Will Kindle’s growth drive success for in-book advertising?

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Did you get a Kindle for Christmas? More importantly, are you going to advertise on it?

It seems more people are beating the post-holiday blues by firing up the new Kindle they found in their Christmas stocking and downloading titles to kick-start their new year resolution to read more. And more reading traditionalists, the kind who like the feel of paper in their hands, are succumbing to the ease and convenience of a portable digital reading device.

According to Author Media.com’s 2012 publishing predictions, ebook sales are to double in 2012, with enhanced versions entering the fray, enabling users to interact with multimedia while they read.

Marketers should be keeping their eye on this domain as technological and commercial developments allow for greater brand interaction. In the US, Amazon’s ad-supported Kindle, discounted $25 below the price of the traditional model, has become a sales hit. However, it has divided critics over what it does to audience satisfaction and whether the remuneration for a lifetime of advertising is sufficient.

The ads show up on the home screen, as screensavers, and in the form of Groupon-style deals, but not in the books themselves as a default, yet.

The opportunity for Kindle to build its own discount buying/selling community is another kettle of fish, but brand engagement via this platform will be a hot topic in 2012.

In this New York Times article from April 2011, marketing professor Bobby Calder warns that, as books are “one of the last ad-free zones”, Amazon risks alienating some users by developing its Kindle advertising platform.

But agency Iris is building a case for effectiveness in this area, with its in-book campaign for Quit UK resulting in a 240% increase in calls to the Quit hotline in January last year. The message was placed in a selection of printed and Kindle books, before the final chapter.

The results speak for themselves, but as a lover of reading I personally would not have appreciated an ad appearing just as I am about to embark on the final gripping conclusion of my novel. But on the other hand I wouldn’t have minded if my copy of Confessions of A Shopaholic came with fashion vouchers, or if my biography of Dolly Parton came with music offers.

Agency JWT pointed to similar tie ups in its “Things to watch in music” presentation last October, such as authors suggesting music soundtracks to accompany their work – effectively promoting artists of their choice.

This is the precise dilemma marketers face when considering this “new” media. Books have long been a vehicle to promote other authors and books, and subtle product placement does appear within the text, but as an active brand platform it is precarious ground.

IreaderReview.com wrote in January last year that the growth of the digital reading industry means there is no way to avoid advertising in books. “It’s inevitable that some companies will deliver books subsidised by advertising,” it wrote.

It predicted then that in-book advertising would start with a few unobtrusive ads in books, but would escalate to a thriving in-book product placement niche and books sponsored by brands in much the same way TV programmes already are. And, ultimately, a two-tier system – much like what we are already used to with the likes of Spotify, Hotmail and LinkedIn – where consumers can opt to purchase a cheaper ad-supported product or a full price ad-free version.

The piece summed it up: “Advertising in ebooks is going to be an interesting experiment. You just have to wonder what the collateral damage will be.”

As we all know, nothing stays ad free for long. But as marketers are increasingly discovering, advertising is evolving to become a value added function and even service to consumers. In-book advertising will be no different, depending on how marketers approach it.

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