What it is: Wowio offers free downloadable e-books with ads. That's right, advertising in the pages of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" and Steven Crane's "The Red Badge of Courage." While free online content with ads is a surging trend -- Napster and SpiralFrog offer free music content with ads and TV networks serve up free shows with advertising -- this is the first company we've seen serving free books with ads.
How it works: Advertisers can target specific demographics, interests and geographic locations because Wowio requires users to complete a three- to five-minute survey before downloading. While users can fill out a bare minimum of information, Wowio creator Will Lidwell and his partners, CEO David Pridgen and President Regis Maher, believe people will come to realize the more precise information that is input, the more relevant the ads served.
The advertisers: Verizon took part in Wowio's beta test as part of its launch for its Chocolate-branded wireless phone, and Chase Bank signed on when the site launched Sept. 5. Advertisers can track and dynamically change ad copy, art, spending and other variables in real time via Wowio software.
The library: So far 350 books from publishers including Rosetta, Twin Lights Press and several independent authors, plus a dozen comic book publishers, and several magazine titles "coming soon." For now, the books tend to be what Mr. Lidwell calls "long tail" titles, that is, special interest or niche, as well as classic backlist titles.
Cost: Free for users. Publishers and authors get a share of ad revenue for the use of their books. And advertisers pay per each placement with prices varying according to positioning in the book (inside the cover is more expensive than random placement, for example). Fees range from 6 cents to 24 cents per placement, Mr. Pridgen said.
Up next: "As we get more thought leaders involved, there will be a bandwagon effect for the more mainstream publishers," Mr. Lidwell said. "Publishers are nervous about releasing a John Grisham this way. But [if it works] it could quite possibly be the way copyrighted material is set free in the world."