Assuming Amazon doesn’t manage to kill the book industry, the next great threat reared its head this week. The NY Times reported on Sunday that product placement was making its way to books.
Oh, the horror:
The heroine of “Find Me I’m Yours,” a new novel by Hillary Carlip, is a quirky young woman named Mags who works at an online bridal magazine and is searching for love in Los Angeles.
But the story also has another, less obvious protagonist: Sweet’N Low, the artificial sweetener.
Sweet’N Low appears several times in the 356-page story, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. In one scene, Mags, a Sweet’N Low devotee, shows off her nails, which she has painted to resemble the product’s pink packets. In another, she gets teased by a co-worker for putting Sweet’N Low in her coffee.
The novel in question isn’t so much a novel as it is a multi-format work which includes an ebook as well as a series of websites and web TV shows, all of which is designed as “a vehicle for content sponsored by companies”. The artificial sweetener shows up several times in the story because its maker paid $1.3 million for the privilege, just like a car maker might pay to get their latest model added as a plot point in a tv series.
Aside from the point that this idea is being applied to books, it’s not new. But I was inspired to comment on the story after Mike Cane posted his rant about it. I can’t quote much of what he wrote (it’s NSFW) beyond his description of the publisher was doing:
Destroy a form of art so you can cash in.
Needless to say, my viewpoint is much milder than his. Speaking as someone who has to make a living off of his writing, I have a passing knowledge of the history of sponsored content.
It goes back decades, and while there are far more examples of sponsored content in books than I could fit in a single blog post there are a couple which stand out in my mind.
Even if you leave out product placement in movies and tv shows and focus solely on books, this is far from the most obnoxious example of sponsored content. My nominee for that title would be Transformers and GIJoe – not the current movies but the original early 1980s comic books and tv series.
I don’t know if the people who ranted about the recent terrible movies recall this, but the original comic books and tv series were created as a vessel to sell toys. This is especially true in the case of GI Joe, which was a doll long before the comic books and tv series.
Marvel, which created and published the comic book series, got involved in GI Joe in the early 1908s when Hasbro wanted to restart the toyline, and was looking for a new way to promote it. And after GI Joe proved wildly successful, the two companies continued their partnership with the Transformers – which, like GI Joe, started as an idea for a line of toys and grew from there.
And yet somehow, despite Marvel’s and Hasbro’s best efforts, those toys didn’t kill comic books as an art form.
Something tells me that this Sweet & Low sponsorship won’t kill books, either.