Publishers have started printing advertisements on book covers in a move to help their industry sustain development and survive.
The book, My Son, Yo-Yo, written by the mother of renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma and released in March, was the first book to carry an advertisement, said Li Baozhong, deputy director of the Publishers' Association of China.
On the back cover, beneath a sentence describing the love between a mother and her children, is the logo of a well-known Chinese textile manufacturer.
Li's association signed a deal in 2011 with Jinghua Aobo, a Beijing-based advertising agency, to promote products and services on book covers.
Jinghua Aobo has signed agreements with more than 100 publishers across the country, and plans to place advertisements on the covers of 10 more books shortly.
However, all cover advertisements will be sayings related to public service in line with the theme of the books. Commercial enterprises that advertise can only display company logos and not products or prices, said Li.
For every copy of a book with an advertisement sold, Jinghua Aobo will pay the publisher the equivalent of 1 to 2 cents, Li said.
Books have the same rights as other publications, such as newspapers and magazines, to carry advertisements, he said.
"It's the traditional ideology that had stopped the use of advertisements in books. But now we are carrying out a meaningful trial," he said.
The trial will open a new gate for the publishing industry and will help sustain its development, he said.
An industry insider said some publishers are finding it difficult to survive because the profits from book sales are small.
Li Yi, deputy manager of Jinghua Aobo, said they do not charge advertisers at present, but will discuss the pricing with clients and set fees later this year.
"It's a start and we want advertisers to see the potential of the business first. We also want to help publishers diversify their earning opportunities by taking in advertising revenue," he said.
The revenue of the traditional publishing industry each year is 40 to 50 billion yuan ($6.3 billion to $7.9 billion), while the figure for the advertising industry is 500 billion yuan. If books and advertisements are combined, a 10 percent share of advertisement revenue could help create another publishing industry, Li said.
Liu Wei, a division chief with Jiangsu Literature and Art Publishing House, which released My Son, Yo-Yo, said there had been problems placing the advertisement on the book cover.
"Most editors were not willing to feature the advertisement because they did not want to ruin the book's cover design. The writer also hesitated about this because she worried that the advertisement might be at odds with the style of the work," he said.
But Zhang Hongtao, a writer in Beijing, said he would allow advertisements on his books if writers could share the benefits.
"Books are products and putting advertisements in books is economically driven. It's feasible to have advertisements appear in books because it would not hurt writers' rights. Instead, it may bring us profits," he said.
Liu said if readers' and advertisers' interests conflicted, or readers did not accept advertisements on books, his company would reconsider the move.
Wang Baosheng, assistant to president of the Writers' Publishing House, said his company would cautiously introduce advertisements in books.
"Advertisements would help boost publishers' profits, and it's reasonable to combine literature with commercial messages, but the key is how we can regulate it and avoid advertisements from being overused," he said.
If publishers earn more by introducing advertisements, they should consider surrendering some of the profits to readers by lowering book prices, Wang added.
The public holds different views about advertisements in books.
"It would be quite weird if there were advertisements on books, and they are likely to tarnish the joy of reading," said Zhang Yuanruo, a Beijing resident.
Yang Tingting, also from Beijing, thinks literary classics and poems should not involve advertisements, but it didn't matter if bestsellers and contemporary books carried them. "It's OK to put advertisements on book covers but I would never want to see them inside books," she said.