The Technium

Results from an Experiment in Ad-Driven Books

A few months ago I initiated a small experiment in ad-supported media. The goal was to find a way to give free books away which were supported by advertising. In December, 2007 Adobe announced one promising technology for this dream. In partnership with Yahoo ad network, Adobe released their newest version of Acrobat Reader (8) with the capability to display ads alongside a PDF in view mode.

So the way this works is that the user would open up a PDF in Acrobat Reader 8, and at the prompt they would agree to see whatever ads (if any) accompanied that PDF. The ads would be served by Yahoo, and were promised to be contextual to the content of the PDF, just as contextual ads on the web are. Anyone clicking on the ads would trigger a payment to the author of the PDF file, which would have been registered previously to account for this payment.

The PDF I choose to release was a 250 page e-book I wrote. Called True Films, it contains rave reviews of the best 250 documentaries in English. I released the PDF into the wild, allowing anyone who wanted to mirror the downloads. The idea was to let the file superconduct virally, and see if the auxiliary ads might generate some income. As you can see in the image below of pages from True Films, the ads appear discreetly on the side. For further information on how the program works, and a little more on why I tried it, see my original post. One important note is that unless you were using the version 8 of Reader, you can’t see the ads, and in fact don’t even know the ads were ever there.  Most people are not using version 8.

Adobe Readerscreen-1

I had promised to relate the results when they were in and here they are:

In total the True Films PDF was successfully downloaded 13,500 times.

Yahoo tells me that the total “ad unit impressions” (the times a reader choose to look at ads) was 4,613.

The total number of times ads were clicked on:  189.

My total revenue was $47.59.

That’s pretty dismal for a business. It doesn’t pay for bandwidth if you are being charged for it. But, but…. it also says that fully one third of the readers went to the significant trouble of getting the latest version of Reader AND then agreed to opt in to see the ads. The piddly 189 clicks is actually not bad given the number of views. It works out to be 4%, which in the world of advertising is pretty good.  The payout rate per click is 25 cents which is also not horrible for the web. The gating factor is simply the small numbers of folks who actually see ads (or downloaded the free book). All these numbers — books downloaded, ads seen, and pay out rate — would have to increase substantially before there was any hope of free viral books supported by ads.

That said, I’ll try it again sometime soon with another book. And in the meantime, you can still download this great illustrated guide to the best documentaries for free right here. Check out the ads if you have Acrobat Reader 8.


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