In Which I Save Publishing

by J.D. Rhoades

With the news of widespread layoffs in the publishing industry, declining orders from the big chains, and of course the perennial “death of reading” predictions, we’ve all been watching anxiously, wondering which was the industry is going to go. Are the days of big, quit-your-day-job advances over? Isn’t most  marketing,  with the book trailers that no one watches and the ads in newspapers (which are also dying) a massive waste of cash and effort? How do we get paid for e-books, especially the ones that can just be copied and spread like wildfire across the ‘net?

 How the heck is anyone going to make any damn money in this business, anyway?

Well, according to this article in Galleycat, editor Tom Englehardt thinks he knows. And, as the supercomputer Deep Thought told its eager questioners in THE HITCHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY,   you’re not going to like it.



You’re really not going to like it.


Okay, here goes….


Your Ad Here

Englehardt writes: “The ad, after all, has colonized everything in our world from gas
pumps to urinals, bars to doctor’s offices, taxis to your sneakers and
cell phone, not to speak of every imaginable printed form, including
the cereal box and the back of your supermarket receipt, and yet,
strangely enough, it never successfully colonized the book.”

I told you you weren’t going to like it.

According to the Galleycat piece,  a “book-serialization website” called DailyLit “feature[s] the sponsor’s logo as well as a hyperlink to its website in the right-hand corner” of its offerings.

Now, this raises a lot of questions. Will advertisers really pay for something like this? Will readers object to the distractions of logos and hyperlinks in their reading material?

Well, maybe. But then again, maybe not. After all, we quickly got used to our TV screens being visited by those little dancing figures in the bottom of the screen pimping next week’s new blockbuster  show.

But why stop with ad-matter outside of the text? Why not accelerate the process and go straight to that brainstorm cooked up by the bright boys and girls of Madison Avenue to make sure that no facet of our lives remains untouched by hucksterism?

 I’m talking,  of course,  about product placement.


Product placement,  if you’re not familiar, is the practice of making sure that your company’s logo appears “subtly” in apparently unrelated TV, movies, etc. It’s the art of making people watch a commercial without realizing it’s a commercial. Observe:

Imagine the possibilities of using this in literature: 

When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking Sierra Nevada beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in an Applebee’s just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon.

Okay, maybe that one needs a little tweaking. How about:

I was wearing my powder-blue suit from Jos. A. Bank, with dark blue Brooks Brothers shirt, Principessa tie and display handkerchief, black Florsheim brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them (on sale at Target). I was neat, clean, shaved, and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.

Hmmmm…a little wordy. Let’s try again:

It was a a bright cold day in April, and the Seiko clocks were striking thirteen. Seiko…over a century of excellence!

 I’ll admit, the concept needs a little work. So help me out. Take one of your favorite passages, from one of your books or a favorite by someone else, and practice your product placement skills.

 If we can’t stop it, we must learn to embrace it.

28 thoughts on “In Which I Save Publishing

  1. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Dusty

    Terrific! OK, how about this:

    ‘The sky above the William Henry ‘Bill’ Gates III port was the colour of a Sony KDL46W2000U 46-inch widescreen Bravia HD 1080P LCD television – with Freeview – tuned to a dead channel.”

    Hm, yup, I think it still needs work …

  2. Mike MacLean

    Hey Dusty,

    50 Cent’s G-Unit novels have already embraced this idea. Here is a clip from an article from the LA Times.

    An impressive array of G-Unit branded goods as well as various rappers signed to 50 Cent’s G-Unit/Interscope record label pop up in G-Unit Books – the same kind of product placement used to defray costs in many big budget movies.

    Such hucksterism is hardly subtle.

    “The crowd came in sellout numbers. Lloyd Banks from G-Unit was one of the MCs,” reads a passage in “Death Before Dishonor.” Later, two guys named Mannie and Moe “were laid back playing 50 Cent: Bulletproof on a PlayStation in another bedroom.”

    A scene in “The Ski Mask Way,” meanwhile, puts the rapper’s brand-building efforts in perspective: “Squeeze put in a G-Unit mix tape and pulled off in a hurry.

    Here’s a link to the full article.

    The future is now.

  3. Louise Ure

    With apologies to John D. MacDonald:

    “I came bursting out of sleep to hear the secretive sound of the little bell which rings at my beside when anyone steps aboard The Busted Flush. I could be some kid prowling the decks for a forgotten Canon 35mm SLR camera, an iPod, or bottle of Johnny Walker Black. Or a friendly drunk. Or a drunken friend. Or trouble.”

  4. pari

    Dusty,I think many of us do product placement w/o advertising intent: Sasha drinks Guinness, Oban or Glenlivet. She reads the Economist and The New Yorker.

    But these things give the reader a shorthand for personality traits.

    As far as intentional/advertising product placement . . . I’m really skeptical that it will work. Unless a person sees a product — by name — several times within a book, it won’t stick.

    Advertising works in large part because of frequency. Unless the message is repeated often–as are commercials from the big boys on TV–there’s nothing to reinforce the message.

    Pizza Hut sticks in our minds because of television, print (coupons, flyers in newspapers, magazines), ads on radio etc. So when we see it in a movie it might stick.

    And . . . just because a product becomes top of mind doesn’t mean a consumer is going to purchase it. I hear about Coca Cola and 7up almost daily but don’t buy either.

    As consumers become more and more savvy, they’re going to become more and more immune to ads (including product placement) no matter how clever.

  5. Cornelia Read

    “Halfway to Christmas, Forchetti stated the obvious: ‘You can’t teach for shit. And besides which, we all think you’d really benefit from a daily regimen of Ritalin, Celexa, and Remeron.'”

  6. Stephen D. Rogers

    Thanks for saving publishing. Already I feel better about 2009.

    There was a time when paperback books included cardboard advertisements in the middle of books. I remember a lot of cigarette ads.

  7. Jake Nantz

    From Stephen King’s RAGE:

    “What must it be like for a jumper coming down from a high Green Street Partnership-designed ledge? I’m sure it must be a very sane feeling. That’s probably why they scream all the way down.”

  8. toni mcgee causey

    Gayle cracked me up.

    I feel like half of the time there already must be product placement being paid out, especially with certain musical groups or booze that keep cropping up, especially in crime fiction. Lots and lots of drinking going on in crime fiction, go figger.

  9. Allison Brennan

    Dusty, a very interesting blog especially since I was JUST THINKING ABOUT THIS LAST NIGHT!!!! First Pari snatches snips of my diminishing brain, now you . . .

    Product placement in books in terms of revenue producing advertisement (for the author and/or publisher) I don’t see working. Like Pari, I use specific products to help define character and/or to ground the reader.

    Books are not like any other industry. Yesterday, I was on Kid Rock’s website and read about his deal to create and promote a beer (A “Kid Rock” brand beer) by an American company. He’s looking into other opportunities. His album, ROCK AND ROLL JESUS sold over 2 million copies. AND he’s not on iTunes. Why? Because someone told him he HAD to be and he doesn’t like being told what to do. He’s a huge advocate against piracy, BTW.

    Anyway, he didn’t like some aspects of iTunes and said that if people wanted to buy the album as long as it was available somewhere, they’d seek it out. For him, it worked. For authors? If our books aren’t available in bookstores, we ain’t going sell many. Even though my Amazon sales are a small fraction of my total sales, I know people browse Amazon regularly and having my books there gives them a chance to read about them even if they don’t buy online.

    My daughter is the one who got me hooked on Kid Rock. She discovered him because she went to the movies with her friends and saw the National Guard commercial and researched to find the song. She search first for the song, then the artist, finally figured it out, downloaded it off his website (for free) and then realized another of her favorite songs was one of his, so went to Borders (of all places!) and bought his album because she couldn’t get it on iTunes.

    For authors? We don’t get that kind of publicity. If we write a commercial, no one knows (or thinks of looking) it’s us, or comments, “Wow, what fantastic writing for the commercial on tide detergent, I wonder if the author has any books I can buy?”

    The only authors who MIGHT be able to do some cross-promotion are those who are recognizable as a major brand. If Nora Roberts wanted to market a perfume called “Romance” I think it would be a big seller. Her JD Robb books have “Pepsi tubes” (as opposed to cans) and while I remember it, I haven’t started drinking Pepsi. (Hmmm, I wonder if she got paid for it?)

  10. Allison Brennan

    “Last night I dreamt I went to Walmart again. It seemed to me I stood by the glass doors leading to the Best Buys, and for a while I could not enter, for the store was closed.”

  11. Joanie

    Last Lunesta night on my Serta mattress I dreamt I went to Manderly again (1-800-MANDERLY). It seemed to me I stood by theB & P iron gate leading to the drive(,and for a while I could not enter. There was a Masterlock padlock and chain upon the B & P. In my dream I called on my iphone 3G to the lodge-keeper, and had no answer, and peering closer through the NORUST Weatherproofing coated spokes of the gate i saw that the lodge was uninhabited (Support the British Firemens Benevolent Association with a tax-free donation today)…

  12. Liz Davenport

    As a reader, I find product placements in books a writer’s cheap way around “showing”, not telling me the story. I.e., that tells me the writer’s not very good.

  13. pari

    Liz,I’m not sure if I’d make the same blanket statement. Of course, I do use product placement . . . but not to excess (I hope).

    To me, having a character in New Mexico who drinks Guinness or Oban, says something about her that would take far more words — perhaps much less effectively — to say.

    But I have also stumbled on passages by writers who go on and on about someone’s clothes and the descriptions leave me absolutely cold.

  14. Lisa Hendrix

    Others have deep, worldly things to say

    I, on the other hand, was jarred by the fact that apparently the clip had been screwed with. It’s Taco Bell, not Pizza Hut, that has taken over the restaurant world in the American release of Demolition Man (watch Sandra Bullock’s lips). However, apparently the Pizza Hut substitution was made for the European market. Trivia, trivia.

    Didn’t someone sell product placement in a novel a few years ago? Some book about the perfume industry, I think.

    I can’t help but wonder what authors of historical pieces will do in a world of product placement. Maybe behave like Cory Doctorow — give your books away like a fiend (it’s in his contracts, apparently) and still make the bestseller lists. Hmm. Maybe we don’t all need to throw our hands up and run screaming off the cliff after all.

  15. Jake Nantz

    Ms. Hendrix, I was just going to say the same thing. I couldn’t see it earlier today because any content from Youtube is blocked at work, but I just watched it and it freaked me it. It’s definitely supposed to be Taco Bell.

  16. Droewyn

    “Why, cousin,” Amelia exclaimed, eyeing the new damask gown with envy, “you simply must tell me the name of your modiste!”

    Sophie laughed behind her fan. “Daring, isn’t it? Master Hilfiger is a genius — and Father tells me that is art is really quite affordable. Let the Quality try to claim me ‘countrified’ now!”

    Hee! This is fun!

  17. Peter

    It was about 11 o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder blue Brooks Brothers suit, with dark blue Hathaway shirt, Ralph Lauren tie and display handkerchief, black Cole-Hahn brogues, black wool socks, with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, clean, Aqua Velva aftershaved, and sober. and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars invested in Wachovia Bank, where service is a premium. And when you want the Big Sleep, there’s no better place than the closest Simmons ® mattress.==============Detectives Beyond Borders“Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”


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