with an ad in an ebook?  What if it were a briliant ad, like the Volkswagen “Pink Moon” ad?  And if you say no to these questions, would you be willing to spend the $10 to avoid them?