Advertising In Books

By most accounts, the publishing industry has been having a tough time of late, having to adapt to increased competition from the Internet and video games; falling sales; and the explosion of self-publishing and print-on-demand technologies. In addition, publishers are searching for ways to make e-books attractive and profitable, and like music publishers before them, they need to come up with new business models and new revenue opportunities.

One such opportunity is the inclusion of advertising in books, both print and electronic, and there are two ways this could happen:

  • Firstly, traditional ads could be included in the end pages of books, much as the old mail order ads for x-ray specs and sea monkeys used to be included in the backs of American comic books.
  • Secondly, and this is perhaps more interesting, interactive hyperlinks could be included within the actual text of the book itself.

If a character in the book drinks a particular brand of soft drink, a link could be included to a promotional landing page on that company’s website; or if the action takes place in New York or San Francisco, links could be included to hotels or tourist attractions in those cities.

Would this kind of advertising work, or would it put off more readers than it attracted, leading to further falls in sales? Could it revolutionise the publishing industry, or would it lead to less variety as advertisers pay only for space in books by big-name authors, leaving books by new writers struggling to attract finance?

Would you buy a book with advertising included in it, or does the very idea repulse you? Can you foresee advertising becoming ubiquitous in literature, or do you have alternative suggestions for the future of the publishing industry?

I’d like to hear your thoughts…

Gareth L Powell is the author of the novels The Recollection and Silversands, and the short story collection The Last Reef. He is also a regular contributor to Interzone and can be found online at

9 thoughts on “Advertising In Books”

  1. I’d probably be rather annoyed if I found advertising in a story, unless it was pretty clearly marked as “advertising supported” (and there was a non-link version). At the moment, I’m not really interested in any ebook reader that has the ability to connect to any network besides a USB cable, so it would be of limited use for me anyways.

    The problem is that while it would start with just a link, maybe a picture, it wouldn’t stay that way. We would start getting popup ads between pages probably with confusing close buttons that really mean “register me for more spam”.

    Related to that. As a writer, I actually feel uncomfortable adding specific product links. I remember reading about the complaints about the Heroes TV show when the garbage disposal company got upset because it showed their brand when the cheerleader stuck her hand in it. Yes, that was public and a lot of people were looking at it, but it discourages writing from using real products in a book (more so if it is an unfavorable light).

    Plus, one of my favorite duo of authors Preston and Childs (The Relic) always have that disclaimer about how they rearrange New York to fit their story. That makes it a bit harder to have those advertising when the places don’t exist. I think needing to be able to link to pictures, ads, what have you would actually discourage writers from creating hidden spots in cities, simply because there is no advertising basis for them.

  2. When I used to read newspapers I never found the adverts distracting; the same applies to magazines. My reading habits have changed and now both of these are replaced by similar products on the internet, the advertising is still there.

    TV is much the same; the advertising remains whether I watch in the old fashioned way or in a window on the computer, live or time shifted. The only time I become frustrated is when DVDs or Blurays make it impossible for me to skip the advert.

    I imagine I’d approach placements in books in much the same way. Full page spreads at the start or the end wouldn’t be a problem as I could simply ignore them. One stuck in the middle of a story would be bothersome as it might break up the immersion. Product placement already happens to some extent, so I’m comfortable with that; linking these seems unnecessary in eBooks because it’s so simple to copy and paste text into a web browser. An obscured link would be fine, the classic underlined blue text, not so good as, again, it would distract from what was being read.

    In summary: forced viewing not so good, optional viewing I’m fine with.


  3. Hmmm…it’s an interesting one. I don’t think I’d object to other titles being plugged in those blank pages at the end, but of course that doesn’t bring in revenue for the publisher.

    Here’s what I think given my time working on a commercial consumer magazine.

    The concern I’d have is that if it became standard you’d not only end up with increasingly more ads, but then it opens up a situation where it could be possible for advertisers to begin dictating elements of the book. For example the writer has the bad guy drinking a big name alcohol just before he detonates a bomb killing hundreds of innocents…well the company won’t like that, so they might ask for changes, the publisher then says to the author “well they are willing to spend £25k with us, but you need to completely re-write chapters 3, 12 and 16. Then they may say “well we’ll pay £xxxx for a few pages at the back but we want our product appearing x amount of times.” This kind of thing happens a lot in film and TV apparently.

    Personally I hate..*hate*.. product placement in films, especially when it is really blatant, some of the stuff in the first Transformers film was sickening and I’ve seen much worse. I understand it’s part of the deal but when it is blatant it really gets me.

    I wouldn’t like to see it. And the idea of ads in e-books could be even worse. I don’t read them, and doubt I ever will until they create a reader that is as easy on the eyes as paper, but I can’t imagine having ads on pages, pop-ups every twenty pages etc. which is what they’d want, I doubt they’d be happy with hyperlinks, too easy to ingore.

    And as you say advertisers want to maximise their audience – Coke or Nike would only advertise in Stephen King books, while smaller more niche companies might advertise in smaller books that they feel target their core audience but they won’t have much budget so the spend will be smaller.

    I would refuse to buy any book that featured adverts from a company other than the publishing house of the book in question.

    Well…that’s my two penneths worth anyway.

  4. If I buy a book – physical or digital (invariably physical in my case) – then I’ve already given them my money. I’ve paid for the right to only see adverts for other books by the author, or other authors with the publisher, not to be inflicted with adverts for anything and everything the publisher fancies.

    If I picked up a book and glanced through it, only to find adverts for unrelated products or services, the book would go back on the shelf and far from bringing in extra revenue the publisher would get absolutely nothing because I wouldn’t buy it – and probably wouldn’t buy anything else from the publisher either, no matter how much I liked the author (which might be unfair because it’s possibly not the *author’s* fault and arguably may not even be receiving any of the profits of said advertising).

    So… no. I’m repulsed by the idea, and believe that any publisher who tried to go that route might just be shooting themselves in the foot instead. Of course, if anyone could point me to a publisher who’ve tried the business model and found it profitable, I’d love to see.

  5. I think distracting links to product websites will never happen, but along those same lines I think it may become common for companies to pay top name authors to weave their brand into their book. For example, instead of the protagonist drinking a soda, he would be drinking a “Coke” and it might say “Coke” a few more times than normal.

  6. I hate bad product placement. HATE HATE HATE it. Like on that episode of “Psych” with Chi McBride, how Snickers was so badly included. Or how Twizzlers keep showing up in “Warehouse 13”.

    Good product placement isn’t supposed to be like “The Truman Show”. You’re not supposed to notice it. When I was in college, the next big thing was going to be the ability to pause a TV show and click on, say, the blouse Jennifer Aniston was wearing on “Friends”. You would get info on it, pricing, and links to purchase. Didn’t quite happen that way, did it…

    Having worked in local TV, I’ve been through some extremely painful advertorial content. That’s not what I want in my books (which haven’t yet been published). That said, if I sell my book on Kindle and when the characters are watching “Primer” (which happpens in the book), you can click the name of the film for a link to Amazon so you can buy it? I’m fine with that. I don’t want editors forcing me to put certain products in my books, but if I can make more money by, for example, choosing what I do and don’t want hyperlinked, that’s fine by me. The thing is, I, as the author, should be allowed to choose what I link.

    Just as long as the links aren’t those annoying underlined ones on so many news pages. There should be a page at the start of the ebook that says “if you’d like more information about products, music, films, or vehicles that you see in this book, touch the name to visit their website. A bookmark will be placed for you.” Maybe even a little arrow next to a line with a product in it, or a summary at the bottom — and wouldn’t that be a great use for Nook’s bottom screen, to give you associated links?

    Just as long as I don’t have to change my creative vision because a publisher has a contract with a certain company. My character drives a mid-90s Acura for a reason; if Chevrolet forces me to put her in a 2011 Cobalt, that won’t make any sense.

  7. There is enough really good stuff available for free that if something is going to have ads in it it had better be free. If I pay for something and it has ads I am going to be bothered.

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