This Post Brought to You by: Kellogg’s Corn Flakes ®

This past week, a tiny internet furor erupted over advertisements in books, stemming, it seems, from an article in the Wall Street Journal. (It’s behind a paywall, but I managed to read a cached version, thanks to Google. Thanks, Google!) Frankly, I just don’t see what the big deal is. We accept that ads are necessary to support television, newspapers, and even films – why not books? And authors see so little money, except for the big popular ones of course, that it makes sense for them add additional “revenue streams.”

All happy families are alike, except those that take Paxil, because they’re even happier than happy families, and much much happier than unhappy families, which are each unhappy in their own way, and should consult their doctor(s) about taking Paxil.

But I never trust my own judgment, so I thought I’d ask a few of my “author friends” what their opinions were. Well let me tell you it was very disappointing not to hear back from Mr. Pynchon, or Tommy as I like to call him. He was high on my list, because I thought the opening of Gravity’s Rainbow offered awesome possibilities for product placement.

Consider:

“A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to, except perhaps the sound of the liquid-cooled inline four-cylinder engine of a pearl orange/light metallic gray Honda CBR1000RR.”

Pretty snappy, I say. Perhaps it even has a little more “voom” than Mr. Pynchon’s original phrasing, as esteemed as it may be. But I digress. Not having heard back from Mr. Pynchon, I thought perhaps a fellow I like to call Jay-Dizzle might be interested in divulging his thoughts on the matter. You, of course, know him as J.D. Salinger, and you probably also know he died rather recently (respect!), which I didn’t, and which really threw me for a loop, because I was sure he would take to the idea like a rabbit to water.

Since, however, he has exited “this mortal coil,” I don’t imagine he’d mind if I speculate as to how improved his prose might have been (and still could be, given the right, ahem, legal circumstances) through the use of judicious product placement. One possibility, from Catcher in the Rye:

“I certainly began to feel like a Preakness Stakes-winning horse’s ass, though, sitting there all by myself. There wasn’t anything to do except smoke Camel Silver Super Lights and drink Bacardi and Coke. What I did do, though, I told the waiter to ask old Ernie if he’d care to join me for a drink – perhaps a Tanqueray and Schweppes Tonic. I told him to tell him I was D.B.’s brother. I don’t think he ever even gave him my message, though. Those bastards never give your message to anyone, which is why I normally like to use my iPhone 4, which changes everything. Again.”

Whatever you think of that example – and I’ll be the first to admit that it’s a little “clumsy,” although  the iPhone placement really does resolve the tension in a nice way – I think we can all agree that the potential here is limitless (note to the Estate of J.D. Salinger: not bad, eh? Let’s talk).

Now, wait, wait, I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking well you have a point, product placement might be a very viable way for authors to further “monetize” their prose. But, what about actual ads? That seems like it would be going too far.

And I agree: it would be going too far. In a good way. What better way to “mentally prepare” yourself to read a classic like Nightwood than a 30-second Gap ad? Or let’s say you’re into classics: ready to read Aristotle’s Poetics? Not until you’ve watched a trailer for the DVD boxed set of Rome! And yes, I know Aristotle was Greek, okay, but: both in the Mediterranean, both old, it’s all the same in terms of target audiences, target demographics, is what I’m saying here.

There are, of course, a few kinks to be worked out. I don’t really know the specifics, but I’m told that books, in paper form, don’t currently support Microsoft Silverlight, or any of the other proprietary streaming-video software currently out there which I’m not being paid to mention by name, so won’t. That’s a problem, obviously, but since everyone’s going to be reading e-books on their Apple iPads in like two years anyway, I’m not sure it makes sense to tackle this problem. But: glossy inserts? Why not? Maybe it’s crazy, I don’t know. Maybe I’m crazy.

In closing, let me say this: poetry. I know, I know, no one reads poetry. But that just means, for advertisers, pennies on the dollar. Pennies on the dollar here, people. To prove my point, I had a little séance with the spirit of good Mr. Allen Ginsberg (not on a first name basis with him, sadly), and here’s what he had to say:

“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by Xanax, starving hysterical naked,

dragging themselves through the Staples Center at dawn looking for a Big Mac,

angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to Xbox LIVE.”

Potential. That’s what that is. Pure, unadulterated potential. And I know it paints Xanax in a bad light, but that’s because Pfizer, or should I say Pfskinflints, refused to fork over the dollars for a nice little product placement. Screw you, Pfcheapskates!

So: over and out, until next time when I’ll be discussing the pros and cons (note: there are no cons) of having a company logo permanently tattooed on your forehead.

3 comments for “This Post Brought to You by: Kellogg’s Corn Flakes ®

  1. August 25, 2010 at 9:51 am

    In an age where we’re bombarded every 8 minutes during a broadcast, driving down a highway, walking down a sidewalk, riding a bus/subway with advertising, literature is truly the last ad-free refuge we have left! If a writer wants to water down their prose with needless ad placements, because they know already their books won’t make money standing alone, that’s their business. Frankly, I’m less than impressed.

  2. August 25, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    Lots of writers already use brand names in their writing, it’d be nice to be paid for it instead of being sued 🙂

  3. Scott
    August 27, 2010 at 8:33 pm

    Why worry? Ad revenue is based on volume. It won’t be worth the paper to print ads in unpopular (i.e., good) books. So if you read, I dunno, say, Twilight, you get to suffer the ads. But really, how many companies do you think would wanna sponsor ol’ Tommy anyway?

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