May 21, 2012

So long Jane Austen — Amazon planning to have ads in Kindles


Well, strange that it took this long, I guess: Amazon is planning to add advertising to the Kindle reading experience.

According to a report from — where else? — AdAge by Jason Del Rey, they won’t be cheap, either:

Amazon is pitching ads on the device’s welcome screen, according to an executive at an agency that Amazon has pitched. The company has been telling ad agency execs that they must spend about $600,000 for any package that includes such an ad…. For $1 million, advertisers would get more ad inventory and be included in Amazon’s public-relations push, according to this executive and an exec at another ad agency.

However, the AdAge report notes the plan may not be proceeding as smoothly as Amazon had hoped:

Both agency executives have so far declined to participate, citing several concerns. For one, Amazon isn’t guaranteeing the number of devices that the welcome-screen ads will reach, telling agencies that it hasn’t decided whether the ads will start popping up on devices that have already been purchased or just on new devices.

“It’s kind of an expensive buy to not get a guaranteed audience and measurement,” one of these people said. “It doesn’t comply with a lot of our necessary planning rigor.”

Both execs are also worried about the consumer experience, especially if the ads start showing up on already-sold devices whose welcome screens haven’t previously displayed advertising.

“You’re already paying a premium for the product and then having that unexpected ad experience makes for a worse consumer experience,” one of the execs said.

As to where Amazon got the idea — apparently, the same place the company gets many of its ideas: “The pricing level is reminiscent of iAD, Apple‘s ad network that places ads within apps on iPhones and iPads…. Industry sources speculate that Amazon is attempting to build a competitor to iAD.” Except that the more fitting analogy here to what Amazon plans would be if Apple had placed ads in the songs they were selling at iTunes ….

In any event, what will Kindle users think? Those ad agency execs who are “worried about the consumer experience” are on to something, no? Surely people will revolt?

Maybe not, if the Wired magazine report covering the story is any indication. In the first few sentences alone, reporter Roberto Baldwin works so hard to make excuses for the plan that you’d think he works for Amazon:

Whether we like it or not, advertising pays for a bunch of stuff we enjoy. Network TV, magazines and web sites that don’t have multi-billion-dollar IPOs all depend on advertising dollars to make their profit margins — or even survive. And now Amazon is pondering an advertising subsidy for its Kindle Fire tablet.

Which all sounds well and good, except for the fact that Amazon did indeed have a huge IPO (not to mention net sales last quarter alone of over $13 billion), so by the reporter’s own rules it doesn’t need “subsidizing,” an absurd concept to begin with … and then there’s the fact that “we” don’t necessarily have to put up with advertising as he suggests.

As a case in point, there’s the fact that the book industry is an exception to the media landscape he describes — that is, books don’t have ads in them. With extremely rare exception — and that usually just notice of an author’s other titles, buried in the back of the book — publishers in the US and UK and indeed in most of the world have stood by the belief that once readers have paid for a book they should not then be subjected to advertising.

Especially on the welcome page.


Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.