Digital Reading: Ads Happen

Anne KostickThey’re here. Well, they’re about to be here next month. And only if you buy the discounted Kindle-with-special-offers. And only on the home screen and screen saver. And only when you’re looking at it, when it is “on,” with the case cover opened. And you will have some input into the style of ad you prefer.

That doesn’t sound so bad. In fact, customers don’t seem to be as upset about the incursion of ads into their e-books as you might expect. After Amazon announced their new, lower-priced and ad-supported Kindle, most complaints seemed to be either that the $25 price cut on the reader isn’t anywhere near enough, or that Wi-Fi delivered advertising separates the reader even more firmly from his purchased product: “When will I actually own what I have bought?”

Amazon even displayed sensitivity to the subject of this column, when Kindle director Jay Marine said, “We think the response is going to be positive because it doesn’t touch the reading experience.”

We’ve Been Here Before

Ads in books are really nothing new. As Jennifer Schuessler described in the Times Arts Beat blog last week, advertisers have been trying to use books as an ad medium since Dickens was alive and writing. The practice had waxed and waned, but mostly waned. Still, we have come to accept ads—as long as they are about books, and perhaps come from the same author or at least the same publisher—in the front and back of paperbacks. Just leave that reading experience alone.

We take in ads in every other reading and entertainment medium—really, in almost every other moment of our lives. We’ve learned how to deal with ads—either to absorb them or to block them out. Remember the introduction of ads at We can barely recall how annoying and intrusive those ads seemed when they were introduced. Now, we accept them passively. Mostly, we don’t even see them.

As long as the medium is felt to be transient, we believe, the ads will disappear along with its carrier—the magazine, television show, radio wave, and web page. But we still consider something labeled (and felt to be) a book to be permanent. And a permanent ad is bad.

More Ads Are Sure to Come

Is Amazon’s ad program simply the thin end of the wedge? Certainly it is, but it is also a wedge that will alter our perception of digital books; they, too, will finally be seen as a transient medium. Then we’ll find a way to deal with e-reader ads the way we do with other transient media: look away, walk away, remove it, mute it, or block it. I see some new-product opportunities on the horizon: electrostatic screen covers in your choice of colors; note pads that stick to and, coincidentally, cover the screen; something in a spray bottle, named (of course) Ad Begone.

We don’t need to speculate on Amazon’s direction with ads. The idea may have been seen as a way to drop the price of the hardware below that of competitors. But if successful, the program will probably expand to more versions of e-readers. And why not? As long as customers don’t object, more ads will always come their way.

NOTE: DBW has launched an Editorial Forum on LinkedIn, a sub-group for editors and others working in trade publishing to discuss standards, workflow, best practices, and the general Qs that most print people feel when confronted with terms like “workflow.” The Forum is moderated by Anne Kostick and David B. Schlosser. Anne’s weekly column, Digital Reading, discusses the field of User Experience and explores what it offers to trade publishers.

Anne Kostick is a partner in Foxpath IND, a digital-print-web consulting and services company specializing in the transition to and from traditional content development, management and publishing. She is also the editor in chief of Dulcinea Media, an online publisher in the educational market, and is the current president of Women’s Media Group.

3 thoughts on “Digital Reading: Ads Happen

    1. Anne

      I’d find this style of heavily linked text even more annoying than a full-page graphic ad for hemorrhoid cream…and then I’d probably get used to it.

      At least the linked-text approach when used in an e-reader lacks the other annoying feature of the web–when you mouse over a link you get a text pop-up. Maybe there’s a way to connect the link with eye-tracking software so when you look at it, more text pops up. Now, that would really disrupt the reading experience.

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