Monday, December 10, 2007

As The Publishing World Turns: An Advertising Idea

Some things I've noticed recently, and a new idea I might be the guinea pig for.

Visiting the airport in Knoxville, TN, I went into a Paradies Shop. There are over 500 of these stores in over 60 airports. Among other sundries, they sell books.

Apparently, they also rent books.

Paradies has a Read & Return policy. You buy it, keep it for up to six months, and then can return is for a 50% refund.

For travellers, this is a great idea. Read during plane rides and layaways, then get a portion of the money back.

But I'm wondering if there are deals in place with Paradies stores that restrict returns back to the publisher/distributor. Or else a book can sell three or four times, then be returned back to the publisher, and the publisher and author make nada. Unless there is some sort of special contract, I can't see how this can possibly be good for books sales or royalties.

On an unrelated note, I was straightening up my son's bedroom when I found two audio books, "Junie B. Jones Has A Monster Under Her Bed" by Barbara Park and "Dinosaurs Before Dark" by Mary Pope Osborne. My son got these a few months ago, as free toys in a Kid's Meal at Wendy's.

Free books with your burger. Awesome. I'll stick them on his iPod.

This made me think, yet again, about the future of publishing, and how it is increasingly becoming digital. The Amazon Kindle ebook reader was recently released, and it's a pretty cool piece of equipment. But too expensive ($399) to change the publishing industry like iPod forever changed the music industry. For the industry big wigs who read my blog and hang on my every word, here's my criteria for the perfect ebook reader.

1. Backlit, with changeable fonts.

2. Scratch proof and water resistant.

3. Wireless Internet download capability.

4. Comfortable to hold.

5. Intuitive controls and user interface.

6. A few gigs of storage, with the ability to add more.

7. Upgradable software.

8. Color screen.

9. The ability to play mp3 audiobooks.

10. Long battery life and fully rechargeable.

11. Compatible with pdf files.

12. DRM free.

Amazon seems to have gotten a lot of these right, but it's not quite there yet. And publishers still don't seem to understand downloads. The $9.99 price Amazon is charging for hardcovers is too steep for digital-only text content. However, the paperback prices range from $3.96 (for Whiskey Sour) to $7.99 (For Rusty Nail) which I think is more reasonable, but still a bit high for a download.

Give it two years and prices will come down, both for the hardware and the books.

Which brings me to the guinea pig portion of this blog entry.

My own foray into digital publishing has been enlightening. My Free Ebook webpage has had over 4000 hits since I put my ebook Origin on there last winter. I added The List, Disturb, and 55 Proof a few months ago, and began tracking downloads, and have had a combined total of over 1500 so far. I've gotten a good amount of fan feedback on these books, and they've gotten some online reviews.

Their purpose was to hook new readers and get them to buy my print books. Since there is no cost involved for me (other than the time of writing, editing, and formatting) I consider these freebies a smart business move.

But now I'm thinking they could be more.

Many blogs posts ago, I openly wondered what would happen when publishing went digital in a big way. When more books were read electronically than on paper, and people traded the book files freely like they do music mp3s. When you could get a discography of every Stephen King book on a single CD for $14.95, and when you would get book downloads for less than a dollar, or even for free.

A frightening world, for publishers and for authors. How can we make money if someone buys a copy of our latest book for fifty cents and then sends it to their entire email list for free?

One of the things I predicted is that publishing will do what other media did: Use Sponsors and Advertisers.

While McDonalds and Toyota aren't beating down my doors, offering me thousands of dollars to have Jack Daniels (or me) use their products, my ebooks do have room for ads. In fact, each of them contains an ad, at the end, for the Jack Daniels series.

So I got to thinking that maybe I could do more with this space.

I really dislike pop up ads, and banner ads, and website ads, in the same way I hate TV commercials. They're intrusive. By contrast, newspaper and magazine ads are passive. You can skip the page and ignore them if you want to.

I have a large collection of paperbacks, and many have ads in the back for other books, some by the same author and some by different authors. Some early ones even have ads in the middle of the book, for cigarettes.

But, for the most part, the advertising potential of books hasn't been exploited. And there's probably a good reason for this. People plunking down good money for a book don't want to read any ads. I agree. I hate paying $10 to see a movie and then have to sit through two commercials. It's not fair.

But I wouldn't mind sitting through commercials if the movie were free.

And I wouldn't mind dealing with a few ads if the book were free.

JAKonrath.com offers four free ebooks. These aren't reprints, or public domain, or available anywhere else. These are brand spanking new. And I'm not making a dime off of them.

The Experiment

While I'm not a huge brand name author, I do have a growing fan base, and people are downloading my freebies at a rate of about ten a day.

Since you're reading this, I assume you're an author. Maybe you've got a book out, or one coming out. Maybe you'd like to reach a specific demographic of fans, namely people who read mysteries and thrillers. And maybe who don't have a big budget to spend on advertising.

Here's what I'm proposing. For ten bucks, you can get a full page ad in the back of one of my ebooks for a sixth month period.

For twenty-five bucks, you can get an ad in all four books for six months.

Here are the rules.

1. All ads must be approved by me.

2. You're responsible for creating your ad and sending it to me as either a jpg or a MS Word .doc file.

3. You'll appear in the ebook of your choice (The List, Origin, Disturb, 55 Proof) for $10, or all four ebooks for $25, for a six month period starting no later than a week after I receive payment via PayPal. Book descriptions are HERE.

4. Ads will appear at the back of the ebooks, and be sold on a first come/first serve basis, which is the order they'll appear in.

5. You aren't buying my blurb or the use of my name, and an ad does not mean I endorse you or your work. But you are free to distribute my ebooks with your ad in them, link to them on your website, and mention that you've bought ad space from me.

6. Tracking the effectiveness of your ads is your job, not mine. While I'm honest about the number of hits and downloads I get, I'm not giving the world access to my tracking sites and meters. I suggest having something in your ad, like a specific coupon code or a unique URL, to judge how many hits you're getting from your ad.

7. All sales are final. But I reserve the right to pull your ad or pull my ebooks at any time, in which case you'll get a prorated refund.

Now lets have some Q & A.

Q: Do you actually think you'll make a lot of money doing this?

A: No. This is an experiment. If it is successful, money may someday come from large companies, not fellow authors. But Sears, Dairy Queen, Sony, Coke, Universal Studios, and Jared The Galleria of Jewelry aren't readers of my blog. Writers are. That's who I can reach, and having book ads in the backs of my ebooks makes logical sense.

Q: What kind of ads will you accept?

A: I dunno until I see some. Obviously, I expect most of them to be book ads. 1-900 sex numbers, POD and editing services, and ads for G*n*ric Vi*gr@ will be turned down. I'm not the one to talk to about the effectiveness of ads, as I don't believe most of them work.

Q: How many ads will each book contain?

A: I have no set number in mind. If people keep buying them, I'll keep selling them. I think it would be kind of interesting, from a writer's standpoint, to see 150 book ads back-to-back. It would sure give you a crash course in what works and what doesn't.

Q: Are you going to tell the people that download your ebooks that they contain ads?

A: Yes. On my website and in the ebooks themselves I'll have a disclaimer along the lines of:

"This ebook was made freely available to you by the generosity of sponsors. These sponsors have placed ads in the back of this book. I encourage you, the reader, to visit these pages. Maybe you'll find something to enjoy."

Q: Aren't you worried about losing credibility in the publishing world with this stunt?

A: As writers, we need to break new ground and try new things. We need to study and question, rather than blindly accept. We need to lead, rather than follow. Else we're just sheep. And sheep don't usually meet with happy endings.

Q: Can I buy ad space in any of your print books, or any of your Jack Daniels ebooks?

A: No.

Q: I work in advertising, and have access to executives at large corporations. Can I try to sell adspace for you?

A: If you know a large corporation who'd be willing to pay me real money to advertise in the back of my four free ebooks, I'd split the money with you 50/50. And if the money is big enough, I'll even try to make the characters in my books use their products. We could also negotiate for additional ad space (front of book, middle of book, two page ads, etc.) Obviously, this will cost a tad bit more than $10.

Q: I'm sold. You have 14,000 MySpace Friends, you get hundreds of thousands of hits a year on your website and blog, and Googling "JA Konrath" gets 140,000 results. I spend more than ten bucks a day on lunch, so an ad in the back of one of your free ebooks seems like a really good deal. How do I try this?

A: Contact me at haknort@comcast.net and we'll talk.

Q: When are you going to start this?

A: It depends. Right now I'm running it up the flagpole to see who salutes. If there's interest, I'll try it. If not, I'll wait until I'm a bigger name and try it again. I know if any NYT bestselling thriller author offered a free ebook, I'd buy adspace in the back, and pay a lot more than $10.

Which brings me to questions I have for you, the blog reader. I'd love you to weigh in on this idea. Is it the future of publishing, or just plain stupid?
Or more specifically:

1. Would you pay $10 for a six month ad in one of my ebooks? Why or why not?

2. Is $10 too much of too little? Is six months too long or too short?

3. Would you rather pay for an ebook with no ads, or get a free ebook that contained some ads? What would you pay for the ad-free version? Assume it's an author you enjoy.

4. Did I cover everything? Did I overlook something?

5. Will this idea work? Why or why not?

Looking forward to your reactions...