NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Book serialization has come into vogue again, 170 years after Charles Dickens popularized it with "The Pickwick Papers" and "Oliver Twist." Funny enough, it's the 19th-century author who is championing the form in 2008: His "A Christmas Carol" is one of more than 1,000 titles available through DailyLit, a digital serial book publisher that shares books with nearly 150,000 subscribers in short, customized installments via email and RSS feed. And now it's opening its virtual pages to advertisers.
Dickens' holiday classic is also one of three titles to join DailyLit's new and growing ad-supported business model. DailyLit works with 35 book publishers -- including Alfred A. Knopf, Oxford University Press and Berlitz -- to license digital or digital serialization rights for select titles, from romance novels to nonfiction how-to guides. Up until several months ago, DailyLit subscribers had to pay to read copyrighted titles or choose free ones among those already in the public domain. But since August, the publisher has opened the doors to corporate sponsorship.
A win-win initiative
"Our sponsorship program is designed to be a win-win-win initiative," said DailyLit co-founder and CEO Susan Danziger, in an e-mail. "Customers can read great books by renowned authors for free; publishers/authors receive incremental revenue; and a sponsor's brand is exposed to customers daily over a period of months or even years."
DailyLit helps match advertisers with books and negotiates the duration of the sponsorship. For a determined window of time, all installments for the sponsored book feature the sponsor's logo as well as a hyperlink to its website in the right-hand corner.
The first title to experiment with the ad-supported model was Gallery Collection, a leading business-to-business Christmas and holiday greeting card company, which sponsored "College Knowledge: 101 Tips," by David Schoem, for a few months in the fall. Gallery Collection used the sponsorship as a way to connect with college-aged kids, boosting awareness about the company and its annual "Create-A-Greeting" $10,000 scholarship contest.
Successful first attempt
The first venture was successful, and Gallery Collection then went on to sponsor Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," an arrangement that will continue through August 2009. Even though Dickens' book is in the public domain, the classic made sense for the greeting card company, said H.L. Devore, chief marketing officer of Prudent Publishing, which owns Gallery Collection.
Mr. Devore was drawn to DailyLit because it was similarly "looking to bridge the gap between the old and the new." Gallery Collection is a 79-year-old company trying to reposition itself in a digital age populated with e-mails, not hand-written notes.
"Who wouldn't want to 'own' Charles Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol' and have that associated with their company name?" Mr. Devore said, adding that many DailyLit readers, inspired by Dickens' story, then went to his company's website to buy Christmas cards.
DailyLit's motto: "Books how, when, and where you want them." In the curmudgeonly book-publishing industry, its service seems nothing short of revolutionary: Each installment typically takes fewer than five minutes to read, and readers can choose its frequency, delivery time and size.
"The results are very good," Mr. Devore said, declining to give specific numbers. "But we're even happier with ... the good will of doing something right and having your name out there."
H. Stern partnership
H. Stern Jewelers worked with DailyLit most recently, sponsoring "This Moment on Earth: Today's Environmentalists and Their Vision for the Future" by John Kerry and Teresa Heinz Kerry, from mid-December through the end of January. The jewelry company felt pleased with the goodwill aspect of its partnership with DailyLit.
"We chose a title that is current and of broad interest and appeal," said International Communications Director Andrea Hansen. "We offered it to our clients in recognition of their patronage. That alone for us has already proven successful as they loved the idea and dozens replied to us commending us on the idea and the choice."
While DailyLit currently has only three titles with corporate sponsorship, Ms. Danziger expects that "going forward, sponsorship will be a major initiative." She pointed out that the ad-supported model allows companies to give customers "real value," particularly if the book otherwise would cost them money. Currently under half the books on DailyLit are on a pay-per-read basis.
And sponsors seem enthusiastic about this, too. "We will evaluate this campaign but I can tell you that although no formal plans have been drawn, we're excited to explore new opportunities," Ms. Hansen said.
What's to come
Ms. Danziger says DailyLit is also exploring creating books with sponsors. "For instance, a bank may want to create and sponsor 100 Tips to Financial Security in these Difficult Times," she said.
DailyLit launched in May 2007 with 370 classic books. Today its readers have read over 250,000 books using the service, which also hosts discussion forums. According to Maggie Hilliard, DailyLit's marketing coordinator, most subscribers sign up for one installment a day, but end up reading four or five.
Ms. Danziger declined to share sales or tracking data, but pointed out that revenue "has greatly increased over 2008." Select titles are available on Twitter and Viigo, the free application for mobile content.