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Vook: People’s Insights Volume 1, Issue 14

Vook is an intuitive, easy-to-use cloud-based publishing platform on which authors can create, edit, style, publish and track sales of their e-books.

Vook was founded in 2009 by serial entrepreneur Brad Inman with the vision of lighting up content in the post-PC world. It works with several content partners, including NBC, Simon and Schuster, ABC and Hay House. It also works with all major distribution channels such as Apple, Amazon, Google and Barnes and Noble.

The difference between e-books and ‘vooks’ is that Vook lets users create multimedia e-books with audio, video and images that can be dragged and dropped into books, creating an enhanced reading experience.

Vook has tools for easy image editing (images can be resized within the e-book editor), granular adjustment (fonts, headings, layouts) and other elements.

Among potential clients are bloggers and individuals interested in distributing existing or new content to which they can add sound, images and videos. For instance, Google chose Vook to create its e-book ‘Winning the Zero Moment of Truth’.

Vook’s system is similar to Apple software, as pointed out by blogger Craig Morgan Teicher :

Vook’s system will be familiar to anyone who has used, for instance, Apple software like iPhoto, iWeb or Pages–it’s all drag-and-drop and easy to use. It’s far simpler to use than professional products like Adobe Photoshop.

Vook did not start off as a self-publishing platform. It was a digital publisher working with prominent media personalities. It launched on October 1, 2009, with four titles published in partnership with Atria.

In 2010, Vook partnered with NBC Universal and Perseus Books to launch ‘JFK: 50 Days’, an interactive e-book, and the ‘Video Guide’ series, among other apps and e-books.

In 2011, Vook launched several new titles, including ‘TextVook’ (animated e-books and apps on academic subjects) and ‘Brief Histories’ (historical overviews of popular subjects, enhanced with video and text).

In all, Vook has over 800 titles.

Purists shunned multimedia e-books as they felt videos and images upset their thought process and imagination. The beauty of a book lies in the reader’s interpretation, they felt.

Avid reader Anna Jacobs was among the skeptics :

I like to let my imagination fly when I read a book. I don’t want it cluttered with pictures, interpretations and extraneous info from other people. The Vook doesn’t tempt me at all. In fact, though I can see the uses of ebooks, they don’t tempt me personally either. At its most basic, I’m clumsy and drop books all the time. I’d soon break an ebook gadget. And after a ten-hour day on the computer who wants any of these gadgets in the evening?

Karen Wester Newton agreed:

I don’t see vooks as a predominant “literary” form. It seems to me people who want to watch video will rent or buy a movie and people who want tor read will buy or borrow a book. Plus, they can only be read/viewed on computers, which limits where they can be consumed. They must also be one heck of a lot more expensive to produce than a book.

A minority, though, including Keith Staskiewicz  felt that vooks (video + books) had a place in the market:

Book purists — or even e-book purists if those exist yet — shouldn’t be afraid of the vook taking the place of their cherished texts anytime soon. Atria and Vook intend it not as a replacement for lying on the beach with a Crichton or a Patterson, but as an in-between option, for when your bus is stuck in traffic or your kid’s soccer game goes into overtime.

Vook changed course, turning aggregator from publisher in late 2011, as there were question marks over the success of e-books.

Vook switched to public beta, letting anyone publish and track their e-books. Vook felt that this new cloud-based creation tool would set them apart from the distributors, allowing authors to upload and work on the document from nearly anywhere.

As mentioned on ‘The Digital Reader’ by writer Nate Hoffelder:

Vook have just announced that they’re not going to be publishing their own enhanced ebooks anymore. They’re now going to make a push to become a conversion service which anyone can use to make an ebook with embedded audio and video. They’re not giving up on the market niche, but they did pivot and go in a different direction.

This fitted well with Vook’s long-term strategy, as noted by its VP of business development Matthew Cavnar :

While the platform is fairly simple and intuitive, its ambition is to encompass the full production cycle of an e-book from start to finish.

Vook also changed its revenue model as there were doubts whether a market for it existed.

Vook decided to switch to a licensing model by which users paid a monthly subscription for access to the platform. The licensing slabs were ‘Basic’, ‘Pro’, ‘Advanced’ and ‘Enterprise’.

Vook would not take royalties on e-books, which meant that it created revenue at the author’s risk, as mentioned by Nate Hoffelder in his article ‘Vook, A publisher no more’ :

Vook are in the process of proving one theory I had about enhanced ebooks, ebook apps, and so on. While I am not sure there is a profitable market for enhanced ebooks, I do believe that there is a market for a paid service to make enhanced ebooks. The difference between offering a service and releasing their own titles is that Vook won’t be risking as much of their own capital in making an enhanced ebook. They will get paid based on someone else’s risk.

The overall objective is to become an e-book aggregator for major publishing houses, who can connect directly with their audiences.

Describing Vook as a “publishing house in a box”, Cavnar explained the rationale behind the revenue stream:

We don’t take commissions — but we charge you to use our platform on a subscription model. There are other companies out there that offer a similar model — in fact, we had many potential partners ask us for this model as they wanted to keep all of their revenue.

The new platform makes publishing easy and eliminates the lags faced by several authors. Cavnar called it “just-in-time publishing”.

Editing is easy; users don’t even have to know HTML or CSS. All they need to do is upload their file, add audio, images and documents, and make changes.

As Craig Morgan Teicher said:

The Vook platform is essentially an easy-to-use WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) editor, like Apple’s iBooks Author app, but not restricted to one e-bookstore. Users create an account at www.vook.com, upload a file (the system accepts .doc, .docx, .epub, .css, .png, .jpg, .mp3 and .mp4 formats for text, images, video and audio) and then begin editing. Vook has created a set of templates, though advanced users can import their own style sheets or create their own templates that can be used for other books. With the easy-to-use tools, authors have total control over the look and feel of their e-books, from fonts and text size to margins and design.

After creating the e-book, authors feed in the meta data and pricing. The system generates a preview and e-mails it to the author. After making changes, users can get an ISBN and distribute the book through Vook to Amazon, iBooks and BN.com. Authors can sell their e-books through their own websites or distribution channels as well.

Sales can be tracked in real-time through a tool that resembles Google analytics.

Vook charges no royalties; the authors keep it all. The only revenue for Vook is an annual fee that ranges from $79 per month ($849 per year) at the basic level to $299 per month ($3,199 per year) for professionals.

The fee was deemed too high by several writers when compared to free or cheaper alternatives such as Sigil, Bookbaby, CreateSpace and iBook.

‘Publisher Weekly’ reader Laer Carroll said:

I use Sigil (free) to create an EPUB for B&N, Calibre (free) to convert the EPUB to Amazon’s format, and OpenOffice.org (free) to convert.doc to PDF for Amazon’s CreateSpace. Vook way overcharges for their services.

Newt Barrett, president at Content Marketing Strategies, a division of Voyager Media, Inc, explained why he loves BookBaby:

Actually, BookBaby.com, which I have used for CMI Books title, Managing Content Marketing, may be a much better deal for basic ebook conversion & distribution. They charge a small upfront fee and a small annual fee to maintain distribution. The author/publisher keeps 100% of the royalties paid–that would be 70% for Amazon, for example. Moreover, BookBaby does all the conversion work. You just send them the pdf files for cover and interior and you are good to go.

Many authors like the platform, but don’t think the price tag is justified. Charley Clift said:

Seems like the high price is going to turn away a huge number of would be loyal customers from an innovative platform like this… Seems like the technology behind it is top notch though.

Another downer was Vook not working for fiction. Critics said that videos and images stop readers from setting their imaginations free while reading fiction.

Multimedia is generally considered helpful for non-fiction work like how-to books. As mentioned by Cindy Blankenship in a comment on an article in the New York Times

When it comes to fiction and exercising the imagination, I especially agree. However I don’t think the videos replace the text in a vook. It sounds like links to videos are added to the ebook to provide supplementary material? This could be very helpful in a how-to book, for example, on a complicated craft. Instead of just a diagram, there could be actual videos on the more complicated steps. I saw this done with self-published cake decorating books I helped with a few years ago. I love the idea! And while I prefer to curl up on the couch with a book, having an iPod or laptop would probably please me as much as a printed book.

Keith Staskiewicz said in his article ‘What is a Vook and will it change how you read?’ why Vook works for non-fiction only:

The format definitely lends itself better to certain types of books than others. Probably the most effective of the four inaugural titles is Return to Beauty by aesthetician Narine Nikogosian, a straightforward how-to manual for making your own mango moisturizers, white bean and olive oil face masks, and prime rib au jus body scrubs. (All right, I made up that last one.) The video demonstrations that punctuate the manual seem pretty helpful, particularly on something as portable as an iPhone. And all that kitchen cosmetology really makes me think that this layout would be perfect for cookbooks (or cookvooks, if you will). A I could see instructional, or even self-help, vooks as a totally viable alternative to trying to re-tar your roof with a book in one hand, a laptop in the other, and a TiVo-ed This Old House playing somewhere downstairs.

Sadly, the fiction titles don’t work quite as well. The first, a Jude Deveraux romance set in 19th-century South Carolina, tries to use video clips to provide atmosphere, with fluttering shots of cernuous willows and Southern manses set to the book’s narration. But since the text was produced separately from the videos, the clips feel a little redundant and even distracting.

Experts said that if the pricing can be revised and a need created for multimedia in e-books, Vook could set a precedent that combines self-publishing and multimedia.

Lorraine Campbell  said in a comment on ‘Are Vooks The Future of Book Publishing?’ written by Ty Mcmahon:

I believe vooks have a place in our society, like almost everything else. When I go to sleep I want to read a book, but if I’m traveling a vook not only be lighter to carry, it might be more entertaining.

There is already a need for self-publishing multimedia for non-fiction titles. If a need for multimedia content is created for fiction, Vook could be a game changer in e-book publishing.

(MSLGROUP’s People’s Lab crowdsourcing platform and approach helps organizations tap into people’s insights for innovation, storytelling and change. The People’s Lab crowdsourcing platform also enables our distinctive insights and foresight approach, which consists of four elements: organic conversation analysis, MSLGROUP’s own insight communities, client-specific insights communities, and ethnographic deep dives into these communities.

As an example, 50+ thinkers and planners within MSLGROUP share and discuss inspiring projects on corporate citizenship, crowdsourcing and storytelling on the MSLGROUP Insights Network. Every week, we pick up one project and do a deep dive into conversations around it — on the MSLGROUP Insights Network itself but also on the broader social web — to distill insights and foresights. We share these insights and foresights with you on our People’s Insights blog and compile the best insights from the network and the blog in the iPad-friendly People’s Lab Quarterly Magazine, as a showcase of our capabilities.

As you can imagine, we can bring the same innovative approach to help you distill insights and foresights from conversations and communities. To start a conversation on how we can help you win with insights and foresights, write to Pascal Beucler at pascal.beucler@mslgroup.com.)

Originally posted on People’s Lab : People’s Insights Blog

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