Amazon's new Kindle is really their old one made cheaper by the inclusion of ads. It at first caused me utter outrage. I felt as angry as if if someone took my favorite book (The Silent World by Jacques Cousteau, in case you're wondering) took some paste, and covered up the dolphins and the last few paragraphs of every chapter with advertisements for Chuck E. Cheese. I felt like shouting, "THESE. ARE. MY. WORDS...MAN."
Then someone explained to me that the ads only come on when the Kindle is a screensaver, and at the bottom of the menu screens. Never in books. (The illustration above is our own, not an actual screenshot.) And that the ads are deals for discounts on things.
It's not that bad of a proposition. But even while I thought that, another part of my brain, the part closer to my balls, called me a sellout.; I am deeply weirded out by this, but in a meta way. See, this entire ad-sponsored gadget was ingeniously designed to be just passable; to be just slightly less than offensive on the offense-o-meter. Like a pervert on the subway that stares or even gropes only just long or lightly enough to avoid being slapped or chastised. It is set up just so that the people who are mad are the ones who look like the unreasonable ones. Even now I have to ask you, am I acting crazy here? Because, I feel like this is a dangerous thing. But only because I have a personal history of really wanting to buy things at discount. I need help, and not in the "Here, let me fill up your shopping cart" kind of way.
I rarely get to read books as often as I'd like. And when I do, it is because I am trying to unwind and learn and perhaps gain a glimpse into the innermost life and creative place of the author's mind. I am openhearted and open minded when I read. And so I am afraid of what might happen to my subconscious when a Buick is flashed before my eyes right before I sleep when I flip off my Kindle. Will I sleep walk into the nearest 24-hour car dealership and buy some Detroit steel? Maybe not. But I don't need to be exposed to persuasive commerce-inducing tools of trade at these vulnerable moments. Spare the books from the ads and save my brain.
This also feels like the kind of brilliant move that will be mirrored across the land. What's next, discounted video cameras that slip in split-second subliminal ads for Gatorade in your son's football game? MP3 players that play ads for Soda Pop backwards when you play your music forward? TVs that don't turn off, but play a few seconds worth of ads when you click the power button? Cameras that watermark your friends' heads with Tom Cruise's face to shill for Mission Impossible part six?!
No, probably not. Ad subsidy doesn't make sense for most gadgets. Our home content seems particularly off limits. But any gadget that has a conduit to professional media is a potential billboard. But let me say this to Amazon, and any other maker of gadget maker: I am not this cheap and this is still my gadget.
First off, 17-percent is not enough of a discount. You're going to make money on these gadgets after you sell them. More if you move more of the gadget providing the platform. I know you can't give these away for free—people might just leave them in the closet and then you'd be at a loss. But how about you give us 50% off to make this deal really compelling. And so your ad platform has more inventory.
Two! I'm game for this deals thing, but please give me deals I care about. I am never buying a Buick!
Three, how about you give me a free book or some other media in exchange for your ads. Conversely, if I pay for my content, how about you build in a little fee that keeps the ads from running at all. That's right—the discount is nice on the hardware, but if you tuck in a discount on services or content, and let us toggle the ads on and off, I think you'd be pitching me something I can't complain much about at all. Because if an ad flashes in front of my face, let it be because it I am too cheap to support a particular author or artist. Not because I was too cheap to give Amazon even more of my money.