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Books That Sell

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Twitter was all atwitter about a recent Wall Street Journal opinion piece in which Rod Adner and William Vincent argue that the increasingly difficult economics of the publishing business will soon lead to advertising in ebooks.

I'm dubious about the idea. For one thing, how would you match an ad to a book? I mean, you could probably get away with advertising Billy's Pan Pizza in Steig Larsson's novels but plugging Viagra in Portnoy's Complaint might be pushing the boundaries of good taste. And how long would it be before book publishers stooped to the crass retail tactics of, say, the clothing industry? "Buy one Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, get the second Suit at half price!"

I'm inclined to agree with Paul Carr, who suggested on TechCrunch that product placement is a far more likely approach. As Carr points out, authors have long used specific products to help define a character, from James Bond's Rolex to Hannibal Lector's favorite brand of fava beans. The difference is, companies would now have to pay to have their products and services integrated into the plot, text, or title of a book.

However, it's probably not cost-effective for companies to buy placement in new works by contemporary writers. We all know publishing is a crapshoot. Why pay good money to place your products in a book that may never find an audience? Especially if it's by a literary writer -- we all know how they sell.

Instead, companies with products and services to tout should turn to the classics -- books with established popular appeal that have withstood the test of time. Simply insert your product at an appropriate point in the text or title and readers will hardly notice that you're marketing to them. Many of these books are on required reading lists at high schools and colleges, so you'll be reaching that all-important youthful demographic. Best of all, most of these works are in the public domain, so you can extend your brand awareness at little or no cost. What a great way to stretch your ad/promo dollars! And with the authors long dead, you'll have no worries about minor details like author intent or literary integrity. You can even press the late author's name into service to carry the burden of your marketing message.

Here are a few examples:

Billy Bud Lite, Herman Melville



Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman Sampler


"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. To Sydney Carton, it did not matter which:
he always knew the time with his Rolex Oyster Perpetual Explorer II."
--A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

Sun-Maid Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry

King Lear Jet, William Shakespeare

"Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. With Comcast Broadband Internet Access,
Margaret Schlegel knew she was always connected, with no annoying dial-ups or delays."
--Howard's End, E.M. Forster

Credit Suisse Family Robinson, Jonathan Wyss

The Story of O the Oprah Magazine, Pauline Réage

"Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore--
All downloaded, whole, concise, to my Kindle 3 device
Where at my leisure I can read them, read them 'til I snore--
''Tis remarkable,' I uttered, 'that my Kindle 3 can store
All these books and many more.'"
--The Raven, Edgar Allan Poe

Mutiny on the Bounty Paper Towels, Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall

The Good Soldier, Ford Maddox Ford Fiesta

"Arms and the man I sing. . . and with my VocoPro Professional Karaoke Machine, I'm singin'
in style!"
--The Aeneid, Virgil

The Catcher in the Arnold's Real Jewish Rye, J.D. Salinger

"My father's family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could
make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip. So I called myself Pip and
came to be called Pip. That is why I trust PIP Printing with all my business printing needs."
--Great Expectations, Charles Dickens

Gulliver's Travels, Jonathan Swift Premium Sausage

"If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it--with Apple's 160 GB iPod Classic
Which stores up to 40,000 of my favorite tunes
For convenient playback anytime."
--Twelfth Night, William Shakespeare

Tropicana of Cancer, Henry Miller

The Count of Monte Crisco, Alexandre Dumas

"If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the
rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast. To keep it fresh, be sure to
move it with coolers, ice chests, and food storage containers by Igloo."
--A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway

Jell-O Puddn'head Wilson, Mark Twain

"Someone must have traduced Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was
arrested one fine morning. He foolishly compounded the difficulty of his situation by failing
to call the law firm of Moscowitz, Philby & Rappaport right away."
--The Trial, Franz Kafka

Essays, Sir Francis Oscar Mayer Bacon

"We must cultivate our gardens--with the complete line of seeds, fertilizers, plant
foods and other quality gardening products from Miracle-Gro."
--Candide, Voltaire

The Dialogues of Play-Doh, Play-Doh

"But what's this long face about, Mr. Starbuck? Wilt thou not chase the white whale? And wilt thou not add a dollop of whipped to my venti one-shot extra-hot no-fat mocha latte?"
--Moby-Dick, Herman Melville

For Whom the Taco Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway

"Reader, I married him. And by working with the friendly and courteous wedding
professionals at Macy's Bridal Salon, it was the wedding of my dreams!"
--Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë

The Three Musketeers, Alexandre Dumas