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Inside Google Editions

5 Proposed Ad Formats for Google's Online Book Platform

Monday, October 19, 2009 | Posted by Aaron Goldman

Posted In: Digital Marketing / Google / Press / Press Mentions

Google Book Reader

Last week, Google announced its intentions to launch a new "new online service for booksellers next year called Google Editions, which will let readers buy books and read them on gadgets ranging from cell phones to possibly e-book devices." The AP has the story and MediaPost has the analysis including some of my thoughts. As has become my modus operandi, I'll share the excerpt here and provide more color commentary immediately following.
Connectual Managing Partner Aaron Goldman believes Google may be underestimating the importance of the device. "While it's nice to offer untethered access to the books, a good user-experience is key," he says. "I doubt I'll ever want to read an entire book on my cell phone. The parallel is iTunes vs. Rhapsody. Sure, I can listen to Rhapsody anywhere but I want music on my iPod."

Goldman hopes Google will respect the environment rather than "cram in a bunch of AdSense around the perimeter." He points to the innovative format Amazon introduced for the Kindle, a full-text transcript of the series premiere for Showtime's Nurse Jackie. Another that might work for Google Editions is in-text ads like those offered by Vibrant Media.
What makes the Kindle so popular is not the wide availability of book titles -- and certainly not the purchase cost -- but the elegance of the device. Amazon put years and years of R&D into developing the Kindle and it's going to be difficult for Google Editions to gain a lot of traction unless its books are compatible with that device. The same way it's been difficult for Rhapsody to compete with iTunes or Zune with the iPod since music purchased from Apple can only be played on the iPod.

MediaPost relays that "Google hopes the reader will become obsolete, because in Google's world everyone can access the content from any digital device sporting a Web browser." This is where I think Google's missing the point. I can barely read an article longer than 1,000 words thru a web browser, much less an entire book. The browser is simply not optimized for long-form reading, nor are most computer screens. That's what makes the Kindle so great. It's got that dull contrast that doesn't make your eyes hurt after 20 minutes. And it's the right size and shape for holding it comfortably for extending periods without straining your neck. While I'm all for universal access to information -- which is Google's mission -- let's not forget that when it comes to books, access is only half the battle.

As for monetizing Google Editions, it sounds like the plan is to sell the books at a set cost per title. However, in true Google fashion, my guess is we'll also be looking at a free ad-supported model with a revenue share between Google and the authors. In terms of what shape those ads might take, I'm hoping Google will push the envelope a bit and leverage some of the unique assets of online book publishing -- just like I urged Twitter to do when I proposed 4 ad formats that would leverage the unique attributes of microblogging.

With that in mind, here are my 5 suggested ad formats for Google Editions.

1.      In-text: As I told MediaPost, a format similar to Vibrant Media -- where certain keywords are hyperlinked to relevant content from marketers and initiated upon rollover -- could work but only if there are other non-commercial options that appear with that same user-initiation. For example, all keyword rollovers should also give readers an option to look up that topic on Wikipedia or some other reference source. Let's get people in the habit of finding useful information when they roll over text. Otherwise, they'll never interact with the ads. These could be priced on CPC where the call-to-action is a click to the advertiser's site or CPM for video plays.

2.      RSS: Assuming there's some sort of directory where books available via Google Editions can be accessed, it would be quite effective -- and non-intrusive -- to have sponsored feeds from marketers or other content publishers appear within the listings. Key to success here would be having a strict filter that displayed only feeds to content relevant to the category the consumer is currently browsing -- eg, ESPN feeds within the sports section. These could be priced on a CPC for clicks to content, CPM if some sort of logo or icon were embedded within the feed or even cost per acquisition for new feed subscribers.

3.      Sponsored Content: Along the same lines as RSS, Google Editions could offer sponsored content within the directory listings. This would be long-form content submitted by marketers, similar to advertorials. The example I cited for MediaPost was how Showtime released the transcript of the Nurse Jackie pilot on the Kindle in advance of the series premiere. Here, too, the key would be relevancy and categorizing the sponsored content tightly to match the book titles being browsed at any given time. Perhaps there could be an Amazon recommendation engine of sorts where readers are informed that x% of other people who read Book Y also read Sponsored Content Z. Pricing here would be CPC or even cost per engagement with rates based on time spent interacting with the content.

4.      Product Placement: How about allowing authors the ability to embed various brands and products into their books? Picture a platform where thousands of advertisers are listed and sorted into categories allowing authors can comb through and find ones that fit what they're writing about. For example, John Grisham wants to have two lawyers meet at a pub in Boston to discuss a settlement so he searches Google Ad Editions for bars in Boston and finds that the Beantown Pub is willing to pay $10,000 for a name drop. Of course, rates would be pro-rated based on author/book popularity and all sponsored mentions would be labeled as per the new FTC guidelines. Now I know some of you are saying that book content will be diluted if authors start pandering to advertisers but  imagine how many more books will be written if authors had a way to make more money when they publish. And presumably writers would approach this offering with caution and not totally sell-out to sponsors as book sales would likely suffer if every other paragraph features paid product placement.

5.      AdSense: Yes, I told MediaPost I hope Google doesn't "cram in a bunch of AdSense around the perimeter," but what I meant was I hope that's not all they do as it doesn't really take into account any of the unique features of online book publishing like the last four formats do. There's no question incorporating AdSense is a very logical application given the enormous ecosystem already built and thriving around it. Inserting relevant text ads in the margins of book content could be very effective for both readers and advertisers. That said, the operative word in my quote is "cram." Let's hope there aren't more than 3-5 ads on the right rail so that these books don't start looking like those made-for-AdSense blogs or even the current Google Search Results Page. At the same time, Google doesn't want to keep the ads too far out of the way or they'll be completely ignored. Perhaps a layout like Gmail will work with one listing at the top that rotates with interesting content -- eg, news from CNN or weird facts from Ripley's - tailored to what you are reading.

It will certainly be interesting to see how this all plays out. I'm sure Google will be careful about how it rolls out advertising, if it all, in regards to this project for fear of its platform becoming a limited edition.



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