This new Kindle with ads just seems like a really dumb idea to me. I’m not some sort of anti-ad purist; rather, this just doesn’t make sense from a consumer point of view. For a one-time, $25 discount in the price of the Kindle ($139 to $114) you get the “Kindle with Special Offers” which asks you to to tolerate “screen saver” type ads for all of eternity (or at least until you’re forced to upgrade to the next Kindle). Who wouldn’t just pay the extra $25?
Then there’s the whole name business surrounding this. The “Kindle with Special Offers”? How long did they take coming up with that one? As if anyone in their right mind will see it as a sales point that you can now get “special offers” along with the books that you pay for.
But most of all, I think the whole “ads with something you pay for” thing is very touchy territory. Movies are the classic example of a product where we’ve been acculturated to not expect ads–because we’ve paid a significant amount of money to watch the movie–and so ads before a movie tend to piss people off. (I for one have seen people yelling at the screen with alarming frequency.)
I think the same thing goes here. If you’re paying $100+ for an e-reader and then anywhere from $9.99 – $14.99 for a book, ads are going to feel very inappropriate. They’re just not something we’re comfortable with in books.
As a NY Times Artsbeat post notes on a cigarette-industry -fueled bout of advertising in books in the 1970s:
But the bulk of the advertising, Collins wrote, came from cigarette companies, who were looking for new ways to push their product after the 1969 federal ban on television and radio advertising. By 1975, the Lorillard Tobacco Company had placed ads in some 540 million paperbacks. The focus was mainly on pulp titles like “Purr, Baby, Purr” and “Group Sex,” but Lorillard also placed ads in some 74,000 copies of Toni Morrison’s novel, “The Bluest Eye.”
Authors and readers alike assailed the ads, with one columnist lamenting, “We will see the day when we turn a page of Hemingway or Wolfe … and the next page will say Are Your Underarms Really With It?” The ads began to fade away in the early 1980s, thanks in part to new author contracts forbidding unauthorized ads.
Now what would actually be cool is if with your special ad-enabled Kindle you also got the right to purchase books at a further discount, something from like 10 to 20 percent off. that would actually be interesting, and justifiably fair from a consumer point.
But of course, my suspicion is that this is all beside the fact. My suspicion is that this is all a big game Amazon is playing with itself to test out the ad waters as it gears up for a much more meaningful, more serious move at becoming a major player in digital advertising. It makes sense, and, as Google has shown us, it’s one of the few proven ways to really make a buck online.