Amazon Intros Ad-Supported Kindles

Well, it was always going to happen – and I’m not surprised Amazon did it first. Since ebooks first launched people have been predicting that ads would be unceremoniously inserted into their reading material. They were right. The question is – are we bothered? As the focus on books, particularly ebooks, has become more and more about price, readers may well welcome the opportunity to decrease the price of both the books they buy and the devices they read them on.

First the facts. The Amazon offering, with the Orwellian name of Kindle With Special Offers, will be sold from May 3 for $114. This new Kindle is essentially a six-inch WiFi only Kindle with special software, without which it usually sells for $139. The ads it will load up, as shown in the image above, will be restricted to the screensaver (which only pops up when the device is turned off or goes to sleep), and in a discreet (it is to be hoped) banner along the bottom of the home screen. Ads will not be served up within books, so the reading experience is preserved. According to Russ Grandinetti, the vice president of Kindle content, the company has no plans to launch ads within books, and told Business Insider that the company is sceptical that ad-supported ebooks are something customers would be interested in buying. Amazon will be promoting some of its own deals using the advertising, as well as ads from early sponsors such as General Motors, Procter & Gamble and Visa.

So now to the questions. Is a $25 saving really enough to opt in for these ads? Personally, I don’t think it’s enough for me to risk having my reading experience compromised. Make the Kindle under $100, though, and you might have yourself a deal. But perhaps that is Amazon’s ultimate goal, and it is merely waiting to see how successful these ads are before dropping the price further (or waiting until the release of a new model of Kindle to drop their prices further). There is also a chance that Amazon is looking to sell advertising on the Kindle apps for other devices such as iPhones, Android smartphones and iPads.

Another question: why is Amazon ruling out the possibility of ad-supported ebooks? Although I’m not personally interested in subsidised pricing, it seems like an option some people would be willing to take advantage of. Price is fast becoming the hot button issue for all books, but especially for ebooks. If you could get free or very cheap books with the occasional discreet advertisement – so long as the option was there for to buy the full priced book – I really don’t see the issue. For some books, especially reference titles that contain info I’m used to seeing on the internet (supported with ads), I wouldn’t mind getting cheaper prices and seeing a few ads. What do you think of advertising in ebooks? Would you ever opt for ads to get cheaper books or a cheaper reading device? Do you think advertising and books can ever go together – or does it somehow spoil the whole enterprise? Sound off in the comments and let me know what you think.

Adland: Searching for the Meaning of Life on a Branded Planet

AdlandI can’t retype the first three pages of James P Othmer’s Adland for three reasons.

The first is that I’d get RSI.

The second is that I have a vague feeling that it would contravene some copyright rule about how much you’re allowed to quote, and the notion of ‘fair use’ is grey and terrifying.

The third is that it would kind of be mean-spirited and surprise-ruining, like rushing ahead to tell you the punchline of a joke before I’d truly completed the set up.

But I will quote some passages, which should be read aloud:

‘Do you think it would be morally acceptable to work on a beer account? How about light beer? Or hard liquor? For instance […] sweet stuff with a cool name that goes down easy, especially for those, ahem, new to drinking. Would you sell it with humour? Sell it with sex? Does alcoholism run in your family? Would you sell it to a younger, potentially underage demographic by casting older people who look young?’

And:

‘Would you work on a military account? Would you if the assignment was to increase the number of eighteen-year-old recruits during an unpopular war?’

And:

‘Would you work on a fast-food account? Fried chicken? How about fried chicken with gobs of sodium and preservatives but no trans fats and they list the calories on the bucket and they do a separate, “Hey, kids, don’t be a fatty!” campaign and put jungle gyms and salad bars at select locations?’

Finishing, after much more, with:

‘Do you? Will you? Can you? Think about it. Because your boss wants an answer in two minutes.’

It’s a powerful opening to a book that grapples with the issues Othmer, a former copywriter and creative director for large, sometimes multinational advertising agencies, faced for his 20-odd years in the industry. His memoir-meets-microscope creative non-fiction work attempts to answer those questions and to work out how and what and where advertising does, should, could, and will fit in to our lives and whether that involves the seemingly disparate principles of ethics and integrity.

It makes for fascinating reading, with Othmer observing the industry from both the inside out (he’s been removed from it for almost a decade so has some a sort of insider’s knowledge combined with an outsider’s fresh eyes).

He looks at some of the groundbreaking advertising phenomena, including Subservient Chicken, where you could type commands and the chicken would follow them, except if they were rude or would see him showing any favour to a competitor. There’s the Elf Yourself Christmas campaign, which encouraged people to paste their heads onto virtual dancing elves and send them around as Christmas greetings.

There’s also the campaign that was more guerrilla video, which fooled us into thinking (and hoping) that someone had graffitied (‘graffitied’ is a word if I say it is, Microsoft Word, with your squiggly red underline trying to tell me it’s not) ‘Still Free’ on the side of Air Force One. Oh, and he outlines his experience having KFC as a client, which includes a funny, in-house-only spoof reel of the talent spitting the chicken that’s supposed to be oh-so-appetising into a bucket at the end of every take.

Othmer includes some brilliant quotes from some of my favourite authors. Say, for example, Philip K Dick’s ‘If God manifested himself to us he would do so in the form of a product advertised on TV’. Or George Bernard Shaw’s ‘The greatest problem with communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished’.

Courtesy of Othmer, I also learned a new favourite term that I’ll be applying as often and as liberally as possible: ‘Bacn’, which is otherwise known as spam by request. Pronounced ‘bacon’ like the meat, it’s a reference to the faux-meat Spam which has taken on new meaning as uninvited emails. Still with me? In short, bacn is related to email lists you’ve signed up for but the content from which you don’t have time to read.

So, does Othmer find meaning and integrity within the intense, cut-throat world of advertising? I can’t tell you that. But I recommend you read Adland, which I enjoyed, to find out.