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Saturday, November 15, 2003


Guest Post: Audio for America

posted by Luke Francl at Saturday, November 15, 2003 permalink View blog reactions
Luke Francl is a volunteer for Minnesota for Dean. This is cross-posted from his blog.

What follows is my plan to reach up to 40 million voters without the filter of the mainstream media at a low cost of $7.5 million or less by directly distributing an audio CD package to millions of voters and encouraging them to copy it. This plan was originally developed with Howard Dean in mind, but I think whoever the Democratic nominee is, his campaign should utilize this idea.

The Problem with the Mainstream Media

Eric Alterman's work on the "so-called liberal media" ably demonstrates the problem our nominee is going to have breaking through the pundit filter and right-wing spin machine. Even so-called liberal pundits will be critical of the nominee (just look at how they're covering the primaries!). They are not on our side. As Bob Somerby puts it, they have "millionaire pundit values", not progressive values.

On top of that, the nominee will have to fight back against George Bush's $200 million attack ad bonanza and grassroots GOTV effort.

We need a way to take our case directly to the voter, bypassing the mainstream media.

Getting Around the Mainstream Media

I call my solution "Audio for America". The plan is to create audio CDs about the candidate and distribute them to 5-10 million voters. It is the AOLization of presidential advertising.

Why CDs?

This is not a unique idea, but most people have focused on using DVDs instead of CDs. I think this is a mistake. There is no question that video is the more interesting and engaging medium, so why should CDs be used instead of DVDs, VHS, or internet distribution?

CDs are ubiquitous, but not everyone has a DVD player. VHS is impractical because VHS duplication is too expensive and VHS tapes are too heavy and bulky to distribute easily. Internet access is still too limited to rely on for distribution, and on the internet the voter has to come to you. CDs are also easy for consumers to copy and share with their friends and family.

However, using CDs does not preclude doing DVDs and internet distribution on a more limited basis. Campaign multimedia will be posted on the campaign website and file sharing networks for download and distribution.

Suggested Format

As I imagine it, the "Audio for America" CD would be an authoritative audio overview of the campaign. It would not be a mishmash of speeches slammed onto a CD. Instead, it would be carefully crafted to introduce voters to the candidate, flesh out his ideas, and then tell them how to get involved.

The CD would feature a narrator to introduce each track (for example, what the event is, where and when it occurred, and what will be discussed). The first track would introduce the candidate's overall theme and movement (a sort of commercial). It would be followed by major speeches, radio commercials, and town-hall format question and answer sessions where the candidate fleshes out his policy positions. It would conclude with a message from the candidate about how to get involved with the campaign.

The Package

The "Audio for America" package to be distributed to voters will contain the following: 1 audio CD (~72 minutes of audio), gray scale printed cardboard mini-jacket (front: CD title, campaign artwork, and contact info; back: track listing and mini-literature), and half-page folded literature insert. This package is designed with cost and bulk as the primary concerns. It will be cheap to print and easy to carry.


According to CD manufacturing quotes I looked up on the web, the cost for 10,000 is approximately $.75 per CD ($7500).

This breaks down as follows (these figures are from ACME CD Manufacturing):

Audio CDs: $.49/each
Mini-jacket (2 color): $.10/each
Insertion: $.10/each

Since the campaign will be manufacturing 5 to 10 million CDs, I believe these costs can be reduced to about $.50/each for a total cost of $2.5 to 5 million. If the cost stays at $.75 each, the total cost will be to $3.75 to $7.5 million.

CD manufacturing companies will also list your CD on for free. I do not know if it is legal for a campaign to sell items of this nature, but if so, it would be another distribution channel for the CD.


Distribution would be handled primarily by voter-to-voter contact. Tablers would give away the CDs to interested voters. Door knockers would carry the CD with them with their pile of lit. It would be passed out at Meetups, rallies, and fund raisers, always with the mantra: "Copy this and give it to a friend." Duplication of the CD would be heavily encouraged, perhaps by using a Creative Commons license for the CD.

MP3s of the audio would be available for download from the candidate's website, along with PDFs of the printed material for the package. The audio should also be shared on file sharing networks like Kazaa.

The CD could also be mailed AOL-style to potential supporters.

If legal, the campaign could also sell the CD online at their own store and

By sharing the audio on the internet and encouraging widespread duplication, voter contact with the Audio for America CD can be doubled or quadrupled with no cost to the campaign. Therefore, the total number of voters exposed to the CD could reach 10-40 million. That's a significant fraction of the voting population getting the campaign's message directly from the campaign instead of through the filter of the so-called liberal media.

Ramping Up

Spending millions of dollars on an untried idea is a big risk. However, the idea scales down easily. By spending around $250,000, the campaign can create a trial run program of half a million CDs, and then gauge its success. I think the early primary state of South Carolina would be a perfect testing ground for Howard Dean. South Carolina voters do not demand the retail-style politics of Iowa or New Hampshire and Dean trails in that state as he focuses on the earlier contests. It's an ideal environment to try a radical change in campaign strategy which could pay off in a big and unexpected way.

A Role for the Grassroots?

In this piece, I call on the campaign to utilize their resources to professionally produce the Audio for America CD. However, with the right talent and copyright clearances, the grassroots volunteers could create the CD by themselves. Voice talent, audio editing and mastering, graphic design, writing and editing skills, and large amounts of bandwidth would be needed. Perhaps the Dean Media Team could be tapped for these resources.

Postscript: Variations

There are several variations on this idea that could be very successful.

  1. Multimedia CDs for computer use, with campaign literature and multimedia. The Wellstone campaign used this.
  2. "Enhanced CDs" with audio for CD players and multimedia videos for computers.
  3. The same idea (perhaps on a smaller scale), but with DVDs instead of CDs.


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Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.