Tuesday, May 10, 2005

A Message from Our Sponsor

A couple of years ago, the Italian jewelry firm Bulgari commissioned author novelist Fay Weldon to write a book featuring their products. At the time, everyone shared scandalized whispers to big chuckles over the idea of a corporation sponsoring a literary novelist.

Never mind that big corporations pay much dinero to have their products and product names featured on TV, in movies, on the garments, sneakers, hats and accessories worn by athletes, NASCAR drivers, and pretty much anything famous that will stand still long enough to be dressed. Evidently authors are supposed to be above all that.

Well, I'm not.

Okay, the idea of sticking a mention of Reese's Pieces or Nike shoes into my plot in return for money doesn't particularly appeal to me, but giving a couple of pages in my book for a product endorsement or advertisement does. Newspapers do it. Magazines do it. Why not novels?

Novels already advertise to a certain degree. When we have excerpts of future books or books by other authors in the back of our novels, that's advertising. Pick up any Harlequin or Silhouette romance and look at the back pages. One book ad after another, plus upcoming titles in that line are printed -- with a short blurb -- inside the front or back cover.

Stay with me, this is an idea still in protean form. Hypothetical situation: my publisher offers an upcoming spooky film producer ad or endorsement space in the back my next Darkyn novel. They buy it from the publisher for a fee. Publisher uses the fee to publicize the book, or underwrite a larger first print run. Film maker gets to reach a target audience. Win/win.

Bulgari had 750 special editions of Weldon's novel printed to give to their special customers. Let's say in return for an ad in the back of an erotica novel, Victoria's secret agrees to sell a small portion of the first print run in their stores. That would get the books out of the bookstores and into the hands of potential new readers. What erotica author wouldn't want his or her book shelved next to the bridal shower gift section at Victoria's Secret?

I know, it would require a lot of cooperation on everyone's part, plus matching up advertisers to the right books, but wouldn't it be worth the effort to give it a shot?

17 comments:

  1. Great idea! Hope it happens. Makes perfect sense to me.

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  2. I like the way you're thinking, Sheila. This is something I've thought before, too, only I've never been in a position to make it happen. I mean, what company in their right mind would make an agreement like this with an untried writer who has yet to even finish a book?

    Anyway, I'm with Douglas Clegg here. I hope this happens and you get to do it. :D

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  3. We're talking adverts rather than product placement?

    Sounds totally reasonable, as long as you keep control over what gets advertised so it doesn't jar or make the book seem tacky.

    In some ways it might even help ground the book in reality - e.g. a Victoria's Secret voucher in the back of a romantica novel, or a two-for-the-price-of-one planetarium deal in the back of an SF tome.

    Go for it!

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  4. Could open even a reverse help: if a movie advertises in the back of the book, then maybe they'd be willing to have an ad for the book put into the commericals before the movie?

    Gotta love a ready-made audience - it's a great idea! *-*

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  5. I think what you're proposing is good business, but I worry that they'll go too far and it'll be like magazines where I'm turning page after page of advertisements trying to find the article I was reading.

    It's getting to where movies have 30 minutes of commercials and previews--for me that much advertising detracts from my theater experience.

    So ads are a great idea...in moderation. I also like product placement in book, it's more subtle and not likely to interrupt my reading too much.

    Michelle

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  6. I'm more into ads versus product placement, Zornhau. Others may feel differently, but there's a limit to how much I'll let anyone mess with the work.

    Michelle, if the ads were in the back of the book, say four or five of them, I don't think it would interfere with the reading experience -- unless you read the end of the book first. ;)

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  7. zornhau9:09 AM

    I'm glad. Nobody minds adverts, but everybody cracks up when the SF hero pays a fortune for a vintage pair of Nike.

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  8. zornhau said...
    I'm glad. Nobody minds adverts, but everybody cracks up when the SF hero pays a fortune for a vintage pair of Nike.

    I saw that movie. :)

    Something else I was ranting about over on M.J.'s blog -- we need to get books into new retail spaces. Did you know grocery stores sell 10% of all the books sold in this country? That's proof that getting the books into new retail spaces might work.

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  9. I've got some old mass-market paperbacks with a tearout card bound into the middle advertising cigarettes. (One was a James Bond title, no wonder he used to light up in every scene.)
    Is that the kind of thing you mean? I wouldn't mind if they were at the back or the very front, but not pasted into the middle of the book. Worst case - text flowing around ads or banners in the chapter headings. Ugh.
    They'd introduce all this by saying books will be half price due to the ad revenue, but within 2-5 years books would be back to the usual price... with more ads. Then they'd invent some kind of fold-out ad (call it a popup) which damn near takes your eye out while trying to sell you an expensive pen.

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  10. What are the theoretical logistics of how the money flows to the author? Would it be like royalty payments, where you get a cut of the fee paid to advertise in each book, or would it be a lump-sum coupled with the advance?

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  11. Simon, romance readers who buy category books have been fighting those middle-of-the-book cardstock ads for years. Pick up any title today and they're still there. I think Harlequin mainly built their empire by putting them in every book.

    I agree that in-book advertising could easily get out of hand. At the same time, our industry is very product/image conscious, so I have faith that most publishers wouldn't muck up the work with a lot of tacky ads in the wrong places.

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  12. Fledchen said...
    What are the theoretical logistics of how the money flows to the author? Would it be like royalty payments, where you get a cut of the fee paid to advertise in each book, or would it be a lump-sum coupled with the advance?

    Theoretically speaking, it could be set up a couple of different ways. If you're looking for money to the author, they could treat it just like any other rights sale and give us a direct % cut of the advertising fee.

    I think it would work better to reinvest the ad fee into underwriting the book, boosting print runs and expanding distribution, because if the book does well, the author makes money, can sign for a higher advance, spend less on self promotion, etc.

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  13. The possiblities are fantastic. Local Sensible Alternatives Funeral planning services ads for the back of The Loved One .... I see Rachael Ray's book is in the top ten today but cook books are almost too easy.

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  14. zornhau10:32 AM

    PBW said:
    "--we need to get books into new retail spaces. "

    And get more people to read books in the 1st place!

    I have this grand idea for advertising books by turning the 1st 2 pages into small posters for display in places where people are usually stuck for a few minutes, e.g. waiting rooms, subway carriages...

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  15. This is a great idea. I know I for one will often read the back pages just because they're there. Sometimes I choose other books that way. I've gotten used to the cards in romances, but yes, they're not the best way, I'd have to say.

    My one thing about the revenue would be that a strick percentage of the revenue would be easy to enforce. How would anyone, especially the author, be able to confirm that revenue is actually going toward advertising. This may be a case of where an author has to take a personal hand and devote those revenues to buying ad space or paying for the website themselves. It just seems that if the publisher is going to spend the money, they will whether or not it is funded. If they're not, what's to stop them from pocketing it.

    /me feeling very cynical this morning.

    Cheers,
    Margaret

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  16. Last year, the stat that 10% of books are sold in grocery stores would've surprised me.

    This year, I'm living in a small town, and it's a 2-hour round-trip ordeal on the bus to get to Borders or Barnes & Noble. I still indulge that often enough to keep up with my reading habits, but I'm hardly surprised that most people would rather not.

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  17. Re the cards in mass-market books - I live in Australia and I don't think I've ever seen them here. The Bond book I mentioned was a UK import from the 60's. I don't know that they stick ads in over there any more either.
    Still, I'd rather see more books with ads than less books without. If ads can be used to generate cash for marketing then I'd be all for it.
    There might be an interesting historical perspective, too. Long after old newspapers and mags have been recycled, ads for quaint products like 5 1/4" floppy disk notchers and dot matrix printers will live on to puzzle future generations ;-)

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