Wednesday, February 8, 2006

HarperCollins Tries out Ad-Supported Online Model for Book Content

HarperCollins has upped the creativity ante significantly lately in coming up with new ways to mine the value of books online. Crain's New York Business notes their first effort to put book content online for free in a Web page format. The book, entitled "Go It Alone! The Secret to Building a Successful Business on Your Own," is found at the author's Web site, is laid out in normal Web page format, allowing viewers to cut and paste the text easily, and includes page-to-page navigation and a simple search tool to look up content in the book. A traditional table of contents allows for sectional navigation and access to the traditional back-of-the-book index. But the kicker is that it's an ad-supported model: each page has Google AdSense ads alongside the text and banner ads for HarperCollins products at the bottom of the page. A link to the Amazon ordering page for the printed version of the book is below the AdSense ads.

While this experiment will probably go through some tuning, HarperCollins is on to the basic formula that is likely to power the growth of books online. It is, in fact, a very old formula in some ways: books have been serialized in ad-supported magazines since the 19th century. The key difference here are that with Web technology it's possible for a book to be its own online publication, independent of any third party framework, thus allowing it to collect ad revenues directly and to promote sales of the print version directly. From this perspective the HarperCollins experiment is particularly exciting, since it provides the content as a site that's untethered from both portals and the HarperCollins main Web site. Instead, we see the book as the prime output of the author - a key factor in presenting it as an authentic individual voice in a Web environment that is increasingly oriented towards user-generated media.

As noted in The New York Times recently the results of recent research indicates that a greater percentage of book readers are being lost to the Web than magazine readers, so it's highly important that book publishers adapt their content aggressively for online media. While fully ad-supported book content may not be the solution in all instances, this experiment opens up the door to a broad array of monetization models that can accelerate the usefulness and acceptance of book content to a broad online audience. We'll see where it goes from there, but as a first step it's great to see a good basic set of best practices being established through this experiment.
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