< Books Are No Longer An Ad-Free Zone

Transcript

Friday, August 19, 2011

BOB GARFIELD:

No question, e-books are transforming the industry, not just because we no longer think of books strictly as physical objects, but because we may start thinking of them as advertising platforms. It might sound blasphemous, turning books into tiny billboards, but there are some advantages for the advertised to.

Brian Altounian is CEO and chairman of WOWIO which works with publishers to distribute e-books with ads. The ads really push down the cost of the book to the consumer. In fact, sometimes those books cost the consumer nothing. Brian, welcome to the show.

BRIAN ALTOUNIAN:

Thank you, Bob. Great to be here.

BOB GARFIELD:

There is a quid pro quo that I guess we've all grown used to about accepting ads as the price of getting freer subsidized content, but I - I don't know that it extends to books. It feels just somehow, oh, I don't know – icky.

BRIAN ALTOUNIAN:

I wouldn't want to be in the middle of a chapter of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and have an ad pop up intrusively. However, I do think if done appropriately and done subtly and done in a way that does make aesthetic sense and doesn’t interrupt the flow of the reading experience, I think the trade off of having access to a broad selection of content is worth having advertisement component.

BOB GARFIELD:

The ads that you're using show up in the beginning of the book, before you get to the actual text, right?

BRIAN ALTOUNIAN:

And we personalize it. You know, an advertiser will have a chance to say this book is sponsored for Brian Altounian, courtesy of Wells Fargo, and a second page which actually gives Wells Fargo the opportunity to offer some sort of promotion, that if I click on that I'm taken out to a landing page that Wells Fargo has created that tells me their promotional deal of the day or deal of the month or deal of the quarter.

BOB GARFIELD:

I happened to be looking at a WOWIO version of Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut.   The first page is an ad for DirecTV. As I go into the text, you know, it is not interrupted, but I'm a little skeptical that I'm not eventually going to see that. Can I be really sure that this is not going to go to some - you should excuse the expression -  ad absurdum?

BRIAN ALTOUNIAN:

It's very likely that that – that that could happen. I would say we at WOWIO don't intend to do that. But I think that what will happen then is a consumer will be given the choice of either have the book be subsidized and include ads or have it be fee-based with no ads.

BOB GARFIELD:

So I, I got to tell you I bristled -  when I first saw the cover of the Slaughterhouse Five book and saw the ad from DirecTV – ‘cause it says, you know, it is a gift to me from DirecTV. And I’m like, eh – it’s not a gift!

Now, you know, they're trying to reach prospective DirecTV customers, which – you know, raises the question – DirecTV, it's a satellite, you know, service that is equivalent to your local cable TV system. You would think the last place [LAUGHS] that they would try to find customers was from people who read books!

BRIAN ALTOUNIAN:

Well, it's interesting because if you think -  you know, DirecTV, as you say, is a service that has 3,000 channels now.  You know, the selection of content is pretty broad. And so, if they’re sponsoring books in the history category and it helps to promote the History Channel, then there is a relationship. And the advantage that the digital distribution platform provides is a granularity, you know, an opportunity to be seen by the consumer that will eventually become a consumer of their product.

BOB GARFIELD:

It strikes me that if, if WOWIO works, the - the business model is going to be immediately embraced by the big e-book distributors of the world, like, let’s say, Amazon and that you are going to just be rendered irrelevant almost overnight.

BRIAN ALTOUNIAN:

Amazon had about a 95 percent market share of the e-book space until about a year and a half ago. It’s now about 55 percent. So that shows you that there's definitely opportunity for companies such as WOWIO.

A broad base of books creates a voracious appetite for reading. That’s just gonna increase the demand for e-books, traditional books, books of all kinds.

BOB GARFIELD:

Brian, thank you very much.

BRIAN ALTOUNIAN:

Bob, thank you.

[MUSIC UP AND UNDER]

BOB GARFIELD:

Brian Altounian is CEO and chairman of WOWIO.