Ads in eBooks

Even though it’s an idea in infancy, writers and readers are already appalled at the prospect of ads in books, but it is as inevitable as rain.

As soon as the dream of making riches as a writer fades from public consciousness (and Stephen King quits featuring bestselling writers as characters), then only a peculiar, suspect group will still be writing. For every Joe Konrath, there are 100,000 people selling a book a week or one a month. I have books ranked all up and down the scale so I have a pretty good idea of what a ranking equals in total sales. The trouble is that right now 100,000 people are reading Konrath and thinking that’s going to be them.

Honestly, all those who fear the indie onslaught just need to wait a few years. 10 million slush manuscripts will be pulled from the drawer and sell nothing. Trend over.

About the same number of writers will be making a living then as now. But some of them will be different writers. Some of them will be selling ads. Some of them will do whatever it takes to be a writer and make it work. I went three years with no book deals. I lost faith in the system but never myself, and I wrote some of the best books of my life on only the dimmest of prospects. My best-selling book was never meant to be published. It was survival. I survived.

I just picture those Soviet dissidents in Siberia, scrawling classics on frozen animal skins in beet juice. Renoir, crippled with arthritis, his legacy made, but still cranking them out from his wheelchair. Socrates drinking poison instead of pleasing the crowd.

Now, this new way of subsidizing a  book may not be as blatant as popping up a nice cold refreshing Mountain Dew video when you scroll over “soft drink” in the text (though books will soon be more interactive and smarter about what we like and what can be sold to us), but clearly someone is going to have to pay a writer enough to make the work worth the effort and keep the price at whatever the consumer is willing to pay.

Instead of saying I will never do something, I now say “What hasn’t been created yet, and how can I get to it first, and how can we share it?”

I’m already exploring ways to promote other people’s books in a variety of ways. If you’re interested in talking with me about promoting in my books, drop me an email at hauntedcomputerbooks at Yahoo and let’s brainstorm, or kick it around in the comments.

Scott Nicholson


  • lindareedgardner@yahoo.com

    Oh Scott what a bombshell of a post…and we just got over the “stable of unknown junior writers” concept used so spectacularly by James Patterson. Talk about increasing value of the ms to the author. Hoo whee.
    So, to your point, there are so many contemporary movies I turn off because of the blatant product placement, the most irritating being the use of a cell phone as a lead character, and chewing up movie time making you wade through scenes watching every character yap endlessly on the featured phone. Click.
    The most ridiculous was
    Step Up Three,” which we thought would feature some great hip hop dancing, and did, but speeded the action way up, which was so fake, but even worse it was immediately clear that the entire movie was something but a pimping of an overpriced sweatshop Nike shoe, and the slavering desire of these poor kids to try and feel worthwhile for a momment by obtaining this stupid shoe. Pathetic.
    That said, ads in bookis can hardly be less offensive. bring it on.I agree with your projection of the ebook arc. Authors will need to eat.

  • Would I rather (a) write on toilet paper in prison hoping to somehow get it out or (b) talk about scrolling over words and stumbling upon a commercial? The answer is obviously (a). Which will I more likely do in this lifetime? The answer is obviously (b).

  • lindareedgardner@yahoo.com

    Woof. I can’t type or proofread when I am on a tear, clearly.
    Back to the ad question. We have already adapted to ads before movie trailers and heavy product placement in movies-a few ad pages in every book would not be much of a jump at all. Whether or not companies would be willing to pay for something the reader will almost certainly skip over is another question. It’s an interesting idea, and apart from more of the dopey shopping novels beloved by women, that feature the brand names of clothing and furnishings in every other sentence, and asking the makers to now pay for that inclusion, would work as a tactic, I have no idea. Advertisers seem willing to pay for the most unlikely venues-the idea of asking them to support authors in this way is most interesting. I await further comments on this/ Have you tried it already?

  • I am exploring content descriptions and cross-promotion of other books, Linda. It’s no different than the “Other books by” pages you often see in paperbacks. I don’t think the ads will be as clumsy as you describe, I expect subtlety to be part of the experience, or else the content contains the message as entertainment (think: Super Bowl ads that get rejected, then go to YouTube and get seen by even larger audience). Writers are now content creators. Everything else is just nostalgia.


  • Linda Reed Gardner

    It is really fun to think about this idea. Of course someone must ask the expected cliche question: Is it now a book or an extended commercial for a product? Is “Step Up Three” not simply an unashamed commercial preying on the desire of hopeless minority kids to pretend they have already not been sorted out of the middle class race by using their limited money to obtain a sweatshop shoe that is no more useful than the standard WalMart knockoff? (I really dislike the way Nike has gone here, and found NO difference in my own running shoe use between cheap and outrageous models)
    Anyway, you’ve brought up a dynamite question here, and the more I think about it…I shall stay tuned. As they say, screenplays are pitched to investors, as are movies. Why not books? Why indeed…

  • Scott, this a a beautiful post. Talk about seeing the future! Great idea. Show us how to do it and I’ll push it all the way. NYC does it right now, self-promoting itself. Imagine radical writers doing the same. Like Bolanos’ radical poets, the world is ready for more Savage Detectives, even if they must take out ads in one another’s books.

  • Linda Reed Gardner

    Perhaps you should move this over to Konrath’s blog which is more active right now.
    I thought a lot of people would kick into gear on this one.
    I am still trying to imagine how this could be done in a book, in a way which is not so-off-putting. Awkward sentence there. Don’t writers always “create content”?
    Apart from plugging other writers, are we not talking about putting a product front and center in the action and dialogue? My hand is already reaching for the remote to hit “off”….
    I must mind this more than some others. What kind of “entertaining” promo might you havE mind?

  • The form remains to be created, Linda. Those who do it well will make it work and the others won’t.


  • lindareedgardner@yahoo.com

    I continue to sift through this very interesting idea. Since no one got paid for the endless placements in women’s shopping fiction, I am still not sure how one might convince a product producer to begin paying for being mentioned in a future book. It might work if one was James Patterson. He already pulled off the coup of the century in my mind, handing over his outlines to junior unknowns who write the actual book, so he can have multiple books on the NYTR simultaneously. Brilliant, just brilliant, and such a simple idea.
    I see more potential in following the author of “The Fiddler’s Gun,” who offered perks on his website to readers who would pay money down before the actual book was available. I believe he got a good response to that. The book also had a really engaging professional cover.
    I’ll keep thinking about your idea.