Kevin Kelly may be best known as the founding executive editor of Wired magazine, but he's also a long-time blogger and the author of numerous books. One of those books, True Films, has just been updated for a third edition. The book collects Kelly's 200 favorite documentaries reviewed on his site of the same name. "I only review films I love and believe others will enjoy. Merely good films are left unmentioned," says Kelly. Previous editions of the book have been sold via Amazon, Lulu, or as a paid download via Kelly's own site. That the book was updated a second time is unremarkable. What is noteworthy, is that Kelly is giving the book away for free as a PDF and monetizing it with contextual text advertising.
In November, Adobe and Yahoo! announced a partnership that yielded the clunkily named Ads for Adobe PDF Powered by Yahoo!. The basic premise was that using the program, publishers could monetize offline PDF content by serving contextually relevant text ads alongside it.
Kelly is using the PDF Ads for True Films 3.0. Kelly calls the use of the ads an experiment. "If it works with you readers to the same degree that ad-supported blogs have, it is not hard to imagine thousands of books being released for free with ads on the side," writes Kelly on his blog. "To some in publishing this prospect is the end of the world. The final stake in the heart of good old books. Ads-in-books specifically have been a bogeyman too horrible for them to even think about. [...] I am more pragmatic. I actually like the Google contextual ads on Cool Tools. They bring up choices I would have never encountered, yet they are fairly unobtrusive until you are looking. Why not do the same for books?"
But there are a couple of major obstacles to PDF Ads that I see in this initial iteration. The first is that the ads are opt-in. Because Acrobat Reader needs to connect to Adobe to download the ad content, it first asks for permission (the PDF files are scanned by Yahoo!'s content matching system before you download them, so the Yahoo! robot isn't actually scanning a file on your computer, but it will try to connect to Adobe each time you open to the file to attempt to download the most up-to-date ads). Will people really opt-in to view ads? Hardcore supporters of the author might, but since they're paid on a per click basis, if the people clicking on the ads are only doing so out of support for the author, isn't the advertiser losing out? That's not going to likely be high quality traffic.
The other major hurdle is that the content matching sucks. While reading True Film 3.0, I didn't see one ad that had anything to do with film or documentaries or even the subjects that any of the documentaries being reviewed were about. Instead, the ads were about unrelated things like travel and real estate -- they looks more like broadly purchased defaults (low paying inventory filling ads) than actual contextually matched advertisements. In order for PDF ads to warrant any notice from readers, they'll have to get a lot more relevant.