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The Ebook Shredder: A Recap

A little over a month ago, I began the 17-day process of tweeting the entire text of “Take Control of Your Paperless Office,” as I described in “Joe Kissell Shreds an Ebook into Twitter,” 21 March 2011. I’ve been asked about the results of this wacky little project, so I thought I’d take a moment to share them.

I can summarize by saying it was an interesting undertaking — fun to do, and certainly well worth the effort, although not spectacularly popular. That’s all fine with me; it was an experiment, and as far as I’m concerned, all experimental results are useful.

At its peak, the @zapmypaper account I used to tweet the ebook had around 330 followers; last time I checked, it was down to 307. That’s not many by Twitter standards, but then, thousands of people had already purchased the ebook, so many people who might otherwise have been interested would have had no reason to participate. It was fascinating, however, to watch the number of followers rise and fall — people would find out about the project and start following it (“Hey, cool! Some guy’s tweeting a whole ebook!”), but then unfollow after a couple of hours or a day (“This is silly! Who wants to read an ebook like this?”). Well, they can’t say they weren’t warned.

In fact, I never imagined many people would want to read the entire ebook via Twitter, even though they could (and, in fact, still can — the text is still there for anyone to see). It was a blatant publicity stunt; the idea was to do something unusual enough to attract attention (and sales) from people who would not otherwise have heard of the ebook or of the Take Control series generally.

In those respects, the project was certainly successful. The promotion generated 262 sales of “Take Control of Your Paperless Office” (at a 30 percent discount), plus 64 sales of other ebooks. So the total number of ebook sales was roughly equal to the total number of Twitter followers, and I couldn’t ask for more than that. Of these, I estimate — again, based on partial records only — that about 70 had never before purchased a Take Control ebook, so I’m delighted that I could introduce new readers to the series. And since the project ended, the ebook has been selling at about the same rate as it was previously; as far as I can tell, making the ebook freely available via Twitter has only helped sales, not hurt them in any

On the technical side, thanks to the testing we’d done, almost all the bugs were eliminated before we went live, so for the most part everything simply worked as it should. There were a couple of minor glitches — once or twice, the tweeting stopped for no apparent reason and had to be nudged back to life, and on one occasion it stalled because I’d overlooked a special character that my Python script misinterpreted as taking up two of the 140 available slots, thus making one tweet too long. These were all remedied easily enough, and considering all the potential technical perils of doing something like this, I’d have to say things went shockingly smoothly.

Apart from ebook sales and new customers, the project had a couple of side benefits. For one thing, readers pointed out several typos that everyone had missed during the ebook’s writing, editing, technical review, and production. It’s no wonder; misspellings that one might breeze right by on a full page are far more obvious within a brief tweet. And, the number of people following my personal Twitter account (@joekissell) increased by about 100 as a result of this project.

I don’t imagine that tweeting books is going to become the next big thing, because there’s a fundamental mismatch between the content and the delivery mechanism. But we certainly showed that it’s possible, and it was a nice diversion from my usual writing routine.

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