I’m writing the section of my book about publishing and exploring new models. Would love, as always, to get your thoughts on what I’m writing:
Rick Smolan has found another way to support his gorgeous and thus expensive collaborative photography books: sponsorship. He is best known for producing America 24/7, a book chronicling one week in the life of the U.S. with 1,000 top photojournalists. More recently, he produced America at Home, with a companion for the U.K., and it was underwritten by an obvious sponsor: Ikea. (He also had another innovative idea: You can pay to get the book with your photo on the cover.)
So here’s the question: Why shouldn’t books have ads to support them as TV, newspapers, magazines, and radio do? Ads in books would be less irritating than commercials interrupting shows or banners blinking at you on a web page. Would it be any more corrupting to have ads in this book than next to a story I write in Business Week? Well, you’d have to tell me. If I were to have had a sponsor or two for this book, who would it have been and what would you have thought of my work as a result? If Dell bought an ad—because, after all, I now have nice things to say about them—would you have wondered whether I’d sold out to them? I would fear you’d think that. What about Google itself? Obviously, that wouldn’t work. Yahoo? Ha! Who might want to talk to you and associate themselves with the thinking in this book while also helping to support it? I’m not sure. Let’s discuss that for the paperback I hope gets published. Come to my blog and tell me what you think.
….So that’s what I wrote in the manuscript. But, of course, we can discuss this now. Do you think I should take a sponsor or two for the book (I’m not saying it’s an option; this is a discussion)? If so, who would make a good sponsor? Who wouldn’t? Would it affect your thinking if a sponsored book cost less? Should I then wish for a sponsor not only because it reduces the risk for the publisher and me but because it means more books could be sold at a lower price spreading the ideas in the book farther?
: If we had any guts – and we likely don’t – we could auction a sponsor position on eBay. How’s this for a model: The sponsor, like a publisher, pays an advance but commits to pay a CPM based on copies sold but on a scale that’s reverse that of publisher commissions (the more copies that are sold, the lower the CPM goes).
Maybe that could be a model for news sponsorship, too: Sponsor a story and the more links it get, the more audience you get, the more you pay at a lower rate.
: LATER: Rick Smolan asked that I add this note from him responding to some of the comments:
1) I completely understand the skepticism many of your readers expressed at the mental image of a sponsored book – what comes to mind is a product dripping with logos and not so subtle product placement – an annual report disguised as journalism.
2) The truth of the matter, at least as it pertains to the books that we produce, couldn’t be further from that. Don’t think advertising – think PBS Special: “The Following program is made possible through a generous grant from X Corporation”. That’s it. Period.
3) As far as logos and credits for sponsors, if you look at AMERICA AT HOME or any one of the other books we’ve produced, the first page of the book carries the logos of the sponsors and at the end of the book is a page explaining their contribution to the project. That’s it.
4) Because of the support of our sponsors (which include Apple, Google, Ikea, HP, Fedex, Kodak, Adobe, and dozens of other Fortune 500 companies) more than five million copies of our books adorn peoples coffee tables around the world.
5) Every single book we’ve produced for the past 25 years has been sponsored. Why? Because no publisher would publish our first book, “A Day in the Life of Australia” we went to the business community in Australia and self-published the book – it went on to become the #1 book in Australia and sold 200,000 copies (in a market where 10,000 was a best seller).
6) After that first success we certainly had publishers interested in being our publisher but our projects (which usually include not only a large format illustrated book, but also a TV show, website, exhibits and worldwide PR) cost millions of dollars each to produce and no publisher is willing to risk such large amounts on a single title.
7) In terms of journalistic integrity, our agreement with sponsors is that they get no editorial rights of censorship or input. In order to be able to engage the talents of photographers and editors from Time, Newsweek, Fortune, Forbes, The New York Times, National Geographic, The Washington Post, etc we have to ensure this editorial independence.
8) The fact that Time, Newsweek, Fortune and US News regularly feature our books on their covers (and even mention the role of the sponsors as part of the story) speaks volumes.
9) In addition to the funding our sponsors also run full fledged marketing campaigns to promote their sponsorship. Kodak for example has run full page ads in the Wall Street Journal promoting the fact that they were the sponsor. Nikon ran full page ads in Newsweek. Apple created promotional videos.
10) Ironically, a company has a much greater chance of having its products featured in one of our books if they AREN’T a sponsor. That’s because we actually remove any photo that contains a sponsors products to avoid the impression that we are doing product placement. Our current book AMERICA AT HOME is a perfect example – it was sponsored by IKEA yet there isn’t a single photo of an IKEA product in the book.
The one nod to IKEA is that when book buyers order a customized book featuring their own family or home on the cover those personalized covers carry the IKEA name (note: about 21% of the people who purchase this book are actually customizing it – an amazing trend in publishing). Not a single person has complained about this – probably because people seem to have a great deal of affection for IKEA.