E-books for Social Strategy | npENGAGE

E-books for Social Strategy

By on Jun 7, 2012


E-books and e-readers are a growing part of the attention ecosystem. Long-form journalism is finding new legs through social recommendation (#longform, #longreads) and time-shifting apps. Nonprofits struggling to communicate complex issues in 140 characters can benefit from deploying e-books and other long-form content as part of a thoughtful mobile and social media strategy.

Who is reading?

Owners of e-reading devices have similar profiles to audiences most nonprofits are trying to reach for fundraising. According to a recent report from the Pew Internet & American Life report, The Rise of E-Reading:

Compared with all Americans 16 and older, “e-reading device owners” are more likely to live in high income households and have more educational experience, and are also much more likely to be more tech-savvy in general… more likely to read in general, and to read a book on a typical day… more avid readers of newspapers and magazines than other Americans, and are more likely to read long-form content of any kind for pleasure. (emphasis mine)

29% of Americans age 18 and older own at least one specialized device for e-book reading – either a tablet or an e-book reader.

Also, it bears stating the obvious: smartphones are also e-readers. Don’t think of e-books as being read exclusively by owners of dedicated e-readers like the Kindle or Nook, but instead think of any mobile screen. The audience for an e-book may be larger than you thought. 

What content makes sense?

As chronicled in Forbes.com and elsewhere, long-form writing on the web is making a comeback. Many readers are using time-shifting apps to collect web content and read it later. In addition to purposefully written longer articles on your website, e-books are an opportunity to reach your audience with long-form content. Examples of content that could be produced in e-book format or targeted to long-form readers include:

  • Strategic planning documents (audience: potential board members, funders)
  • Annual reports (audience: board members, major donors, individual donors)
  • How to guides for volunteers
  • Action kits for activists
  • Extended versions of stories you already tell in abbreviated form: people your organization has helped, backstories on issues, extended interviews with volunteers, etc.
  • Compilations of blog articles on a particular topic, such as work in a particular country or region, or stories related to a particular event. See this recent tweet from the White House, linking to a #longform article about the Joplin tornados.

Depending on the organization, other opportunities may present themselves. For example, distributing an exclusive work (or excerpt) by a well-known author in e-book format may be a way to generate donations or signups. Furthermore, new outlets for long-form journalism (Atavist, Longform.org, Longreads, MatterPostDesk (UK), among others), should be part of your media planning.

TheNextWeb.com blogger Alex Wilhelm writes that “Long-form content is headed back to the business model of the pamphlet, with short works selling at low price points and in large quantity.” According to Wilhelm, the key success factors for e-books are: locational convenience, formatting, and curation.

“By locational convenience I mean that people [with e-readers] often use them where they lack an Internet connection (the train). Therefore, to have something downloaded and ready to go is a real value. In regards to formatting, most ereading devices have browsing capabilities, but that doesn’t mean that they render pages well, or quickly. A well formatted ebook has none of those issues. Finally, curation means that things are assembled in a very specific way to give a cohesive and user-friendly experience.”

An example of this kind of content curation is veteran nonprofit blogger Colin Delany’s recent e-book, How Campaigns Can Use the Internet to Win in 2012, available in Kindle-optimized format via Amazon.com, and as a free PDF.

Why is formatting important?

As a consumer (not a standards expert), my experience is that PDF meets only the minimal requirements to be called an e-book, mainly for reasons of usability. While almost every e-reader can display PDFs, the end-user has no control over text size, background color, pagination, and other aspects of the the reading experience that make e-books a compelling medium. This is especially true for smartphones (currently your largest potential e-reader audience), where reading PDFs is possible but very tedious, with each page requiring zooming and scrolling.

How to publish an e-book?

Unfortunately, there isn’t one publication standard that works across all e-readers. The major purveyors of e-book platforms (Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble) all want to make it easy for you to produce content, and make it sound as easy as uploading HTML or Word Documents. Because Amazon.com has the largest audience of e-readers, many independent publishers with limited time and energy are going the route of publishing in Amazon’s Kindle-optimized format. One of the long-form content aggregators mentioned above, Atavist, offers a publication platform that looks promising.

If you are looking for deeper examination of the fragmented state of e-book publication standards, Nick Disabato fires a #longform broadside from A List Apart in two parts: the current state, and a look to the future. Nonprofits with limited resources would certainly benefit from industry adoption of standards as he urges.

Are you already making use of e-books and #longform content? Please let us know in the comments.


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