Tuesday, October 27, 2009

This blog entry sponsored by...

There has been a big discussion recently on Crime Writers of Canada’s Yahoo Group for our members. It centers around whether authors should negotiate with corporations for sponsorship mentions in their books, i.e. product placement.

I’d never really considered that. One CWC member claims she has signed a $10,000 deal for something like this. I don’t know if I’m prepared to believe that figure, but the discussion itself has raised a number of questions in my mind:

  • Does this really happen all that much? Based on the insidious nature of advertising these days, it wouldn’t surprised me. It’s just that I haven’t noticed it in the books I read. Maybe that’s the point, and maybe it’s a good thing.
  • Is it a good thing, though, morally speaking? If I could get some cash for having a character walk into a Starbucks, that might be one thing, but would I be required to say something nice about Starbucks at the same time? I don’t think I’d be willing to be party to something like that.
  • Does corporate product placement happen only for big authors’ novels? That’s one thing about the person who claimed the $10,000 figure: I doubt if you’ve ever heard of her. Why would a company pay that kind of money to be in her novel? Is there something going on here that I don’t know about? She claims the practice has been going on for years and no one talks about it. I can see why not! I hate when you’re being advertised to — and you don’t even know it.

Okay, Type M readers and blogmates, what do you think about this subject? Is it a potential gold mine for us struggling writers? How would we go about getting hooked up with potential sponsors? Are we willing to sacrifice our deathless prose on the altar of corporate profits?

Would we want to?


I just mentioned Yahoo in the above post. How would you feel if you knew they'd paid me to do that?


Dana King said...

The part of me that is sick to death of seeing ads everywhere hates the idea. On the other hand, if they're going to pay someone, and I was planning to use the product name, anyway, they might as well pay me.

I wouldn't change something for the money, though. If I'm conveying a character's financial situation by noting his Ford Focus has a Carmax sticker on the bumper, BMW isn't going to be able to pay me to change it, as I might have to change the whole book. (That's an extreme example, of course.)

Rick Blechta said...

It is a tricky question and certainly the brink of a very slippery slope — if not possibly a huge cliff. I would imagine that it's sort of like seeing a can of Coke on someone's counter in a movie. Insidious, yes, but if real life is being portrayed, then real life things have to be used. I'm really on the fence on this one — as you seem to be, too.

Thanks for weighing in!

Vicki Delany said...

I can see someone like James Patterson putting in a product placement, but really, anyone else? I simply do not see this being an issue for anyone writing everyday crime fiction. Molly Smith drives a used Neon, so what, it's the only car she can afford. Dave Evans drinks coke, but no one wants to be like Dave Evans anyway, he's a jerk. How many copies of a book would have to sell for the product placement to have any effect on any sales figures anyway. In the Millions.

Jill Edmondson said...

Hey Rick & Co.

Boy - do I know how to stir the pot, eh?

I agree with everything you've said (like $10k and have you heard of...)

It is a slippery slope indeed, but given the nature of & changes to publishing these days, can it be far off? Not that I am saying I like the idea at all.

But when you think that publishers pay big bucks for the "prime real estate" (ie: by the cash register, or on 'new and notable' tables)in the Big Name Bookstores, would it surprise you if they tried to offset those kinds of expenses by scooping up revenue elsewhere?

Just a thought... I hope I'm wrong.

This post brought to you by Jill Edmondson and Smith & Wesson

Jill Edmondson said...

BTW, I think HMV and iTunes have every recording ever produced by Victoria Morgan :)


John Corrigan said...

Rick, This is great. It gets us all thinking about art for art's sake versus the old adage "there's nothing romantic about starving if you're the artist."

It has me wondering, is there a difference between selling product space in one's novel and James Patterson "co-writing" books because he has too many ideas and not enough time to write them all?

Donis Casey said...

In the middle ages, all artists had sponsors and created works to order. To paraphrase John, no fun being the starving artist. I'm not so high minded that I think being paid for 'product placement' is a perversion of the art, but I agree that a large company isn't going to get much bang for its buck by 'placing' in one of my novels. Besides, Nissan didn't have much of a presence in Boynton OK in 1915. (Alafair might have drunk a Coke, though)

Rick Blechta said...

In the middle ages? Patronage is still ongoing! An up-and-coming artist or composer always hopes to have someone rich come along and say they'll support them while they do their art. That's basically what commissions are. A lot of art and music are created this way. Looking back 200 years, this was how Beethoven kept body and soul together.

John, I'm with you four-square on this.

Keep those cards and letters coming in folks! I'm sure there are a lot more opinions out there.

Liz Brady said...

Rick, yours is a great post! Will you consider posting it to the Yahoo CWC Members Group?

Very best wishes,
Liz Brady

Charles benoit said...

"I wouldn't change something for the money"
I would. I think I'm clever enough of a writer to work just about anything into the story. I make changes now that I don't agree with completely for the few pennies I make, why wouldn't I want to make a few revisions for some of that filthy lucre I've heard so much about? Besides, if anyone wants to get a product in my books, they must know my books and my writing - so they wouldn't ask for anything out of the ordinary or something that wouldn't fit.

But on a realistic note, as an ad man, I would never recommend that a company "buy" ad placement in a novel. While there is some evidence that product placement works in TV and movies, there's nothing supporting its effectiveness in books. Figure it would cost you $20,000 to get a quality product placement in a moderately successful "best seller" - that's a lot of eyeballs on message, but unfortunately it's a lot of eyeballs racing past your message to get on with the plot. There are better, proven ways to get a decent R.O.I. (return on investment), and a ethical ad agency would put you there first.

That said, if you've got a product, I've got a new book in the works. Call me.

Hard Boiled Mysti said...

It's definitely here already:


They've been doing it in movies for years. When the readers catch on, they may vote with their $$, but they aren't yet according to the article.

I don't refer to brands on purpose in my books, I think it's a lazy way to suggest character, milieu, setting, or tone. But I'm old school, and I certainly wouldn't judge another writer for doing so. Just hoping they do it in a fun or clever way, and in a book whose tone is appropriate to such light distraction, like the Bond films.

Rick Blechta said...

This article is really quite frightening — especially cause it's talking about specifically targeting kids. That's really quite reprehensible to my mind. These people should be ashamed of themselves.