New Downloadable Movie Book Tests Yahoo/Adobe Ad System

Remember the announcement in November that Yahoo and Adobe were testing out a new ad system inside pdf documents? (No? It only got 1,200 hits.) Well, they are, and the big question then was how Yahoo and Adobe would determine what sorts of ads were placed in the documents, and how they’d appear. Now there’s a free (or rather, ad-supported) downloadable book—“200 documentaries you must see before you die”—that lets you test the new ad system out for yourself.

About the book, which seems pretty valuable, actually, if you’re a film buff:

Each review is a rave review; that is, I only review films I love and believe others will enjoy. Merely good films are left unmentioned. I also include what no other film review source does: I provide 4 to 5 screen shots from each documentary to give you an idea of what the texture of the film is. And I only review documentaries that can be seen easily on DVD or tape at consumer prices (either as Netflix rentals, legal downloads, or online purchase). Documentaries available only in theaters, or as high-priced “educational films” are regrettably ignored.

And about the inline ads:

If you choose to see the ads, they will appear in a gray sidebar on the right, adjacent to the pages of the book, just outside the frame of the page, as shown below:


These ads are inserted into the PDF by Adobe (using the Yahoo ad network) when you open the file. Like Google Adsense ads, they are contextual. That is, Adobe/Yahoo tries to match the content of the ads with the content of text on the the pages, in my case, text about documentaries. The ads I see at this moment of writing are mostly about apartment rentals, but they change each time one opens the book. The way Adobe/Yahoo “knows” about the content of the PDF is not by crawling the web, but by the author (me in this case) submitting the PDF to their machine the first time, which then stamps it with a registration code, so it can remember what’s in it when someone far away opens it on their machine.

A few things we like about this scheme:

  • the process is opt-in, so you won’t see the ads unless you agree to;
  • the ads appear on Adobe Reader 8, but supposedly the file will still open, ad-free, on older Reader versions;
  • the ads appear to be selected based on the content in the book, not on any user-identifiable data (at least that’s what Kelly’s description above leads us to believe—the odds are high we’ll end up having to edit this bullet).

But we’ll have to test it out now to see how it actually feels to have contextual advertising in the virtual margins of a manuscript.

“True Films eBook” [Cool Tools]

“Adobe And Yahoo! Placing Ads In PDF Documents”


Edit Your Comment

  1. dancemonkey says:

    I guess I want to know why I would opt-in at all? I assume the author of the PDF receives compensation, in which case I would opt-in.

  2. Imaginary_Friend says:

    Yeah, go ahead and opt-in – if you’re cool with AT&T/Yahoo operating an illegal domestic spying program for the NSA, then this Yahoo/Adobe adware is small potatoes.


  3. MonkeyMonk says:

    I guess that’s my question too . . . if given the choice why would anyone opt for advertising. Does anyone really like advertising that much?

    Also, the book could have used an good editor if he wanted to make it look even remotely professional. On a quick browse I noticed a number of typos and even some flat out factual mistakes (e.g., referring repeated to the main character of Grizzly Man as “Trevor” when (I believe) it’s Timothy.

    He did a nice job with the design but I suspect he didn’t imbed fonts into the PDF (bad, bad, bad!) because the fonts I’m seeing are different and quite a bit uglier than the sample above.

  4. stinerman says:

    This’ll work just fine for me. The people who don’t know there are other PDF readers other than Adobe’s bloated POS. They can subsidize these “ad supported” books for me and others who do know of better PDF reader programs, such as Foxit and Evince.


  5. artki says:

    Foxit (alternative to Adobe) doesn’t work. It shows pictures and picture captions but no book text. Adobe v5 works (no ads) but whines “won’t you PLEASE upgrade me?”

  6. stinerman says:

    I had just assumed that Foxit would work. Evince worked fine for me, but I don’t think too many people know it exists since it’s for Linux-based OSes.

  7. JackOnConsumerist says:

    I opened it with Apple’s PDF (and other image) viewer “Preview”-no fuss, no muss, no ads.

  8. rmz says:

    @MonkeyMonk: People who work at ad agencies think we do. “Why, I bet all of these people are thrilled to hear about our amazing 2-for-1 offer for garden hoses! Even if we do call at 9 AM on a Sunday!”

  9. rmz says:

    @rmz: Obvious difference between ad agencies and telemarketers, but same deal. Just substitute “call” for “insert our ad into the beginning of their favorite DVD movie” or whatnot.

  10. fizzball says:

    Opens fine and ad-free using OSX’s Preview, as well as Reader 7.0.8.

    @Monkeymonk: yep, he’s just wrong about “Trevor.”

  11. Kierst_thara says:

    Seriously, the article really needs to give us a better explanation as to why anyone would ever opt-in to these ads. Acrobat doesn’t ask you to opt-in until after you’ve downloaded the PDF, so you get the book content regardless of whether you choose the ads or not. If the digital book was actually well produced, (i.e. with properly embedded fonts, and not all full of low-res jpg artifacts, etc.) and on a subject I was interested in, I’d be much happier to send the author $5.00 or something, rather than letting Adobe and Yahoo earn money by forcing yet more ad creep into the world.

  12. coronado says:

    Oh fantastic. Exactly what I was hoping for: ads in yet another aspect of my life. I would much prefer ads to stick to sites like or

    I know they are looking to make a buck, but seriously? Do we need to be inundated with commercials and ads at every turn?

    Just a thought.

  13. hoosier45678 says:

    @dancemonkey: The author receives compensation if you click, not just if you opt-in. He is experimenting to see if the increase in readers compensates for the decrease in revenue per reader, compared to selling ad-free PDFs.

    Like Google, no money flows unless someone clicks on them. If a reader of the True Films PDF books clicks on an ad, the advertiser pays Yahoo, who in turns gives me some small percent, around 5 cents (I think).

  14. hoosier45678 says:

    @Kierst_thara: You might opt-in because you respect the author and appreciate his work, in the same way that you might drop a quarter into the violinist’s case on the subway platform.

    In the specific case of this book, you might want to know that following the publication of this book, the documentary you’re reading about is back in production and available online for $5. Sometimes contextual advertising is a win-win. Usually it’s irrelevant crap.

    As for the fonts, they do look terrible in FoxIt, but look fine in Acrobat7. Are there still print fonts and screen fonts? Maybe he chose the former.

    And as for the jpeg artifacts, the content seems to be more than 50% images. I suspect that was to get the size down from 30 MB to < 5MB, which is important if your per-download revenue is 1 cent.