In today’s crowded media marketplace, presidential candidates (and their media consultants) have an almost mind-boggling number of mediums in which to get a message across. From TV to talk radio to the printed word and all the permutations in between, there’s no doubt that a mastery of the message means, in large part, mastering the channels in which they are communicated across.
And while some channels of communication — such as cable TV, print news and talk radio — are fairly mature, history tells us early mastery of any new medium can give a candidate a discernible advantage in a given election cycle.
For example, it’s commonly accepted that Kennedy’s performance in his televised debate with Nixon helped him win in the 1960 presidential election, while Obama’s more evolved social media strategy gave the Democrat a competitive advantage that, in the end, helped deliver him the presidency.
But what about the book? Judging by Obama’s success with The Audacity of Hope in 2008 and the rush by the current crop of 2012 candidates to push tomes out this primary election season, the book, while perhaps the oldest of all the mediums outside of speaking in the public square, is still one of the most effective ways for candidates to inject their messages into the stream of conversation.
As publisher Peter Cosnos puts it in this NPR piece, “If you can get somebody to buy it, a book has a great virtue. It’s just you and the reader. There is no interviewer; there is nobody to get in the way.”
However, while books can certainly be effective, the paper book is the product of an inarguably antiquated distribution model. To push a book out through traditional publishing means putting your message on the slow train to the voter; a book usually gets to the reader months after the final draft was written.
But just as the Internet (and in particular YouTube) has reshaped the way campaigns use video to get messages quickly out to the voter, is it possible e-books could create a similar disruption in how candidates reach voters through the written — and electronic — word?
If early e-book pioneers who were able to bypass the byzantine and slow-moving world of traditional book publishing are any indication, than yes. John Locke, Bob Mayer and other authors have been able to go direct to consumer — with the help of Amazon — and reach a much wider audience. So why couldn’t presidential candidates, or politicians in general, do the same?
In order to do so, candidates would need to change the way they think about the book today. Instead of viewing a book as a brute-force, one-size-fits-all message delivery vehicle it drops in one big package every election cycle, candidates need to instead think about how they could instead deliver a stream of targeted messaging throughout the long election cycle with electronic publishing.
Imagine for a moment if Obama or the prospective GOP candidate were able to publish e-books in advance of major debates, or to convey certain messages to address voter concerns. One month a candidate could focus on national security, the next he or she could convey his or her personal story through a media-rich e-book with photos and video interviews.
Or, looking back, ponder how things might have been different last election cycle if, for example, McCain released an e-book with his plan for economic stability in the face of the financial crisis that assuaged concerns of those who thought he may not have had a plan, while also giving the faithful talking points to distribute by word of mouth.
Candidates also need to maximize what’s possible in this new medium. By releasing enhanced e-books, they can create highly personalized messages rich with video and audio; they can become more humanized to the voter.
Lastly, with the traditional book model, candidates are often their own biggest enemy as they seek high book advances and try to climb the bestseller lists to put more money into their pockets. This traditional approach to the traditional model only serves to create expensive books the vast majority of voters never buy.
But what if a candidate looked at the e-book as an interactive application complete with fundraising capabilities built in? Would they possibly consider distributing all their e-books for free if they could, somehow, garner campaign contributions through an in-book (or in-app) payment model? E-books and enhanced e-book apps could become the main way in which candidates could come into many voters homes and, in a sense, fill their campaign coffers.
Book and e-book purists may be moaning at the thought of a flood of campaign e-books filled with talking points and calls for contributions. But that is, for better or for worse, what campaigns are about, and if these same messages are flooding every other medium during campaign seasons, it was only inevitable that the campaign would eventually come to the e-book.