Ads in your textbooks?

August 15th, 2006 by Adam

The Seattle-PI has an article today about “Ads coming to textbooks”. Seems that Freeload Press, a startup textbook publisher, is providing free downloadable text books supported by advertisements.

I was just speaking with Claes-Fredrik this morning about ad-supported revenue models vs. more traditional product pricing. Exbiblio technologies potentially affect every printed or digital document that you access, including those which are not currently the target of advertising (for example, a business plan or a novel).

It seems that the world has trended toward advertising supported services. Google is the poster child for this, but there are many others. Those hosting the ads say that ads are as valuable as the content itself if they are well targeted (and the more user behavior that is tracked, the more accurate the targeting).

Personally, I try to create a lifestyle with fewer ads as they usually encourage discontentment and greed, which are not qualities that I wish to promote in myself. For example, I pay for my e-mail service instead of using an ad supported one, I’ve upgraded my Flickr account to one which doesn’t show ads, and I don’t own a television (though I sometimes buy shows I like on DVD). I definitely don’t want ads delivered based on all the digital and printed documents in my life even if it means paying more for an Exbiblio style product.

Some would say that ads can be optional. Users who don’t want to see them can pay a higher fee (Flickr for example). My question for this approach is which users are going to opt out? Probably the ones who can afford it, right? Well, who are the advertisers targeting? The ones who can afford it… This seems like a lose, lose. Their are a bunch of people getting ads that they can’t afford to act upon and advertisers are missing the folks who are willing to spend money.

There is some interested discussion in the comments of this blog about whether Freeload sponsors will want to pay for textbooks distributed to third world countries where they are unlikely to build a customer base in the near-term…

I’m not sure what the answer to these questions are. They are tough issues. But, I’d appreciate your thoughts in the comment section.

One Response to “Ads in your textbooks?”

  1. Claes-Fredrik Mannby Says:

    Thanks for starting this discussion, Adam.

    It is a question we should be asking ourselves, and listening to feedback on: Should we support financing through ads?

    (Regarding the seeming contradiction in removing ads if customers pay us, I don’t think the set of people who are willing to pay for the service, the set of people who don’t want to see the ads, and the people who are financially able to act on advertising are the same, and if people who are less well off and could not act on the advertising are able to use a product because the advertising makes it freely available, I would think they would mostly welcome it, even if the ads are actually somewhat pointless and a nuisance in their case. I think it’s a topic worth exploring, but I don’t think it rules out ads for Exbiblio.)

    I think the first question to resolve is whether we want to entertain the notion of ads.

    Google was financially successful because it provided an easy way to tastefully serve relevant ads basically anywhere in the Web browser domain. They are currently exploring additional services through the Web browser, perhaps in order to extend the reach of such ads (as well as extending the ads to other media, such as television).

    I think most of us agree that we can see some value to customers in targeted advertising. It keeps us abreast of potential products we may want to buy, and it can finance content and service delivery. And, the more targeted, relevant, timely and aligned with our immediate activities and long-term values that the ads are, the more receptive to them we are.

    My personal view is that if we provide ads in a way that is even more valuable to customers than Google, for example, that would actually improve the “ad climate” for customers, not deteriorate it. For example, even though Google AdWord ads are often ridiculous (see the bottom ad on the right), it’s miles better than being offered SUVs and erectile disfunction tablets if you want to watch “Friends” on TV. I hope Google will fix multimedia ads.

    I think we should challenge ourselves to do better than the state of the art, and then evaluate whether we want to pursue it as a means of financing products and services.