More on Product Placement in Books

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Aug 16 2010

Oh, what a difference a year makes. Last year I wrote a post about the possibility of product placement in books and whether or not authors would consider being paid to include products in their books and how readers might feel about that. At the time, it was a bit of a pie-in-the-sky idea. However, things are changing quickly and dramatically all over the world and publishing is no exception. Now there is regular talk of “enhanced ebooks,” ebooks that might include short videos or links. Think of the implications this could have.

Now instead of simply giving your protagonist a Leinenkugel to drink you could actually link to an ad for Leinenkugel or the Leinenkugel website. The website could be created by the company to sell the product specifically to readers of your book. Obviously this is all speculation, but it makes one wonder about how much books will really change in the future and how much authors could and might benefit, not just from the sales of the book but the potential ad space.

Just a thought. What do you think?


56 responses to “More on Product Placement in Books”

  1. Commercials in e-books. Like on tv. Which is why I watch movies on DVD and read real books. No distractions.

  2. Avatar Hillsy says:

    The fantasy genre would be hit hard by that…

    "Click here if you wish to buy a ox drawn plough: Quote reference Tolkein 44"

    …..and SF.

    "Click here if you wish to purchase your own zero-tau statis unit. Product delivery date suspect to delay based on when relevant zero-Tau physics technology discovered."

  3. Avatar GFH says:

    It looks like there are _already_ enhanced ebooks available through the iBookstore.

    I receive a regular iTunes email about books and it lists a few.

  4. Avatar wry wryter says:

    Oh my…I am so glad for todays post because Scrabble is as integral as the main characters in my book.
    So if anybody from Parker Brothers in Rhode Island would like to sponsor a best seller just give me a call.

    I'm hoping this will be a 'triple word' day for me…reality tells me I'll be throwing my letters back in the bag and losing my turn.
    Drats !

  5. Avatar Autumn says:

    Really? I read to get away from all that. It will be a sad day when our books are used for nothing more then advertisements.

  6. I'd write a book solely about Coca-Cola if it meant it were published. Coke's great, by the way, why not buy a can?

  7. Avatar adam.purple says:

    Precisely why I pray that ink-on-paper, printed books never disappear.

  8. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I don't think I'd ever spend money on those kinds of books. It's just like cable tv – why PAY for commercials?! Because there's no way the price would go *down* on these "enhanced" (Pffft!) versions.

    Ink-on-paper for me, or at least commercial-free e-versions.

    Hmmm. Though if it was a book about commercialization, and "ehnahced" (ugh!) versions, I could see this! But in a romance novel or chicken lit? NO. A biography of an 1800's financier? NO. A book about emroidery? Oooo. Having, in the text, links to be able to purchase the thread they mention, or the fabric, or the pattern? Cool! Oh wait – that already exists, it's called THE INTERNET. 🙂

  9. Avatar Cindy says:

    The links will be embedded, just as they are in many blog posts. Simply another way of enriching the user experience. We've got an entire generation of up and coming consumers expecting no less.

  10. So long as the book doesn't put you on hold so you can watch a commercial (like free online game sites), I'd be okay. A link here and there doesn't really bother me, as I'm used to reading them on blogs and other online venues. But if I turn the page and it said "Stay tuned. And now, a word from our sponsor," I'd want my money back.

    That said, I've bought paperbacks with contests and advertisements in them. They weren't shoved into the middle of the book, so I was okay with it.

  11. Avatar Philangelus says:

    My characters already use brand-name products for verisimilitude. Instead of a cola, they'll drink Coke. If Coke is willing to pay for the privilege of a link within my novel in exchange for a mention that's already there, I'll be the first in line at the bank with the check in my hands.

    But I have my limits: I wouldn't do it if someone asked that I should make a major plot point revolve around Coke Being It.

  12. I think it would be distracting to the reader and would pull them out of the story. No thanks.

  13. Avatar Lorenda says:

    I'm with Noelle – so long as the "enhanced" book doesn't force me to wait 30 seconds to watch an ad before I'm allowed to continue reading, I'd be fine with it.

  14. Avatar Oliver says:

    It's inevitable, especially perhaps in nonfiction. If writers want to earn money this way, so be it. It's going to happen.

    "Pushed" advertising would be a problem in fiction because of the obvious interruptions (and of course, someone out there will start selling "uninterrrupted" eBooks), however if advertising is more subtle, like double-clicking on the word for more information, I can see it proliferating.

  15. Avatar Kristan says:

    Without seeing it done, it's hard to say… but my instinct tells me that it would be too distracting, which is the opposite of what I want when I'm reading. It's one thing for an author to say their MC loves Dr. Pepper instead of RC Cola and get paid for that, but to actually have a link and an ad and all that? … I naturally recoil.

    But again, I'd have to see it executed before I could really make a determination.

  16. Avatar Anonymous says:

    As an old advertising guy you can absolutely look forward to what you posit. Movies have been doing product placement for years and why not books? Though I can't cite specifics I have heard of instances where some writers have had complimentary samples sent to them after they have featured that company's product in a book. This will become more formalized in time and, yes, advertizers will pay some sort of spiffy for featuring their product in a book. In fact, I suspect there will be a sliding scale of remuneration depending on just how prominently the product is handled in the story. And, yes, your idea of a link to the product is a natural extrapolation on the theme.

  17. Avatar Jude says:

    Product placement in books is already happening. As in all things, I'd like it to be minimal and clever. I can understand why it might be part of the profit model of the future.

  18. Avatar Anonymous says:

    it's somewhat inevitable, given the nature of the e-reader ie., moving images & sound.

    I think what people who champion these readers & the books lower price point (largely subsidized) is that someone ie, the consumer, is going to have to make up the revenue difference. and the most logical place for this being … ads.

    where it gets really kooky is how those ads will probably be targeted vis data mining (every search term on Google, Yahoo et all is sold to marketers) and the book (s) you've chosen to buy.

    so, to all those people desperate for $1.99 books, & who justify the cost (because in their reasoning, paper & warehousing entitle them to a discount), the commercial that pops up while you're reading is brought to you…by you.

    strange, but this never (or,, very rarely) happens with paper books.

  19. I'm with those who are OK with the idea as long as it can avoid intrusiveness and interruption (I'm aggressive with my TV mute button, after all). And I look forward to the day when a "commercial-free" enhanced book (such as I aspire to create) might actually be a positive marketing device.

  20. Avatar Lale says:

    I guess I'm more aware now when it comes to product placement because I've read so many articles about it in media blogs, so it really, really annoys me when I spot it in movies. I think having it in books would be the last straw for me!

  21. Avatar Kate Douglas says:

    I'd hate it. As is, when I see obvious product placement in a movie I immediately lose respect for the story–was it an honest creative attempt or merely a venue to sell me something? I no longer watch TV because of the commercials, which, unfortunately, are often better than the programs. (which ain't sayin' much)

  22. Avatar Steph Damore says:

    Yeah, I'm not sure about that. Don't we have enough technology in our lives? e-Books are great because they're just like reading print books. Adding links and what not would just muck it up.

    Product placement for me isn't about gaining a sponsor or more money, but about making my characters more real. Good characters have quirks, and sometimes that involves lots of Cheetos and Dr. Pepper.

  23. Avatar Vivi Anna says:

    I think it coudl totally go the way of the music industry, where artists make money on their concerts and products instead of on the music.

  24. Ah, Hillsy said essentially what my first thought was. Not good for historical fiction either.

    But, let me say this: if they're willing to put my book cover on cans of Coke, I would consider putting cans of Coke in my book.

  25. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Give me a break–what a disgusting idea! Now I know why so many people are pushing e-readers: It's just one more "creative" way to bombard us with advertising. Has anyone realized that we read to escape the noise of today's society?
    Yes, that means TV, the Net and advertising. Is nothing sacred?

  26. Avatar Sommer Leigh says:

    Product placement? No way. I sort of want to hide my eyes all embarrassed at the very thought.

    Here's what I DO think would be cool and could totally see coming down the pike: Media placement.

    You know how authors list soundtracks for their books on their websites? What if you could click "Play" on a song at a particular point in the book the author imagines it fitting and you get the soundtrack while you read?

    What about "If you like this book, you might also like…." book trailers at the beginning of e-books. (For the record, I'd love this idea. I love previews on movies and maybe we could finally have a good reason for having good book trailers!)

    How about along with an acknowledgements page you also have links to the author website, their GoodReads page, Facebook or Twitter accounts? Ditto for agents, editors, and cover artists websites/blogs/etc.

    I am interested, scared, and excited to see how multi-media can be intertwined in with books. I love books in ink and paper format, but I ALSO love dynamic, interactive and beautiful websites. I think I could love marrying the two.

  27. Avatar ryan field says:

    It does make one wonder. And I don't know how I feel about it yet. While I love all the changes that have been happening, I'm on the fence when it comes to some.

  28. That would be every bit as charming as gratuitous product placement shoehorned into TV shows.

    It'd be a good way to kill the nascent industry off really quickly.

  29. Avatar Lindsay says:

    I, and I'm guessing most of you, get bombarded not daily but hourly and by the minute with commercial. TV, radio, apps on cellphones.
    I read for enjoyment be it paper or ebook and the last thing I want is ads interrupting my enjoyment of a great book.

  30. Avatar Fiammetta says:

    The comments here show exactly why I'm against using such technology for ads – it would just infuriate more people than it would help or even appeal to.

    However, I am interested in what kind of multimedia story-related things people would be able to do with the same technology…

  31. Interesting. I would really have to think about this. My first instinct is to say "hell no". It feels a little like selling yourself on the street corner, ya, it gets me money, but is that really how I want to get it?

    Sometimes an author may have to include something in their novel that is paramount to their character. (what if it is really important to the plot that your hero drinks only "Coke".) That's different, but I can see all sorts of people writing manuscripts going out of their way to add "product visibility" but really not having a book worth reading.

    What about agents and publishers? If there is kickback for them, might they be choosing books based on whether or not they can sell it based on the extra cash.

    It's difficult enough for us who have not yet been published to try and get the attention of agents and publishers. I don't think we need this headache.

    And as far as reading a book dotted with product placement – I probably wouldn't buy it.

  32. Avatar writergrrrl says:

    If ad placement helps the publishing industry survive (thrive), I'm all for it. As long as the ads don't interrupt the reader experience, I think most people will quickly get used to the idea.

    After all, there's an ad pretty much anywhere you look. I agree, it gets to be too much sometimes. (Do I really want to read an ad while I'm pumping gas or listen to ads while I'm riding an elevator?)

    On the other hand, all businesses (and that includes writers!) have to advertise themselves in some way in order to build awareness–and sales.

  33. Avatar Phoenix says:

    Someone once told me they stopped reading magazines because they were tired of paying for a bunch of ads. Instead of $1.50 a month for 40 pages of content and 20 pages of ads delivered to the door, would they be willing to pay $6.00 a month for just the 40 pages delivered? I asked. Well, no, they weren't willing to pay 4X the amount for the same content sans ads.

    Many authors have chosen the option of allowing ads on their blogging pages or on their FB pages. Are you afraid their online content is corrupted by the ads that show up on their pages? Is your reading experience interrupted by them?

    An ebook that's basically nothing more than an uploaded Word doc has a set production cost to it. Already readers are complaining that many ebooks are too expensive. Enhancing those ebooks with simple links takes additional time, which translates into money if it's not the author doing it. If some of the enhancements are movie snippets or games or maps tracking a journey or content that otherwise has to be developed or purchased, that will add significant dollars to the product that will need to be recouped somehow — either through upping the price of the book or through a cooperative approach such as advertising.

    Kate may have stopped watching commercial TV, and the commercials may annoy all of us, but I bet the majority of people happily tune in to favorite shows and accept the fact they will be interrupted at strategically planned points (TV scripts are written to specifically accommodate commercial breaks, often ending on that cliff-hanging moment to be resolved when back from the break — writing to the beat is an artform in itself).

    Maybe in the short term the compromise is to have separate versions of any book — the enhanced version and the unenhanced one — always offered together at the point of sale. The back-end costs of maintaining separate versions would be minimal. Both will sell for the same price, but the consumer will know the enhanced one comes with commercials as well as goodies. Track the numbers of each sold and see what the trend is. In the end, consumers will decide what they'll put up with and what they won't.

  34. Avatar S Spann says:

    Commercials or ads in e-books would definitely put a damper on my enthusiasm for the form. It took me a long time to pick up a Kindle, and though I really do enjoy reading "recreational books" on it (meaning novels rather than research materials or nonfiction, for which I still need a paper before me and pen in hand) I think my use of the e-reader would end if I had to endure advertisements in mid-read. I'm with Piedmont @ 8:03: I don't watch TV in real time because I don't sit through commercials.

  35. Avatar Bill Greer says:

    As a reader, the idea of ads in the content of e-books sends shivers down my spine.

    What I want, and maybe e-readers already do this, is I'd like a map and dictionary interface. My e-book mentions Dubrovnik, I click the word and a map comes up and shows me where it's located. Same with a dictionary interface, especially when I'm reading a UK novel and don't get many of the words or slang used. Double click, get a definition, close window, back to the story.

    There's so much an e-book could provide over a print copy, but the problem with most of the useful stuff is that there's no money to be made from it.

  36. Avatar Anna Zagar says:

    There are good comments here from both sides of the fence. All I have to say is this: If the industry changes, then so will I. I just want to write.

  37. Perhaps if that would happen, more people would go back to print books. We can only hope, right?

  38. Avatar Sheila Cull says:

    Oh no. That would be simply awful.

  39. Avatar Hart Johnson says:

    I think I wouldn't care if the WORD was a hyperlink, because then I could go or not… actual forced on me ads though, not so much.

    Seems like an AWFUL lot of footwork for whoever is linking the book mentions of products with the product promotional piece, and then I'd think the product promotors would want some control if they were PAYING for it… mention of Coke, great… as a habit of a serial killer…. erm, we don't want to pay for that.

    And how is it paid? By hits, like with the web (guess that makes sense)

    I'm not saying it can't work. I'm saying there is a mammoth of a system to hammer out before it is efficient.

  40. That would be so annoying. I don't want anything to break my immersion in the story while I'm reading. But if the book itself is trying to distract me…?

  41. Avatar Victoria says:

    I would go out of my way to avoid any e-books with product placement links. If I was hit by an ad I would go out of my way to not buy the product, just as a protest vote.

    It sounds tacky and far too Wall-E. I'm trying to avoid that future…

  42. Avatar JohnO says:

    I'm not surprised. After all, there are companies trying to do this in pop songs.

  43. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Not No, but Hell No. Ever.

  44. my character loves grey goose. If they'd send me a case every now and then I'd be down with that. lol

  45. Avatar Peter Cooper says:

    Ah… nothing like curling up in front of the fire with a glass of wine and a few good adverts.

  46. Avatar Wendy Qualls says:

    Two separate issues:

    Straight product placement: it's already here, and will probably continue to grow more widespread. Fortunately, because of the way successful books are distributed among authors (i.e. there are a very small number of authors who have bestseller after bestseller, but there are a lot of bestsellers by formerly unknown authors), you're not likely to see major product placement in anything except bestselling sequels – the future versions of Harry Potter books 4-7 and Twilight books 2-4. It's just not worth it for the big companies to pay lots of individual authors to put products in their books when the books *might* make it big.

    Embedded ads, pop-ups, commercials, in-line text, etc: I really doubt this will happen on any large scale, ever. The point of a book is immersion – reading pulls you into the story. This goes directly contrary to the point of an advertisement, which is supposed to pull you out of whatever you were doing or thinking about and get you to concentrate on the product (thinking about it, visiting the website, and buying it) instead. It's a lose-lose situation: authors lose their readers' attention, and the advertisers are having to fight against readers who are in the middle of reading a good story!

  47. Avatar terripatrick says:

    I HATE product placement in books. I don't do fashion either so reading about Jimmy Choo's makes no sense to me. It's lazy writing.

  48. Avatar Lindsay says:

    In my WIP I mention a particular coffee emporium that is originally based out of Seattle but it will be a cold day in Hades before I let a link to their web be put in the book. And I spend a lot of money there and time writing there.

  49. Avatar Leigh says:

    I might be interested in ads in my books if and only if two conditions are met.

    1-Its just a link. Not a full blown add in the book.

    2-The link is the same color as the text, or just has an underline. Not the different color text and the underline. I think it would take the reader out of the story too much. I like when a book disappears in my hands. The jarring insertion of a add would remind the person that they're reading a book.

  50. Avatar Jeannie says:

    I'm already disgusted with the ads in magazines–stopped taking two of my favorites when they broke their no-ads promise, despite the fact that thousands of subscribers volunteered to take a rate increase.

    Like Kate, I don't watch TV; and yes, Phoenix, I do find the ads spackled all over people's blogs and websites as annoying as a cockle-burr stuck to my sock. I don't think it makes for a very professional looking website–literally it shrieks of "I'm too broke to pay for this, so I'm getting my web presence cheap or free."

    If ads become standard inclusions in e-books, this may be one more reason that I won't buy an e-reader any time soon.

  51. Avatar torowe says:

    Pssh, I'd do it in two seconds. I'd do it for practically free.

  52. Avatar Anonymous says:

    No way! I get so distracted by constant hyperlinks in online articles–why put one (or several) right in the middle of a sentence? Give us some credit–we don't need every word hyperlinked or explained.

    If this becomes a reality, then I'll NEVER buy an e-reader. Geeez, we have to pay big bucks for a Kindle just so we can receive more advertising? NO, thanks!

  53. I hate to say that I hate the idea already. I got rid of my TV and have enjoyed the lack of commercials. Though there are ads on the internet, I can ignore those easily. With TV, one has to sit through them to get to the good parts.

    It feels more like a corruption to me. Why would I pay for a book chock full of ads for stuff I don't want?

  54. Avatar Tara Maya says:

    There's two different kinds of ads being discussed: product placement, which I presume is embedding a mention of the product in the story (analogous to movie actors wearing brand names) and links to ads or ads in the books (like the commercials at the bottom of You Tube clips.)

    Either way, I have no problem with commercials if they are not obnoxious. If they flash at me, or make the book ugly or hard to read, I would be annoyed.

    (Livejournal users: I have stopped commenting on your blogs because Livejournal wants to play an ad before it lets me have my stay, and it pisses me off.)

    So much is about whether the ads are tasteful, helpful, unobtrusive and actually relevant.

  55. Avatar Lindsay says:

    My question is, who's to decide if an ad is tasteless. The person/compnay wanting to put the ad in your book or the publisher or you the author? If it's the author then the idea might, repeat might, be doable. But if a third party is involved we, the author, will have lost control of what goes in. For you YA and MG authors, how would you feel if a liquor ad was imbedded in your work. If we and/or our agent don't have all and total control something like that could and most likely would happen.
    If the issue came up for a vote I'd vote NO to ads in my work and hope my agent, when I get one, would agree.

  56. A translation of a Terry Pratchett novel into german, contained a page advertising soup half way through.

    When Pratchett found out he demanded they remove it.