A number of recent articles about advertising supported textbooks got some media attention recently. I recall ads in travel guides and they never did well – perhaps it doesn’t help that many travel guide purchasers are arm-chair travelers. It was also difficult to manage the currency of the advertising. I am doubtful that ad supported textbooks will have much success either but I did wonder whether this idea could be taken a little further.
As long ago as 1995, TV Guide were producing as many as 52 separate weekly editions of their guide. Their desire to do this was to create local versions of the guide to gain local advertising (on top of the national advertising in all editions). Print production should allow multiple (economic) versions of a textbook. The question is would publishers as a group be interested in including advertising in their text books? If there was interest and the costs of incorporating the ads was significantly less than the revenue – both big ifs – then a market for the advertising inventory would need to be established. Since the publishing schedule for textbooks is highly seasonal and inventory expires at a certain point it could be relatively straight forward to set up an auction site for textbook ad inventory. (In a perverse way, could advertising in textbooks drive the students need to have the current year's edition...hmm?)
Key to this market would be how automated the activities could be. This would reduce expenses as much as possible. Guidelines on page layout, ad size, image resolution, content, payment, etc. would be easy to establish and using a formulated process such as ebay would also reduce expense by leveraging existing processes. Recently, the advertising industry began experimenting using Ebay as a marketplace for broadcast advertising.
It would seem more likely that an advertising model that enabled an advertiser to reach across multiple markets using multiple publishers and titles would have a greater chance of success than trying to create a publishing program based solely on advertising to justify a titles viability. Who knows? It would seem to me that ad based textbooks sounds interesting when everyone is debating a publishers right to make a reasonable profit but in reality the idea is a sideshow.