Friday, May 11, 2012

Advertising on book covers and inside books

 Ads on book covers?
Last week a book was published in China with an advertisement on the back cover. It isn't intrusive--the ad is a small logo of a textile firm. The deputy director of the Publishers' Association of China announced his association's deal with an advertising agency in March. He talks about it in this article in People Daily. (Well worth reading.)
Though ads on covers may be new, ads inside books are not new. 

I remember reading books with ads in them. The ads weren't for products, they were for other books by the publisher. But they are ads! I went to my bookshelves to see if I could find these ads in some of my older books.
First, I found a picture book I bought when I lived in China. The back cover shows photos of other picture books: advertising. (As I thumb through this book, I now wish I had bought more copies of this book and bought some of the other books shown.)

Some books advertise other books published by the author--these advertisements use several pages at the back of the book and show book covers and include pitches or blurbs. (Some books published today still mention other books by the author, but they don't have the tone or look or feel of an advertisement.)

I own some recent children's books that include the first chapter of another book by the same author. This is a type of advertisement, one that can hook the reader. (It can also frustrate the reader if the book isn't yet published!)

Historically, some publishing houses included mail order forms on the back pages of their books.
Here are some of the publishing houses (who used these types of ads) that I found while browsing my shelves.

-Vintage Random House (1984): the back four pages lists "Vintage" classics: "Available at your bookstore or call toll-free to order." Plus, there is another page (and order form) to order the book on audio-cassette.

-Avon/Harper Collins (1990) published a Newbery Honor book. The back page has lists of books and prices, plus a coupon for ordering books.

-Apple Scholastic (no date) has the same type of form in the back of their Apple Classic Black Beauty. The books available are classics and are offered for around $3, with $2 for shipping.

-Ballentine (1976) Tolkien Books have information about ordering other Tolkien books. Plus, one book has ads for both Lord of the Ring Maps and posters on one back page and an ad for the MS Read-a-thon on another page.

Tolkien: Smith of Wooten Major and Farmer Giles of Ham; The Tolkien Reader.

-Other publishers on my shelves that have order forms are Dell (1973, 1990); Bantam (1974); Penguin (1986; 7 pages with 4 order forms! But no prices, yet it says, "please include sales tax); and Signet (1965 and 1984).

A more recent Scholastic Book (2002) has three (!) pages in the back with illustrated advertisements with mail order blanks to fill in.

What about picture books?
Golden Books and some Scholastic books and others show either book covers or a list of books--and I've bought books because of this--but these books give no way to order directly.

Next, I wondered if there were any books from a long time ago that included advertising. I found an example online from 1776: about 3/4 the way down the page shows an ad on an endpage of Aristotle’s Masterpiece.

At some point, most US publishers went away from selling directly to the public. I wonder why that decision was made; I think a few publishers are now again selling e-books directly to customers.

Advertisements could be intrusive and take away from the reading experience. (I can imagine a poorly done ad being placed right at a cliffhanger.) But perhaps the right type of ads placed in the right place would be acceptable to readers.

Here are a few questions that I'm now asking myself:
  • Would advertisements in the back pages of a book irritate me as a reader? (I remember when I was a child, I would always read these ads and wish I could get some of the books mentioned.)
  • What about ads on book covers? What if it was only a small logo?
  • What about a book where the author was paid to insert and highlight a product? (This has happened, by the way.) 
  • What if advertising meant that high quality books (edited and published by reputable firms) were available inexpensively?
  • Or should books, as one of the last few places we go for entertainment without marketing and advertising, remain ad-free?


Kathy Cowley said...

Great post, that raises some important issues. It's interesting -- the Kindle with Special Offers is doing extremely well for Amazon, because many people are willing to view ads as the screensaver and when going through their book collections (you don't have ads when actually in a book though). I guess the sentiment is, if it helps me get things I already want or would want if I knew about, and if it's not too intrusive, then it's fine.

Kathy Cowley said...

Great post on a relevant topic. It's interesting to consider the Kindle with Special Offers -- it sells really well on Amazon. Ads are shown as screen savers and when you're selecting books, but no ads are shown when you're actually reading a book. I think people figure if they can pay less for the Kindle, and then view ads and discounts about things they are already interested in buying (or would be interested in, if they knew about them), then it's fine, as long as it's not too intrusive.