Content is king, as the cliche goes. But writing blog entries can seem so unrewarding when you factor in the time and talent it takes to compose them. Sure, they may bring readers your way, but is it worth it?
One way companies skirt this value proposition is to make their blogs work double duty by publishing the best pieces in physical and/or digital formats. This way, they bring in people who prefer paper or tablets to desktop reading (who might even be convinced to pay for the privilege of alternative access to content).
This tactic was recently undertaken by real estate marketing and design firm 1000watt. They grabbed 40 of their blog posts and republished them in Turn On: Selected Writings About Real Estate 2007-2011. While you can buy the “booklet,” as Inman calls it, direct from the printer or via Kindle and iBooks, 1000watt also put out a free PDF version on their website. Presumably they asked themselves how many people would pay to read content that is already freely available online.
But just because it’s free doesn’t mean there isn’t a transaction involved. In exchange for giving away their content in this new format, the firm gets new eyes and new mailing list members. And, on a personal level, I received four lessons in how not to repurpose blog content in PDF form in return for reading this online version.
Lesson One: Link Smart or Don’t Link at All
As a book reviewer, I can request review copies gratis. Therefore, the free nature of the PDF version of Turn On wasn’t a huge selling point for me personally. But I decided to choose it anyway, for two reasons:
- It’s more environmentally friendly than printing and shipping a physical copy.
- The PDF version has links embedded in it, which should enhance the experience, right?
Operative word: should. The truth is, some of the included links are more useful than others. For example: The first link I ran into sent me to Wikipedia for the meaning of “philosopher’s stone.” Now, if I didn’t get what you meant by that phrase, I’d probably just Google it myself, thank you very much. Instead I’m directed to a page that gives a lot of historical context, but doesn’t appear to relay the meaning intended by the author.
Also, it drives me crazy that each link opens on the same tab in which I’m reading. Referential material doesn’t need to interrupt the sacred process of reading a book (even if it is in digital form). That’s why footnotes are found at the bottom of the page. Do we not have enough ADHD in our online reading habits already?
In general I would chalk this up to personal preference and let it be. But in this case, the reader has no right/control/command + click option. The links still open in that same tab, no matter how you click. My frustration with this problem was underscored when the link was improperly placed/broken (as is the case with http://www.homesinlittlerock.net being linked to http://www.homesinlittlerock.net%20 on page 19). After that disappointment, I actually had to scroll back to the page I was on before, since the back button deposited me on the first page of the book-long PDF.
Lesson Two: Value Reader’s Eyeballs
This publication’s design seems to have suffered from a lack of reader empathy. Just like you wouldn’t print your book in bright red ink on plaid carbon copy paper, you ought to think about how people will physically read your digital publication before you release it.
Case in point: After a truly inspiring introduction, the PDF text breaks out into two columns per page. The result of this unfortunate design choice is that readers must scroll all the way down and then back up and then down again just to read some 400 words. It’s exhausting and it doesn’t let up; each blog entry is nonsensically presented in this way.
Strangely enough, when you preview the printed book online, the text is presented conventionally (i.e.: one column/page). Why they decided to change to such a frustrating format in the free version, I just cannot comprehend.
Lesson Three: Determine the Setting
In Turn On, there seems to be a fundamental question about time that goes unanswered. At first glance, it seems there’s no attempt to update posts or make them more evergreen. For example, Brian Boero’s piece from May 2009 references and links to a previous post with the jarring words “I wrote last week…” In the very next entry, Marc Davison writes, “Borders sells books” with exactly zero irony.
As long as readers are hip to the title, however, this shouldn’t be anything more than a minute distraction. In fact, this approach is what makes the second chapter, called simply “Bust,” so good. Moreover, it’s a shame that 1000watt only included four pieces in that chapter. It’s fascinating and surprisingly soothing to read real-time commentary from real estate’s more difficult times.
Ah, but I spoke too soon. It seems that the “update or no” question was applied unevenly. Another Boero column is interrupted with a confusingly-phrased editor’s note (which I’ve rendered in bold below):
Starbucks has lost focus. Dell has become a monolith. In the course of getting big, they let go of something important: Close contact with their customers.
(Editor’s note: Since this was written, this has been substantially corrected.)
It led Starbucks to sell things that look like Egg McMuffins. It made Dell feel OK about keeping customers at continent’s length.
To what does the editor’s second “this” even refer? Is the editor saying the actions of these two companies have been “substantially corrected”? Or perhaps the piece itself has been? Even worse, the whole article is devoted to the way these companies are addressing the issues stated at top, making the editor’s note a totally unnecessary distraction.
Lesson Four: Get an Editor
Finally, we get to the typos. At least two articles have duplicated paragraphs. As in: You read one paragraph and then the paragraph you just read appears underneath it. I have no clue how that might happen, but it goes to show that just because a piece was edited before it went online doesn’t mean you can skip that process once it becomes a book. If you glean but one tip from this whole review, make it this one: Hire an editor.
This isn’t to say Turn On isn’t worth a read. There are some insightful cross-industry/brand comparisons and thought-provoking trips back into (very) recent history. Just don’t expect more than a collection of blog entries. To be precise, it’s totally worth what I paid for my copy.