Advertising Is Not A Magic Windmill For eBooks Or Professional Content…

Cartoon from Married To The Sea (c) 2002-2009 Drew and Natalie

I’m grateful to my former colleague Kevin Larson, of the ClearType and Readability Research team at Microsoft, for posting the link to this cartoon on FaceBook. It made me laugh, because of course it also made me think.

All sorts of people with all kinds of political opinions read this blog.

Some are revolutionaries: “All content must be free! News should be free! Books should be free!”

Some are professional news publishers: “We’ve made our news free on the Web, and we’re hoping that we can make a good enough income from advertising to pay for gathering it, but it’s tough since we can’t sell full-page display ads any more, and we can see newspapers going out of business – but we live in hope”.

Some are book publishers: “We’re experimenting with digital books but we don’t want to cannibalize our existing print business, although that means we still have to carry its production costs, and we’re afraid that once books get out there in digital formats they’ll just be copied and we’ll lose all revenue”.

Many revolutionaries believe that most professional publishers are big corporate entities who have been making obscene profits and controlling what information makes it into print. “Just like the record companies did with music, and we know what happened to them…”.

It’s a worry. I don’t think it’s heresy to say that not all writers – and not all information – are created equal. I think it’s a good thing that the barriers to publishing have come down. A lot of material which didn’t get published in the past – but deserved to be – now has the ability to compete on equal terms with professionally-published content. But you ought to be able to depend on professionally-published content to be better-written, -edited and -produced. If the professional content isn’t better, then it deserves to lose out.

I can’t for the life of me see how you can get advertising to pay for books. It may pay for news. But even there, I have to say I’m spoiled by my life as a Brit until less than 15 years ago. Anyone brought up on the BBC has a hard time watching US television, (or listening to US radio) because of the way the programs are so broken up by advertising. Even commercial television in the UK confined its adverts to between programs or in slots every 15 minutes during programs (at least, it used to – things may have changed…)

The BBC received its income from the UK Government – which got part of that back from viewers via the annual TV License fee. The model of state-funded TV worked in the case of the BBC – which always seemed independent enough to get into trouble with the Government of the Day, whatever its political complexion. Of course, in many countries it doesn’t work that way…

Microsoft and Real Networks are trying an “unlimited music for a monthly license fee” model. Remains to be seen how that will pan out, especially given Apple’s virtual monopoly of the digital music player marketplace.

I’d really like to hear people’s ideas on this issue, related to reading material. But positive ideas only, please! If you just want to rant at The System or The Mindless Revolutionaries, please do it somewhere else…


7 thoughts on “Advertising Is Not A Magic Windmill For eBooks Or Professional Content…

  1. Richard Fink

    I've been letting this post kick around in the back of my mind for several days now.And all I have is observations.First, the systems and institutions which led to writing as a full-time profession, be it novelist, journalist, etc…, did not come into being with the creation of the universe. They haven't been around that long, at all. Seems to me, it was a phenomenon chiefly of the late nineteenth and twentieth century, corresponding roughly with the development of mass culture.Was Emily Dickenson a professional? No, she depended upon the support of her family.When Samuel Clemens ran into financial woes late in life, did he hunker down and write a bestseller full of humorous stories and wait for the royalties? No. He took his show on the road and ultimately paid his creditors with fees earned speaking on a world-wide tour.The magazine National Review, for the entire time of it's existence with William F. Buckley at the helm, survived only because Buckley subsidized its operations with his lecture fees.What I'm saying is, I think, let's not let nostalgia get the better of us and mistake myth for reality. Advertising as the main source of revenue is not a law of nature. And when, when was any of the creative fields not a very difficult life-path to follow?(Hey, maybe we can get something going pre-Gutenberg style and the Catholic Church will start picking up the tab again!)There are no answers now. Only questions.

  2. Richard fink

    During the political upheaval in Spain in the 1930's someone asked Pablo Picasso what would become of his art if he were taken as a political prisoner. His answer was, "I would paint with spit on the jailhouse walls."Sigmund Freud wrote volumes while supporting himself as a practicing physician. Not a rich man by any means.Many writers seek a steady paycheck in academia.I don't know all that much about traditional book publishing, but where does a guy like Robert Caro get the money to spend years and years writing three volumes of biography about Lyndon Johnson?All we know is, at the very least, some money has to come from somewhere to free up the time needed to create new works.

  3. Mary Murrell

    BillTim O'Reilly has talked about books and advertising in a talk called "Free is More Complicated than You Might Think": Picker, an IP lawyer, has just written a piece called "The Mediated Book" which is an argument for advertising in books. Completely unconvincing, if you ask me: Encyclopedia Brittanica tried advertising briefly and nearly lost it. That was even before Wikipedia came along and ruined them by other means.Consensus seems to be that books and advertising don't get along.Mary

  4. bowerbird

    bill said:> Would it not > be a sad thing > if only those > with money > could spend > years writing?it would bea good thingif only thosetrue writers(for whomthe moneydoesn't matter,as they wouldrather starvethan not write)could write…-bowerbird


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