The White Paper pdf is Dead

In the Web 1.0 days, readers downloaded "White Paper" pdfs. Sometimes one needed to provide contact info, and out pops a nice print quality pdf that may have required the help of a desktop publishing expert. Here are my objections to downloading white papers:
  • First, I never want to provide my contact info.
  • Who cares if these white papers are print quality with graphs and doodads? I never print them out, let alone hand them to clients.
  • Why do many of these white papers read like court documents with provisos and disclaimers? Just use plain talk.
  • Why spend all those production resources - formatting, publishing, etc. - to develop what is basically a PR piece?
  • Finally, why do I need to download and store the white paper on my hard drive, and let it collect dust there? 'l can't even tag it and will almost immediately forget about it.
That's why I never download a white paper any more, unless I have to.

Blog articles are the new white paper:

  • They don't need to be print quality.
  • They need to be readable and not authored off legal or technical templates.
  • It's easy to dash off a white paper-like blog article in hours, not days.
  • They are better than white papers because readers can provide instant feedback.
  • I can always find the blog article by bookmarking or it and using tags that describe the article.
Yesterday, I essentially posted a white paper on the new paradigm of local blog networks. I could tell it made the impact of a white paper because 1) one reader told me the article was long and somewhat hard to fathom (yes, white papers that introduce new concepts can be like that); 2) no one commented on the article (I think I made too many points); and 3) the average reader spent 6:30 minutes on the article, double the norm.

So I broke one of the rules of blogger decorum - write snappy pieces that readers can digest in minute bites. But I was also quite satisfied because white papers should be read. If I forced readers to download the article by pdf, I estimate it would get 1/10th the readership. And it would have taken me 3x as long to prepare the article for publishing perfection.

For beginning bloggers out there - writing long treatises, as long as they are interesting, can establish author credibility. These long pieces become your "flagpoles" that will attract readers long after being archived. Here are a few lengthy pieces written almost a year ago that still remain on the top 15 mostly widely read on Transparent last month:

An Open Letter to the Title Insurance Industry
Real Estate 2.0 First Mover Advantage?
Cyberhomes learns from Real Estate 2.0 Pioneers

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  • 10/12/2007 2:46 PM Lani Anglin wrote:
    You are so right. If people can understand this, then they'll be light years ahead of 99% of the rest of the industry. Kudos on yet another great article, Pat!
    Reply to this

  • 10/12/2007 3:31 PM Jay Thompson wrote:
    Amen brother! Just a couple of days ago I ran across a White Paper. Sounded interesting, so I submitted my email. Got something that was basically nothing like what was touted and promptly received 3 more emails over the next two days wanting me to buy something.

    Needless to say, the White Paper is gone, and the company is now blocked by my spam filter...

    Reply to this

  • 10/13/2007 8:09 PM Michael A. Stelzner wrote:

    While I appreciate the concern related PDFs that are are large and contain lots of graphics...

    And I'm with you on poor or overly technical content in PDFs...

    I have to strongly disagree with the title of your post.

    PDFs of white papers are not dead and will continue to be strong for years to come.

    Here's a few reasons.

    Unlike your blog, there is no need to wait for dozens of different plug-ins and widgets to load.

    Secondly, the PDF is a stand alone document that can easily be sent to other people (thus it has a viral nature to it).

    You can also easily search a PDF file and add comments in the document.

    In fact, if you check out some of the studies I reference on my blog, white papers are considered one of the most valuable forms of marketing materials by readers, much more so than blogs.

    My two cents

    Reply to this

  • 10/16/2007 9:25 AM Enterprise Management wrote:
    Hi Pat,

    I agree to some extend that pdf whitepapers are sort of getting old. Blogs definitely are the new way to do things. But pdf whitepapers still is a good way to get leads and build an email list. While with blogs (or even some articles) you can give away alot of valuable information and in turn generate some good traffic; you can get a name and email address from some of them with a pdf whitepaper.

    - Arthur
    Reply to this
  • 10/16/2007 8:49 PM Carson C wrote:
    A better way to put it might be:

    White Papers are Lame, and Old-School.

    But I will say that a formatted PDF has a solid feeling to it. They also prompt me to print out, and give me the idea to pass it along.

    I like it when I get to hand a stapled article to my tech-disabled co-workers. They seem to respond better to them.

    There is something about a PDF in an email that feels more important than a plain old URL to forward. It's like you acquired something of value rather than just "stumbled on it".

    Of course it's easier to read and write a blog, but it just doesn't have that "official" feeling.
    Reply to this
    1. 10/16/2007 9:30 PM Pat Kitano wrote:
      Thank you Carson, the distinction between a blog and a PDF is exactly as you describe - it basically comes down to branding and marketing... I get it. I did enjoy raising the ire of some traditionalists - who seem to have made writing white papers their mission in life!

      from the blog of "Writing White"

      My faithful readers. I am sorry to report that the white paper is now dead. There will be a funeral for thousands of PDF white papers coming soon.

      Of course I am joking. But someone else is not…

      According to Pat Kitano, the white paper PDF is officially dead. Pat thinks blog posts are the new white paper.

      Hey, of course, I'm joking!

      Reply to this
  • 10/20/2007 8:57 AM Tony - wrote:
    We have the same problems with lengthy and conceptual articles on our website. But, then again as you point out, many of these articles go on to become "flagpole" posts that draw readers for many months.

    I'm glad that smarter people than I are thinking through things like syndication and 2.0 business models. With advertising becoming quickly finding a commoditized top at $2-$4 per thousand, perhaps other models are in order. It took a lot of thinking and then even more execution for us to become profitable. Interestingly, many of the ideas that put us on the path to profitability were developed in these longer articles that we posted on our blog. They weren't always initially popular (our treatise on effective distribution of rich media listings had only a few dozen views in the first week yet continues to chug along nicely to this day) but if you want to be a pioneer, you cant be afraid of getting some arrows.

    Great post.

    Reply to this

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