Why Don't They Advertise in Books?

Maybe I’m overlooking something obvious, but why haven’t advertisers attacked books yet? It would obviously make more money for the authors and publishers, and it seems like everything else is covered in advertisements.

Sure, purists would scream at first, but hasn’t it been that way with virtually everything else? But then people get used to the advertisements, and they seem to forget them being any other way.

So what has prevented this from having happened yet?

They have - or, at least, several books I’ve bought have had advertising inserts or prize-draw entry forms attached to the cover.

Adverts on the actual pages, I have yet to see. Upon reading your post I thought, “Well, of course they haven’t - what a ridiculous idea!”, but on reflection I have no idea why. Certainly it would be no more obnoxious than, say, TV stations smushing the credits into a 2in square while using the rest of the screen to promote a different programme.

In the late seventies I remember paperback books with an ad in the center. The paper was not as heavy as the cover stock, but thicker than the regular pages.

Pain in the neck, as you couldn’t remove it without destroying the book. I tried to avoid buying them, and I imagine enough people did that the idea died out.

Books do sometimes have ads for other books from the same publisher or author on the end pages. As for external ads, I imagine publishers would worry that a book full of ads would be less likely to sell, resulting in less income overall, even allowing for the advertising revenue.

In a sense, books are similar to both rental and cinema movie watching. At the cinema or on the rental you will see advertisements for other movies before the film, but not interrupting it. In the book you will potentially see advertisements for other books from the publisher at the end, but not interrupting the book.

I think that they would be crossing a line here and that they know it: typically the customer has explicitly paid to watch a film or read a book, and will be annoyed at the interruption. TV and magazines where you don’t pay for specific shows or articles have a little more leeway in placing advertisements. I bet you don’t see advertisements in pay-per-view or on-demand movies though.

Just to add, I’ve never subscribed, but don’t you also have less or no interrupting advertisements on premium channels like HBO? Perhaps if cable channels start charging per channel and the channels had to compete more directly with their viewers we would see more channels boast less advertisements as they are forced to balance advertising revenue against actually getting people to watch.

You don’t always have ads on visual media, as much as product placement. You will even see product placement on PBS and other independents.

I’m sure in some stories there might be some potential product placements, as the heroine is described wearing her Dolce & Gabana gown or the hero steps out of his Ferrari. But I’m fairly certain that D&G and Ferrari won’t go running to Simon & Schuster to pay for those . . .

The only place I could see it really being viable is in the tween and teen novels like Gossip Girl (our version of Sweet Valley High).

In the late 1970s I seem to recall seeing at least one publisher accepting ads in the center of books. Generally for movies or cigarettes (in my memory) they would be on much heavier stock than standard paperback stock and be glossy and sometimes gatefold.

My gf asked if I was going to purchase a Kindle Reader. I told her I was waiting for the price to drop. I figured at some point they would sell advertising in the e-books, and the reader’s price would plummet (as well as the price of the books). Possibility?

As others have said, periodically publishers try to advertise in and on books. Blow ins are still used sometimes especially in things like Romances and Westerns. There are many theories as to why it has never caught on; they are so easily avoided, book readering is a slow activity and by the time some one actually gets to the ad the thing being advertised may well be out of date. Also, on the publishers parts, I imagine that it is not that cost effective. Their costs are picked up by the consumer and they want to keep the consumer happy as possible. If the advertiser were willing to pay a huge percentage of the publishing cost, maybe then a publisher would be more willing.

Well, for one thing, I wonder how effective advertising in books would be.

For a magazine spot, the advertiser assumes that his ad will be viewed by as many people as the circulation numbers for that magazine might be. For most mainstream magazines that’s a pretty large audience: ISTR that 300,000 is a small circulation for a glossy magazine, but I can’t offer a cite for that. A print run for a generic paperback book by someone who’s name isn’t Nora Roberts or Stephen King will be doing well to sell 10,000 copies. So buying advertising space in a single book’s print run just won’t have the same effect of getting the product in front of a large audience.

Now, a couple of exceptions to this general theme:

  • What the cardboard ad inserts people have mentioned were, I believe, were deals with the publishing house where all the books from that publishing house during a given period would contain the advertisement. This would give the advertiser more exposure, but would also be less tempting to the publisher - just because the revenue per title for the advertising just wouldn’t be the same as if they could sell space in an individual title.

  • Because of the way books are published, it’s not uncommon to have blank pages at the end of the book - at least blank from the point of view of the story that the book was for. Because publishing really can’t economically tailor book page counts in less than 8 or 16 page increments, many publishing houses will have standard “filler” for these back pages, either hawking their own catalogs, or offering teasers for upcoming releases. But this can’t be marked in ledger books as the same as selling external advertising would be - it’s just the publisher trying to make a silk purse out of pages they can’t excise from the printing of the book. And the incremental cost between adding their ‘stock’ filler advertising and simply leaving the pages blank is going to be negligible.

On Preview: vetbridge - the problem with ebook pricing has a lot more to do with various publishers trying to artificially raise ebook costs to keep pace with hardcover book publishing. It’s not something that I’d look for advertising to ‘fix.’ If there’s going to be a fix, it’s going to be from the beancounters watching publishers like Baen continuing to make substantial profits on their ebook publishing, while more “traditionally” priced ebook publishers keep losing their shirts.

It was fairly common in the late 19th and early 20th century to have publishers’ advertising (or their latest catalog) in the back of books. That is, other books put out by the same publisher. I’m not sure I’ve seen advertising for 3rd parties. Well, I’ve seen old medical/homeopathic texts end with advertisements at the end for the products, but that may be a slightly different beastie.

Richard Dare’s venture, or, Striking out for himself.
Boston : Lee and Shepard Publishers, 1903.

Notes: Includes publisher’s advertisement and catalog.
You still commonly see an ad for the next book in a series. I guess if the practice of including publishers advertising has declined it likely became too expensive for the new book orders it generated.

I also remember the thick advertising card in 70s paperbacks.

As noted, they did advertise in books. PLEASE don’t go on suggesting the idea – I hated it when they did it in the 1960s and 1970s. The advertisements were printed on a different type of paper, frequently were pretty thicj (either thicker paper stock, or they included a mail-in), and so the damned book always opened to the insert. Advertisers, I’m sure, loved it.
I still have books with full-color glossy ads for True cigarettes, or ads for the Science Fiction Book Club (with mail-in coupon), or folded ads for some other product. I don’t know why they still don’t do this – cost would be my guess. Back then, books typically cost about a buck, and were relatively thin. Now books cost closer to ten bucks, and have to be thick as a brick. The slim 150 page paperbacks of my youth seem to have vanished, and they books that were published them only seem to get back in print if they’re bundled together, or reformatted to take up more space.

Advertising in books is much older than the 1960s – I have books from the 19th century with advertizing on the back pages, and not always for more books.

Here is an NPR feature on this subject that explains how it came about.

And on a related subject, nothing is more frustrating to me than to turn to the back page of a science fiction or mystery novel and find a listing of coveted out-of-print books that could be ordered for 35¢ (and don’t forget the 10¢ for postage and handling). Or call MOnument 7-1234.

Advertising tends to be very time-sensitive. Newspapers have a shelf-life of 1-7 days, and magazines have one of generally one month (Hence the term “periodical”). Books are out there forever. If they’re popular at all, a book will be on the shelves for the duration of that edition, which can last for years. If they’re not, who’d want to advertise in an unpopular book?

If you’re an advertiser, you want people to know this month’s product and this month’s prices. You don’t want readers to wade through last month’s info and prices.

Some books do lend themselves to advertising, the ones you throw away after one year and get a new one the next, like the Farmer’s Almanac. Novels, not so much.

My parents had a fairly large collection of paperbacks from the early 1970s. I remember that at least some of the ads were for Kent cigarettes. I don’t recall any others besides those for cigarettes.


A few times, I’ve been tempted to send in one of those order forms from the back of a paperback published decades ago, to order a bunch of 50 cent novels. They never seem to list expiration dates for the mail-in offer.

After TV ads for cigarettes were banned - 1/1/71 I believe - cigarette companies had loads of advertising dollars to spend on other things, and ads in books was one. I never thought about an entire print run being dedicated to one ad, but it is plausible.

Advertising books in the backs of books usually involved a list of the current set, but some single books got lots of coverage. First Flight, an anthology of sf writers first stories, appeared in just about every book Lancer published for a while.

I have inexpensive hardcovers from early in the 20th century with ads also - especially 1910’s Tom Swifts.

It appears that in Germany, they do advertise in books. Or at least, some publishers do, or have done.

It seems to have been one of the reasons why Terry Pratchett changed his German publisher:

(From The L-Space Web )