Should Companies Pay for Product Placements in Books?

product placement

Movies and television shows have had product placements in them since their inceptions. Companies pay big money for the lead character to drink a Coke or to place a FedEX truck all throughout the movie. With ebooks gaining more visibility in our culture and more authors trying to make a viable income from their sales, is it time for companies to pay for product placements in books?

I recently wrote an extensive piece on the merits of advertisements in eBooks and we received tremendous response on our article via emails and forum discussions. It seems we are not too far away from full fledged adverts in the books we read and have the price subsidized by product ads.

The big question facing us today is how visual media is inundated with brands being showcased. A recent documentary movie by Morgan Spurlock, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, evaluated product placement, marketing, and advertising in media. He garnered over 1.5 million dollars and financed the entire film with money from companies looking to place their brand in the film. The entire documentary walked you through the entire process of pitching the idea, going to meetings, legal concerns, and even hyping the film. He posed an interesting scenario that advertisements are visual in nature and not effective in books.

Books are a more visceral experience and many people internally visualize in their heads the plights of the character in the book and the overall theme and setting. Key product placements might in some cases distinguish an otherwise dull character. For instance, a main character might be addicted to Pepsi and will always be drinking it in key scenes and may mention it throughout the book. If you were to put a Pepsi in the hands of the character Jack Reacher from the Lee Child series of books, people would notice and maybe crave a soda.

Mainstream authors like Charlaine Harris, James Patterson and Lee Child have sold millions of books via Amazon and have a loyal following. Many authors do not receive a large percentage of their ebooks sold and publishing companies reap many of the financial gains. If authors were to come to terms with the companies to put their product placements within the book, they could make a ton of extra money. It is much akin to highly paid sports stars making more money with being a spokesman or to represent a brand. Why aren’t novels given the same treatment?

A James Patterson to invest in is fairly appealing, considering he pumps out more books then Stephen King in an average year. Many companies would be falling all over themselves if given the opportunity to have each novel reaching millions of customers. It seems there are no companies out there that facilitates product placement in books, which would be a solid business venture.

Product placements in books not only help the well known and substantiated authors, but also can help rising ones. There are many authors who are just starting out and can market themselves correctly enough to warrant the attention of companies looking to invest. Most authors we speak to in our eBook of the Week series often have a day job and like to write on the side. How glorious would it be to finance your writing career with the proceeds of a few companies wanting their product in a book. You main character is an airline stewardess? Why not have them a JetBlue employee? Your character is a drunk? Make them always drink Bud Light. Authors can look at it not as selling out, but buying in.

On the flip side of the coin, people may not respond well if this trend becomes prevent in every book that they read. One of the biggest arguments is that adverts run rampant in our society and you cannot avoid advertising in any aspect of your life. In San Paulo Brazil, the entire city mandated that public advertisements be taken down. “We all thought it was the end of the world,” said Marcio Oliveira, vice-president of operations at Lew’Lara. Three years after the new law came in, it is extremely difficult to find outdoor advertising in the city; no billboards, no ads on buses or taxis, or in shop windows. But equally remarkable is how quickly big advertisers and the industry itself have adapted and, in fact, thrived.

The city feels cleaner and the law forced creative innovations into other, newer advertising methods that have often been more effective. “In the first instance, everybody, including the advertisers, loved this – to see their city without this visual pollution we had in the past,” said Oliveira.

If done properly and in moderation, advertisements in books do have their place and could allow part-time writers to become full-time writers. Mainstream authors could gain tremendous extra income by making lucrative deals. Do you think we should see more product placements in eBooks? Do you think the drawbacks outweigh the benefits?

Michael Kozlowski (5212 Posts)

Michael Kozlowski is the Editor in Chief of Good e-Reader. He has been writing about electronic readers and technology for the last four years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the Huffington Post, CNET and more. Michael frequently travels to international events such as IFA, Computex, CES, Book Expo and a myriad of others. If you have any questions about any of his articles, please send an email to

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  • Natch

    The REAL question is: Should writers allow their books and them selves to be prostituted for profit.

    I just read one of my favourite authors and was so interrupted by product placements that I lost interest in the book…it wasn’t a novel but a catalogue. Not the way I want to spend my spare time at trying to leave the world of commerce and complicity for a relaxing read. I started to note all the placements to decide what I would not be purchasing…the 50,000 dollar time pieces and luxury autos of the villain in midnight black was not much of decision to make but the drinks spiked with Aspartame were also no brainers. No subtlety here at all. The thing I find perplexing is who wants to align themselves with the devil in Prada. The bad guys are the wealthy idiots…maybe some justice in this after all. But I guess if being a nasty rich gangsta’ is your cup of tea then exemplars and antagonists decorated in pricey trash offerings is working. Enough blood, guts and products for me.
    James Patterson won’t be making any money off me. I don’t drink enough aspartame to remove all the insulation from my neural wiring; so I can still think like a human rather than an ‘unconscious consumer clone’.