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Using PDF Booklets & Flip Books To Promote Your Business

Updated on January 28, 2014
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With a master's in sustainable development, Susette helps Southern California water agencies carry out their water conservation projects.

PDF booklets and flip books are two of many types of online written media that can be used to promote a business. They can be used for annual or topical reports, product promotion (catalogs), product use instructions, or instructions for how to make a thing. They are also helpful for promoting behavioral change, like how to conserve water or electricity. In this article we will use conserving water as an example of a how-to topic to be promoted.

Flip Book
Flip Book

Promoting Water Conservation

Most water providers throughout California use written media to promote the need for water conservation. In addition to websites, brochures, and inserts in monthly bills, some water agencies are putting together PDF booklets to explain ways to conserve and how to request rebates to help cover costs.

Long ago they realized that two of the biggest users of water were homeowners and multi-family dwellings (like apartments and HOAs), and that the biggest amount of water used by them was for the landscape. One agency decided to approach these sectors directly - writing how-to booklets for each on how to design, plant, and maintain low water-use landscapes and their attendant irrigation systems.

Using How-To Booklets and PDFs

Although this agency contracted with an outside firm to write the booklets, a business with in-house writing skills and product knowledge could write one themselves. Because their readers will not know as much as the staff does, jargon should be kept to a minimum. If anyone on staff has experience teaching, that person could make sure the language used is plain and well organized enough for the targeted reader to understand.

HOA Landscape Water Conservation Guide
HOA Landscape Water Conservation Guide | Source

The purpose for writing a booklet in the first place is to give customers something to refer to again and again in making changes. In the case of this agency, telling a customer they need to cut back on watering the landscape is not good enough. How should they cut back - watering less per day or the same amount, but fewer days of the week? Should they cut back on all plants or just the grass? What if something starts going brown? If they replace plants, which are best to replace and what can they plant there that uses less water?

Booklets are usually written in Word, InDesign, or another type of word processing or design software, then converted into PDF format. They include text, an attractive layout and colors, photos or other illustrations, charts and graphs, perhaps an index. They are read top to bottom by scrolling or by clicking on arrows that replace the current page with a new one in the blink of an eye.

Keys to making this type of booklet useful are to include:

  • An introduction (what is the book for and why the need).

  • A description of the product, idea, or service.

  • A step by step walk-through of how to use the product (like a new irrigation controller), how to change behavior to support the idea (like turn water off when brushing teeth), or how a service is carried out (like what a landscape irrigation auditor looks for when checking to see how you use water outside).

  • A conclusion describing what to expect after making changes.

  • A followup section showing assistance available to help with the goal.

Booklets are usually displayed on the company's website. Using PDF format for the final version prevents a reader from copying and taking ownership of your text, or changing bits of the text and charging you with misrepresentation. They can usually be printed out and, if the reader wishes, spiral bound for day to day use.

Until recently PDF's were the only really professional way to present a company's written materials. Then software developers started experimenting with .wmv and flash files to create videos and to animate the turning of pages and the modern flip book was born, only . . . there was already a form of flip book in existence that was also evolving with new technology.

What is a Flip Book, Flick Book, or Flippie?

Most of us played with flip books at some point when we were kids - a series of pages in tiny book form that showed drawings just slightly different from each other, so that as you flip the pages like a deck of cards, objects in the drawings appear to move. These were originally patented in 1882 by Henry van Hovenbergh, and were made popular in the early 1900s by the Crackerjack Company, which included them as prizes in their crackerjack product boxes. These booklets, also referred to as "flippies," have been digitized. They are now interactive and can be created in 3D.

Remember the old photo booths found in drug stores, where you could get a head shot taken of yourself being silly or cuddling with a new lover? Flippies can now be produced in that same way at parties or public events.

Two or more people outfit themselves with props and play around in front of a plain screen (which could sport a company logo), while a digital video camera films their movements. Then the operator slices the film into still shots on the computer, prints them out on pages designed to be cut, and cuts those into tiny pages that are fastened together to make customized party flip books.

Note: Between this and the following newer technology, there is bound to be an intellectual property fight someday over the term "flip book." Using the same term to refer to two distinctly different products causes confusion in the marketplace and also with the law.

E Magazine - the Flip Book Referred to in Business Use

This newer kind of flip book, also known as "flash-book" or "e-magazine" is an animated conversion of a PDF into an online book-like format that allows for the casual turning of pages with the click of a mouse. Graphically, it looks like the pages of a real book turning on your computer screen.

"Flash flipbooks" evolved from the addition of flash technology to animate static PDF files, in order to make e-commerce catalogs easier for the consumer to purchase from. Now universities are using them for course registration catalogs, and other businesses and government agencies are using them to make publications, like annual reports, more interesting.

The real benefits of flash-books lie in the ability to embed moving files with graphics that seem to zip in from the side, text that zooms to a readable size as you move the mouse over it, maps that appear bit by bit, links that open up into interactive forms, and audio or video files that play with a click. You can even have a figure that moves and talks as part of the page.

PDF to Flash

This kind of format is more interesting than a still PDF booklet, but does have its drawbacks.

  • Video files have to play through to their end, you can't stop them in the middle (although that may change).
  • A flash flip book is more difficult to create than a PDF.
  • There's a danger of getting carried away with the technology, putting too many moving parts in the booklet that then distract from its real purpose.
  • Unless you create the more complex publications yourself, which requires specialized software and a whole new skill set, you have to have a host and pay ongoing hosting fees.

Still, it is an interesting and apparently highly rewarding technology that continues to evolve and simplify over time.

One could easily call this product an "e-mag" - a generic name standing for "online magazine." This term is easy to remember, doesn't cause confusion, is not a trade name (like Z-mag), and can refer to any type of similar publication.

E-Mag Software and Hosting was the first and is by far the most successful creator of this type of professional booklet (which they call a zmag rather than a flip book). Zmags provides a complete service that includes the self-service software, hosting, SEO functionality, integration with the latest handheld devices (like tablets), sales analytics, and educational videos for their customers. The resulting e-mag is feature rich and customized, every bit as attractive as handheld magazines, with features that enable the purchase of items or registering for classes directly from the publication. Users can upload changes over time, which are easily incorporated. Zmags has service technicians available to help with any questions and suggestions.

Cost: Depends on your end product, but is less than printed publications, according to website feedback.

A good basic, do-it-yourself PDF/e-mag conversion software is Instant This is an online conversion software that lets you upload your PDF and select a number of standard features (internal links, custom colors, keyword search capability, zoom, print pages, etc.), which it converts automatically in just a few minutes to a basic downloadable e-mag. The e-mag comes with an .exe file that opens it on a user's computer (Mac or PC) without the need for a browser to read it each time. Instant Flipbook gives you one-time resell rights, so if you have clients you are creating e-mags for, you can sell the rights to them. They then become their own host.

Cost: Free trial, cost range from $67 down to $37 per flip book, as you use the service more.

If you want to be an e-mag producer and host clients yourself (charging a monthly or annual fee), here is the type of software to purchase: Fresh Flash Catalog v3.7

Fresh Flash offers a free trial download. The software works only on Windows operating systems.

Cost: $199 plus fun hours learning the software.

Matching the Product to It's Use

Knowing one's customers well always helps in gauging which of these types of publications would work best for you, as does getting to know the attributes of the different types of publications. Here is a summary of the three above.

PDF Booklets: Good for conveying thoughtful information - customers can download and save to read later, or download, print, and spiral bind to use for hands-on guidance with projects.

Flippies: Good for entertainment at corporate or agency celebrations, including anniversaries, or at publicity or educational events staged for the public. Using a backdrop of water rippling or another simple theme related to the nature of your company, you can help attendees remember your message when replaying the fun later.

E-Mags: An interactive online medium, great for promoting and enabling the immediate purchase of goods or ongoing registration at events or for classes.

Be sure to follow up with your customers later to see what they thought of the publication, and how well it helped them remember your product or service. Ask for suggestions for improvements also. They may have wished for something you didn't think of that would increase it's attraction.


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    • watergeek profile imageAUTHOR

      Susette Horspool 

      5 years ago from Pasadena CA

      Thanks Jeffrey. You must have an interesting collection, with all the changes flipbooks have gone through.

    • Jeffrey Kay profile image

      Jeffrey Kay 

      5 years ago from Mount Kisco, New York

      Adding to the information above about flipbooks (I am a collector), here is a great page within information about the history of flipbooks along with other related early animation devices. Enjoy!


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