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Launching a new idea in a post-paper world

February 27, 2012
by seth godin

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Today my new manifesto Stop Stealing Dreams goes ‘on-sale’. On-sale is in air quotes because it’s free, but we don’t have a word for the on-free date.

Ideas that spread are worth a lot–to the community and to the creator of those ideas as well. When they’re bound up in a book, an object that costs money to produce and print, there’s just no practical way for an author to spread the idea in that medium without slowing it down by charging for it. That’s why authors always embraced electronic media–you could go on TV to talk about your book, spread the idea and then get paid later when people actually bought the book.

But what if there’s no book to buy?

We still don’t have a good way to demarcate when a book ends and when something else (a manifesto?) begins. How long something has to be, or how involved, before it crosses from tweet to blog to manifesto to book…

For this project, my goal is to spread the idea, not monetize it.

I’ve posted the manifesto as both a printable PDF as well as a PDF you can read on screen and as an ebook (in both sideloading Kindle and ePub/Nook format). (In case the server crashes, here are two files on backup servers: The Printable PDF and the Screen-friendly PDF). There’s also an HTML version on the site.

Mechanics (wins and frustrations):

I wrote the manifesto in Nisus, a fabulous word processor for the Mac. Using styles, I was easily able to create a numbered header for each section, and to see what the manifesto would look like when it was read. When it was finished, I sent it by email to my trusted copyeditor Catherine, who sent it back redlined in Word. I conformed her changes and took it back into Nisus.

To create the printable PDF, all I had to do was change the styles, add a footer and “save as PDF”. Nisus lets you put live links within the file as you’re writing it, and those links come through in the PDF, which is essential for a manifesto–the riff is a launching point, so I wanted to be sure readers could easily click to find out more about the sources I used.

For the screen-read PDF, I used a much smaller page size (all screen-read PDFs ought to be horizontal (landscape) or else the reader is insanely frustrated at having to scroll up to reach the bottom of each page. Please obey this rule!) Within the PDF, I wanted to put an easy way to read full screen and to jump around using the mouse and arrow keys, so I made a little block grid in Keynote, saved it as a jpg, imported it into Nisus and then opened the file in Adobe Acrobat to insert the live links on top of the picture.

Creating the ebooks was a little trickier. There’s a fabulous piece of shareware software called Calibre (if you use it, please donate some money, I did.) Calibre takes a PDF or RTF file and lets you turn it into the formats read by the Kindle and the Nook. It takes a few tries (well, for me, 12) to guess what sort of settings you want, but once you figure it out, it’s very straightforward.

I wanted to put the free manifesto in the Kindle store directly, but that’s apparently more difficult to do than it used to be, as the lowest price they permit is now 99 cents. So you’ll have to load it yourself using a cable and drag it over, or send it to yourself via email.

I tried (and failed) to get the Apple iBooks software to give you an easy way to read it on the iPad. The software is buggy (it’s free, but hey, bugs are bugs) and the uploading process is arcane, frustrating and ultimately a failure. For example, to import the file, you’ll need to use Pages (it says it supports Word, but it doesn’t, at least not as far as the folks at the Apple store could determine). So I went from RTF to Word to Pages to iBooks Author. The software didn’t recognize the styles, though, so that took a lot of manual selecting in bulk, etc., but after awhile, the iBooks preview looked truly great. (The best of the many rejection emails I got from the tech people who handle the submission process read, in its entirety, “The ticket says that you need to correct the title when the book is in portrait mode.  Currently, the title is generic.”)

I’m going to pause and remark that after 27 years of making books, it was amazing to see the word-processed ugly file turn into a slick and shiny iPad preview after I pressed just a few keys. I’m sure that they’re going to work out the bugs, and once they do, we’ll see an avalanche of beautiful (but probably not very good) books on these devices. The hard part has never been making a book look professional, it’s about writing one worth reading, but that’s a post for another day.

[Have you ever noticed how easy it is to tell a slick Hollywood movie from anything else, even one done by an indie director? Very soon, there will be no way whatsoever to tell the difference between a slick New York published ebook and one done by a kid in an attic.]

The final element of the process was building a place to explain all this, to coordinate all the links and to make it easy to find and share. I used Squidoo, a company I founded six years ago that offers free web pages to anyone who wants to build one, on a site that is powerful, able to handle traffic and is social networking friendly. What a surprise, it worked just great. I bought the domain stopstealingdreams.com and redirected it to my Squidoo page.

Total cost for all the mechanics of bringing this manifesto to the world, including ‘buying’ Calibre, iBooks author, iTunes Connect, a domain, a Squidoo page, my blog and this blog post: less than $100.

As someone who wakes up every morning eager to share a new idea, my question is: does this process create enough impact and reach enough people to make it worth doing again.? We’ll see.

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