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.

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