Friday, November 30, 2007

Windows to the future

Adobe and Yahoo have just announced the ability to embed advertising into PDF files.

All Publishers have to do is to upload the PDF files to an Adobe/Yahoo portal where it is "ad-enabled" allowing dynamically generated contextual ads to be displayed whenever the PDF is viewed. The service is currently in beta and it's free! It is limited now to text, pay-per-click ads, but I am sure it will be expanded to include graphics and rich media.

This is a huge breakthrough for publishers. The advertising opportunities are clear and important. We are all searching for viable alternatives to the subscription model.

It could be so much more than that. I think of this more as a window to the future. Whenever a PDF is opened in the future any content can be piped in at that moment. Content that is relevant to that moment in time and space when the document is being read. It could be an advert, but it could also be a note to say that the article has been updated or it could contain an erratum. It could alert the reader to recent publications that are relevant. The possibilities are endless.

The other huge benefit is the possibility to track usage. Today we measure PDF downloads and correlate this to the act of reading an article. In future we can track every time a file is opened, at least in theory. It will be truly fascinating to see what the lifetime of a downloaded article is.

Of course, there will be those that see the DRM demon all over this. The truth is that the technology to embed DRM into a PDF and have it "call home" has been around for a while. It has remained largely unused by scientific publshers. I suspect the reason is the delicate balance between revenue and visibility. It would seem to make sense to protect copyright with DRM, yet the huge barrier to use that this causes is detrimental to visibility. And all Publishers know that zero visibility leads to zero revenues. The other reason is that Librarians are dedicated and effective protectors of misuse; they respect licenses and respond quickly to abuse. There is no need for DRM when there is a trusted relationship between Publisher and Librarian.

So what would you use your window to the future for?

1 comment:

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