Ads in e-books: the marketing world invades the last sacred frontier

It was bound to happen: advertisements in books. Sure, the pulp-y fictions of old had their wares to sell, and mass market volumes often contain ads for, well, other mass market volumes. But thus far we haven’t been inundated with advertising in our reading material. With e-books, that may change.

Marketers are exploring a variety of formats, including sponsorships that give readers free books. Videos, graphics or text with an advertiser’s message that appear when a person first starts a book or along the border of the digital pages are also in the works. Ads can be targeted based on the book’s content and the demographic and profile information of the reader.
Would the random ad or two at the beginning of an e-book be so objectionable, really, especially if it would help lower or erase the cost of that book to the reader? Maybe not, but it’s a slippery slope between accompanying ads and product placement.

Imagine an ad for a sports drink that says “Is your day feeling like the worst of times?” that appears in “A Tale of Two Cities” next to the line “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” or ads for condoms interspersed through “The Scarlet Letter,” says Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey.

Read more at WSJ.

eBook piracy on the rise?

From CNET:

Last January a company called Attributor conducted its first e-book piracy study. And back in May, I mentioned that study in piece called “Is Pad supercharging e-book piracy?” Well, Attributor has conducted a second study more recently and come up with some interesting data.

The company says its key findings are:

  • 50 percent increase in online searches for pirated downloads throughout the past year
  • 1.5-3 million daily Google queries for pirated e-books
  • 20 percent increase in demand for pirated downloads since the iPad became widely available in mid-May 2010
  • 54 percent increase in pirated e-book demand since August 2009
  • Proliferation of smaller sites that host and supply pirated e-books–a shift from larger sites like Rapidshare dominating the syndication market
  • “Breaking Dawn” by Stephanie Meyer registered the most pirated copy searches throughout the study
  • Widespread international demand, with the largest number of searches during the study originating in the United States (11 percent), India (11 percent) and Mexico (5 percent)

Read more: http://news.cnet.com/8301-17938_105-20018831-1.html#ixzz11ftgWWcT

iPad may go on sale March 26th — getting ready for iBooks

I’m a junkie: pretty much every day now I’m Googling “ipad release date”, looking for news — finally, this morning, MacRumors.com says there are “whispers” that the iPad will go on sale March 26, at 6 PM.

The iPad is getting a lot of pre-release criticism, and I’m sure it’s not for everyone. I don’t recommend it, I don’t dis-recommend it — but I know I, personally, want one. I use a desktop for all my heavy computing. I use (and love) my iPhone for my mobile needs. But there’s a niche that’s missing for me. I bought a netbook a few months ago, mostly to fill in while the desktop (“Stan the Man”, I call it — yes, I name my computers) was out getting repairs. I have nothing positive to say about netbooks. Steve Job is right: it really is just a crappy laptop. I need the touchscreen, the media capabilities. And I’ve grown very curious about e-reading. I’ve done a bit of it on my iPhone; it’s not bad, but the screen is a little small. I’ve been curious about the Kindle and the Nook, but just couldn’t stomach the price tag, for a one-purpose device. As Roger Stewart, editorial director of McGraw-Hill Professional, put it:

“The reason publishers have long believed the iPad would have the potential to be a game changer is not because it was designed to be an e-book reader,” he said. “It’s a game changer because it does everything else well and, by the way, it also happens to be a great e-book reader. Most people are reluctant to pay $300 for an e-book reader, but if the reader is just part of the device that you bought for all those other reasons the barrier goes away.”

Exactly.

So, I’m still Googling, and watching the news. I seriously doubt I’ll camp out for the iPad. I didn’t for the iPhone, and instead just walked into an Apple Store the next day and bought one in five minutes. But I’ll be tempted.

Why buy the cow when you can read the milk for free?

E-books have been the story for 2010 so far — who’s reading them, who’s not, how much they should sell for, and what you should read them on.

Publishers have objected to lowering the cost of e-books, and in a much-publicized dispute between Amazon and MacMillan, so far the publishers are winning. On one hand, I, too, agree that we shouldn’t devalue books, that artificially low costs give the impression that books are cheap and not worth spending money on. On the other hand, as a consumer, I’m still saying that if you want me to boy an e-book instead of a paper book, you’ve got to give me big incentives — especially a lower price. Why would I pay $15 dollars for a book I’ll be able to buy in paperback for that much in a few months? And I’m not the only reader who feels that way. Those of us who “value” books the most are the same people who consume more of them than anyone else, and we can’t afford not to be price-conscious. At the same time, we’re well aware of our options for reading. There is, after all, always the library. 🙂

Then there are all the free e-books out there, which is the big story, really, as to what’s driving the rise in e-book popularity this year, in my opinion. It’s not just books in the public domain — new authors and old have found that giving away books can actually help their sales in the long run. More than half of the “best-selling” e-books on the Kindle, Amazon.com’s e-reader, are available at no charge. Sometimes it’s a new author with a new series: they’ll give away the first book for free in hopes you’ll get hooked and buy the second. And sometimes it’s an older author with a new release, hoping to cash in on the same ploy. Whatever it is, it seems to be working. Publishers, of course, are less than thrilled.

Similarly, a spokesman for Penguin Group USA said: “Penguin has not and does not give away books for free. We feel that the value of the book is too important to do that.”

Of course, that’s not at all true. Penguin gives review copies for free, I’m sure, and one might argue that this new e-book business model isn’t completely different from that.

I can’t help but feel that publishing companies are going to have to come to grips with that new model whether they want to or not. More and more people are cottoning on to the idea of e-readers; even I plan on buying an iPad this spring and giving it a whirl, in addition to already reading on my phone, from time to time. I don’t think bookstores are going to go away, not entirely (though I’m a little more worried about the traditional public library). But just as the music industry has had to adapt to digital music and find a way to make it profitable (and they have), publishers are going to have to do the same to incorporate digital reading into their framework.

Gay characters make problems for Scholastic | csmonitor.com

Gay characters make problems for Scholastic | csmonitor.com

Will they or won’t they? That had been the question. Would a book with a pair of gay characters appear at Scholastic’s book fairs? If not, there was angry talk of a boycott. And if so, well, there is also angry talk of a boycott. The book in question is a novel called “Luv Ya Bunches” by Lauren Myracle. The book is aimed at readers ages 9 to 12 and it tells the story of four girls with nothing in common except that they are all named for flowers. Basically, it’s a story of friendship and the trials and triumphs of growing up, but it appears that children’s book publishing giant Scholastic had a concern about including “Luv Ya Bunches” in its elementary school book fairs this fall due, in part, to the fact that one of the girls in story has a pair of same-sex parents. At least, that’s what was reported by School Library Journal.

“Don’t expect to see Lauren Myracle’s new book ‘Luv Ya Bunches’ at Scholastic school book fairs this year,” wrote SLJ. “It’s been censored – at least for now – due to its language and homosexual content.”

Myracle told SLJ that Scholastic had asked her to remove the gay characters from her story if she wanted to see the book carried at the fairs. She  called the decision “appalling.” Scholastic defended the move. “Authors are often given the opportunity to make changes in the books to meet the norms of the various communities that host the fairs,” Kyle Good, a Scholastic spokeswoman told SLJ.

But now Scholastic says the book will appear – with gay characters intact – at middle school fairs in spring 2010.

(click here for the entire article)

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What’s a new book worth to you?

It’s been in the news for the past week or so: major retailers are in a book-price war. It started With Wal-Mart lowering the price on ten bestsellers )some upcoming) to $10. Amazon matched that the next day. Wal-Mart dropped to $9. Amazon matched them again, so Wal-Mart dropped to $8.99.

Then Target entered the bidding war, offering any of six soon-to-be published books on its web site for $8.99 as well. And Wal-Mart dropped to $8.98, like a contestant on The Price is Right but in reverse.

The books include Sarah Palin’s “Going Rogue”; “Under the Dome” by Stephen King; “I, Alex Cross” by James Patterson; “Pirate Latitudes” by Michael Crichton; “The Lacuna” by Barbara Kingsolver; and “Ford County,” a short-story collection by John Grisham. Amazon had not cut any pennies as of Tuesday afternoon and was sticking with $9.

It’s a contest “that has no end in sight,” said Michael Norris, an analyst with Simba Information, which provides research and advice to publishers. Mr. Norris said the price war could be particularly damaging to booksellers because they could not afford to discount that heavily, while the retailers who were slashing prices “don’t need to sell books in order to stay in business” and therefore can sell the books at a loss.

I don’t care so much about the booksellers themselves. I mean, it’s a cruel, capitalistic world. It’s easier to like booksellers than it is to like Wal-Mart (it’s easier to like just about anything than it is to like Wal-Mart), but they’re in it for the dollars just the same. There’s no real reason to show compassion or favoritism to Barnes & Noble, no matter how much I want to. They want my money, just like the rest.

Oddly enough, though, I care a little bit more about the point made by the American Booksellers Association, which represents independently owned bookstores and who has sent a letter to the Justice Department asking it to investigate what it describes as “predatory pricing” by Amazon, Wal-Mart and Target.

The association’s letter, which is signed by the group’s nine board members, accused the retailers of “devaluing the very concept of the book”

Furthermore, this article in the New York Times brought up some very valid points — valid to us readers, I mean. Because if you’re a reader, you care about what gets published.

Still, publishing industry veterans were worried about the potential long-term effect on the consumer mindset.

“If readers come to believe that the value of a new book is $10, publishing as we know it is over,” said David Gernert, Mr. Grisham’s literary agent. “If you can buy Stephen King’s new novel or John Grisham’s ‘Ford County’ for $10, why would you buy a brilliant first novel for $25? I think we underestimate the effect to which extremely discounted best sellers take the consumer’s attention away from emerging writers.”

The immediate impact of the low prices was likely to be felt by other bookstores, including chains like Barnes & Noble and Borders. As of Friday, neither of the Web sites for those companies indicated that it was matching the $9 price. At BN.com and Borders.com, the titles were generally discounted by 40 percent.

A spokeswoman for Barnes & Noble declined to comment. In a statement Borders said the majority of its revenues did not come from best sellers. “Our model does not rely on being the lowest priced,” the company said in the statement. “It relies on offering our customers a true bookstore experience — the opportunity to explore a vast array of titles within a comfortable environment where shoppers can go where their interests take them.”

Independent booksellers have long struggled to compete with discounts offered by Barnes & Noble, Amazon and Wal-Mart. William Petrocelli, an owner of Book Passage, an independent company that has stores in San Francisco and suburban Corte Madera, Calif., said that for now he was relying on the loyalty of customers who valued staff recommendations and author events as much as prices. But, he said, if the low prices siphoned off too many customers and put independent stores out of business, it would ultimately affect what would get published.

“What this does is accentuate the trend towards best sellers dominating the market,” Mr. Petrocelli said. Without independents, decisions about what books to put on store shelves would reside in the hands of a few corporate executives rather than hundreds of idiosyncratic booksellers, he said.

“You have a choke point where millions of writers are trying to reach millions of readers,” Mr. Petrocelli said, “but if it all has to go through a narrow funnel where there are only four or five buyers deciding what’s going to get published, the business is in trouble.”

What do you think? Tempest in a teapot? Would deeply-discounted bestsellers have a negative impact on publishing? Or are we worrying for nothing, because serious readers are always going to want the books they want, no matter what’s on sale? I don’t know, but I will tell you that they can mark down Sarah Palin’s book, or John Grisham’s next, for that matter, to a penny, and I’m still not buying either — so does it really matter?

Boring into my heart like fangs

Every time I swear I’m going to leave Twilight alone, I just can’t resist going back in and taking another poke at it. And is that so wrong? This is why I read it, after all, to be able to mock it mercilessly. (And of course, like the bloggers at AbeBooks, when I say I read Twilight, I mean all four books, in fairly rapid succession.) So when I learned that the Harvard Lampoon has written a Twilight spoof, due out November 3, I was tickled downright mauve.

Here are a few lines from Nightlight: A Parody:

He was muscular, like a man who could pin you up against the wall as easily as a poster, yet lean, like a man who would rather cradle you in his arms. He had reddish, blonde-brown hair that was groomed heterosexually. He looked older than the other boys in the room—maybe not as old as God or my father, but certainly a viable replacement. Imagine if you took every woman’s idea of a hot guy and averaged it out into one man. This was that man.

Though, to be honest, that sounds an awful lot like Twilight itself.

Hot, immortal and no icky blood drinking — are angels kicking vampires out of the spotlight?

As you know I read Twilight — every single page of all four books. I saw the movie and will probably end up seeing New Moon at some point. All for the joy of mocking, because it was all pretty much the most abysmal dreck I’d ever read/seen. But lots of fun to mock. And I’ve recently become aware that there’s a whole bushel of vampire series out there, two that have spawned television shows, even. At the bookstore or even just in the book aisle in Target, I see shelves and shelves of vampire books, vampire romances, vampire dramas.

I’m just as perplexed as I was at the beginning of this. Awhile ago, Joss Whedon gave us a kick-ass, awesome vampire show for seven pretty consistent seasons. Then it went off the air, and now there’s all these vampire books and shows? Why the delayed reaction? But what’s really delayed, I gather, is my discovery of the phenomenon, because according to an article in the Sept. 14 Publisher’s Weekly, vampires may be on their way out… to be replaced by angels.

This fall publishers are introducing more than a dozen titles about angels—good ones, funny ones and especially fallen ones, kicked out of heaven. “We’ve kind of exhausted where we can go with vampires,” said Heather Doss, children’s merchandise manager for Bookazine. “Now we’re taking the safe characters and making them the bad guys. We’re turning that stereotypical angel image upside down.”

A couple of big advantages are that angels are less scary and don’t have an “ick” factor. “Some people think, vampires—who wants to deal with the bloody side of that?” said Beverly Horowitz, v-p and publisher of Knopf Delacorte Dell Young Readers Group.

This is true. Like vampires, angels have been done before. Touched by an Angel. Highway to Heaven. Heaven Can Wait. City of Angels. Heck, one of the most beloved movies of all time had an angel in it, It’s a Wonderful Life. So it’s not like this is a new, fresh idea or anything. But then again, sooner or later everything old is new again, and I really do have to imagine it’ll be a relief to authors in that milieu to not have to keep finding ways to make guys who drink AB positive sexy instead of mildly gross.

If V.C. Andrews can write from the grave, then James Patterson can publish 17 books in 3 years

Following up on some information from commenter Mary from Scottsdale yesterday — from the New York Times:

Yes, James Patterson Signs 17-Book Deal
Compiled by Dave Itzkoff. Published: September 8, 2009
If over the next few months you see smoke coming from the direction of James Patterson’s house, it might be a result of the author’s burning off his fingertips as he types: on Tuesday, the Hachette Book Group announced that it had signed a deal with Mr. Patterson that would cover 17 books. Hachette said that 11 of the books would be for adult readers and released by Little, Brown & Company (in hardcover) and Grand Central Publishing (in paperback); the remaining 6 would be handled by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. The books will be divided among Mr. Patterson’s various best-selling series and feature his detective characters Alex Cross and Michael Bennett as well as the Women’s Murder Club. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Hachette said the contract would cover books through 2012.

That’s ballsy. I mean, to have the confidence, as a writer, that you’ve definitely got 17 books in you in the next, eek, three years? I haven’t read a single thing by James Patterson, so I’m no judge, but I’m getting the impression there might be some ghost writing going on. Just maybe.

You know, I used to suspect that Danielle Steele was really a computer program — you just plug in the names, the dates, the setting and “DS” would randomly generate a new story. Well, “newish”, really. Now I’m convinced this is true.

But that’s all nothing on V.C. Andrews. (You know who she is. Don’t tell me you didn’t read Flowers in the Attic, back in the day. Everyone read that book, please.) Seriously, did you know that V.C. Andrews has written FAR more books since she’s been dead than she did alive? At most you can credit her with 10 novels, one of those available only as an e-book and two others “finished” by someone else. Whereas I count 60 more — SIXTY — published after Andrews’ death, written by that someone else, yet still credited to her. Not bad for a dead chick.