Kindle “Special Offers” and the Reading Experience

On to a device related article.

This article, written by Jamie Lendino of pcmag.com, is slightly out dated (it was written in September 2012 when Amazon first launched Kindles with “special offers”) but because Kindles with ads are still being sold and used I feel it is still a relevant issue.

This article seems to have been written at a point when there was no an option to buy ad free Kindles. Lendino was shocked at the obtrusiveness of the ads and the fee he had to pay Amazon to have them removed. He discusses how Amazon defended the ads in two ways. First, they pointed out that the ads were not “real” ads; they are what Lendino describes as “offers that let you save money on products that you normally wouldn’t have access to otherwise”. Lendino’s main problem with this is that he was forced to have them on his device, and was not given the option to opt out. Personally, I feel those kinds of offers would be just as obtrusive as any other ad. No matter how appropriate or connected the subject matter is to the book, an ad is still an ad. The second way Amazon defended the ads was by asserting that they were not, in fact, intrusive, and not really part of the reading experience. I definitely agree with Lendino’s frustration with this notion. The point of advertising is to be noticed; if the companies clearly felt they were unobtrusive and were not going to interfere with or interrupt the reading experience in any way, what would be the point of putting them in?

Lendino clearly feels very strongly about this issue, and I think I can rightly say that he is not alone. Books are one of the last advertisement free parts of our world. Just because they are now available online does not mean they should automatically become a target for ad campaigns. Some people might say that books are products and should be subject to the market as any other product is, which includes being integrated with advertisements. I believe, however, that art (perhaps especially “high art” like literature, museum worthy visual art, and certain types of music) are exempt in some ways from the economic and philosophical bonds of consumer culture. Art has a certain humanness to it that would lose value and significance if it were to become commodified like much of the rest of our lives.

I would like to close my thoughts on this topic with the opinions of John Green (New York Times bestselling author of The Fault in Our Stars and part of the extremely successful Vlogbrothers channel on Youtube). In his May 28th video (from about 0:20 to 1:30), Green discusses the relationship between advertising and the content it supports on the internet, saying that “advertisers are terrible at measuring the value in the creator viewer relationship”, and reflecting on the problems that arise when advertisers do not want to endorse certain Youtube projects despite popular demand for them and a solid following. Sharing content on Youtube is of course different than “selling” free books or devices with special offers on the internet, but Green does bring up an interesting problem. What happens when advertisers are the ones making the decisions about what kind of artistic content is financially viable? Are ad-supported devices a step in the direction of giving advertisers full power to acquire, publish, market, and support literary content rather than publishers? If so, are they qualified? Where does this leave the integrity of literary projects? I think we need to be careful about the platforms we use to put creative content into the world, and make sure they are supported by people and organisations that will do the content and its authors justice.

Ebooks and piracy – a solution at last?

There are quite a few blogs and articles discussing the free ebook site ebooksplus, focusing on different aspects of and problems with their idea. In February of this year, Good E Reader blog author Mercy Pilkington posted an article briefly summarising the online ebook platform and discussing its potential for the reduction of book piracy online; if books are legally available for free, why would anyone resort to illegal downloads to get the content they want?

I see a couple of problems with this idea. First is the issue of what content ebooksplus will be able to make available. Pilkington’s article explains that the site pays its authors and publishers from the money given to them by advertisers. There will certainly be authors and publishers who are wary of the way this new platform works. Publishers might question how traditional ideas of rights territories and distribution are dealt with when anyone in the world can have access to these books. Authors may think that readers will be unwilling to deal with ads in their books, or they may want to have control over what kind of ads their books are associated with. There isn’t much point to a free ebook platform that doesn’t have access to a good amount of current and popular content; people will resort to piracy if they feel it is the only means available to get the content they want.

Another problem is the fact that readers simply might not want ads in their books, however much the price is reduced. If both the pirated and the legal versions are free, people might choose to illegally obtain the book to avoid the ads. Everything on the internet, from flash games and Youtube videos to our own social media profiles, are riddled with ads; people looking for free ebooks might not immediately make the connection between the presence of ads and the fact that they mean authors and publishers have been appropriately compensated. Even if they do, they might choose to pay money for a copy of the book to avoid the ads, and ebookplus would ultimately fail.

ebooksplus.com, until very recently, had nothing on it but a call to sign up for their newsletter, so I haven’t had a lot of time to see how user friendly their platform is, or what measure they have taken to deter piracy themselves. Introducing a free online book platform might even increase piracy, because it provides an opportunity to easily get a hold of a lot of text that could potentially be disseminated as pirated content. If ebooksplus.com is appealing and easy to use, if the ads are as unobtrusive as they are made out to be, and If there have been precautions taken to make books more difficult to be pirated from the site, this platform could have interesting implications for the future of digital distribution and the availability of free books.

Are free ebooks a good idea?

In the next few posts I’d like to discuss the idea of having advertisements in ebooks and on ebook reading devices. I’m going to start by talking about some articles relating to the site ebooksplus.com.

ebooksplus.com is an ebook store that proposes to offer free books, which contain ads. This article was written by Nate Hoffelder for the blog The Digital Reader in February of this year when ebooksplus first came out as a platform. Hoffelder clearly has problems with the site’s pitch and explains why authors won’t get a lot of money from making their books available for free.

I was confused at first by the description in the article of the way the ad revenue functioned on ebooksplus, because I was under the impression that advertisers would pay ebooksplus an allotted amount of money for a certain ad, which wouldn’t change no matter how many books sold or whether or not people actually viewed the ads (I am still slightly confused by this – does ebooks plus have access to how many times the books were not only downloaded through their app but opened and read? That is slightly creepy if it is true). I realise now that this doesn’t make much sense (how would ebooksplus continue to pay its authors if the ad revenue didn’t increase with sales?). Bear with me, I’m learning!

The fact that income is based on how much each ad is viewed does make it a concern that ebooksplus is “incredibly over-optimistic about the number of eyeballs they’re going to get”, as Hoffelder puts it. I don’t think this is a concern that is unique to ebooks; royalties of physical book are paid based on sales numbers, just as these ebook royalties would be. This form of revenue, however, is still a problem for the site. Authors might have concerns about ads being unappealing to readers, which would lower their sales. With lower sales and fewer authors willing to add their content to the site, ebooksplus would eventually become unable to support itself. Hoffelder mentions the online ebook site Wowio, which attempted to sell ad endorsed ebooks, but ultimately dropped the platform and is still up and running selling ad-free titles. The ebooksplus website was not up and running until a few days ago, months after their initial press release. Were they encountering the same problems that caused Wowio to switch to traditional ebook sales?

I have general questions about this site and its ability to grow as a company. If they are making their ebooks free in an attempt to get rid of competition, what is their next move going to be? What can they branch out into? A platform of completely free merchandise doesn’t leave much room for growth, especially if authors or publishers are going to have a problem with the ad supported model and won’t want their books on the site in the first place. Will their model be compatible with the wide range of current ereading devices available? Will it be flexible enough to incorporate future forms of ebooks or future generations of devices? Their current website certainly isn’t giving anything away. We will just have to wait and see.