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  • Digital Publishing At The Gates of Horn & Ivory

    Books used to come off the printing press and anyone could pick them up and read them—the reader requirement was literacy. With digital, it’s different. You can’t read the book you’ve created or purchased until you have the right device to read it on. It’s a new layer of complication, even if it’s elegantly designed, between text and target.

    Sure, there’s the excellent work of Scribd and other online reading services, but to pick up a flowable text ebook that works smoothly in mobile for the largest market of readers and charge them for it, you need to create customized files and go through a digital distributor.

    The device limitations and file types means that distributors have the power in the digital world—publishers are making digital books, first and foremost, for distributor devices. All questions of design and reader experience have really come secondary to file limitations, something that obviously wasn’t an issue in real-world book production.

    In digital publishing, everyone serves the device first.

    The digital book world is a dream half realized. When digital books can reach readers as easily as handing off a physical book today, entirely new opportunities will open up for customer relationships, audience building, information sharing.

    Smart players (take a look at what Mark Cuban’s done with the eBook produced through Vook) are moving fast to work with what’s possible now when it comes to expanding a book’s availability. Next week, I’ll be interviewing one of our users who’s already sold more than 300 copies of her Vook-created eBook directly to users on her Website. And that’s not a PDF, but a flowable text eBook file.

    Digital books are still half realized as a medium, maybe even less than half realized. In the physical world, we already have the platonic form of the book—a near perfect object. If we could create that experience in the mundane world subject to so many physical laws, we should be able to pull off something just as impressive in the limitless reality of digital.

    iBooks 2 and iBooks Author: Another opportunity & headache

    People wax nostalgic about the smell of books, but no one pines for the smell of textbooks. They smelled like glue, they were heavy, and they were—usually—boring. So we were happy to read Apple’s announcement of iBooks 2 and iBooks Author: finally, a kind of book everyone wants to see go digital fast.

    It’s a great announcement for digital publishing, for readers, and for platform and tool creators like us. It also raises some interesting complications that we’ve spent months tackling. Here’s how we’re looking at this announcement at Vook.

    The Good

    eBooks Really Matter

    Finally, eBooks are coming of age. This was not an Apple announcement about a new app creation platform. This is about eBooks—and we understand and obsess over eBooks in all of their various incarnations at Vook.  Apple really is committing to eBooks. That means great enhanced reading experiences are going to start coming more and more from iBooks instead of the iTunes App store. In turn, eBooks are going to get more attention, more user adoption and more momentum.

    The Complicated

    More proprietary files

    iBooks Author outputs an entirely new file format called “.ibooks.” This is a proprietary file format that only plays in iBooks (edit: it’s not quite epub2 and it’s not quite epub3, nor is it quite XHTML5—plus the widgets are iBooks built-in components rather than open standards JS). As one of our colleagues remarked, “Reminds me of another file format (Amazon’s .mobi, anyone?)”. More file formats—especialy more proprietary file formats (or formats intended for only one device)—means more restrictions for content, more headaches for creators, and less freedom for consumers. The title you produce with iBooks Author aren’t for Amazon, on BN, on Google Books. It’s one channel only.

    The Future

    More problems = more opportunity

    When people write a book, they want that book to be available everywhere. Not just on one platform or device. They want as many people to be able to read their book as possible. Which is why this is announcement has us so happy at Vook.  Our platform allows you to build and create files in ePub and Mobi, for Amazon, BN, iBooks, Kobo and others. Vook is not a proprietary format, though we can produce those files. We serve as many of the distributors as possible, bringing your content—and making sure it looks great—to the vast diversity of existing devices and platforms.

    The titans of digital book delivery seem to be arming themselves for war. It’s like something out of a textbook on World War II. But Vook lets publishers, creators and content holders work with all of the major players. We’re like the Switzerland of digital publishing. And like the Swiss, our technology is absolutely world class.

    Inside the Vook Beta

    Before posting more on cloud-based reading experiences, I wanted to give everyone a quick update on the Vook beta. Everyday, users are working in Vook and helping us identify issues we need to address. Our engineering queue is essentially a cue taken from our users — ha! (Like that? Wait til you read my Vook produced comic memoir!)

    Last week we fixed 48 issues that users caught — items ranging from Kindle file generation to adding the ability to delete projects.

    I wanted to share three recent achievements, especially user Diane Massad’s publishing success. Diane is a beta tester/author who worked in Vook to create her KidSKILLS Up and Over educational eBook, which she then released through Amazon. We love to see users creating and selling eBooks.

    New Fonts We realized today we’ve added 53 new fonts since the beginning of January, with many more on the way. New fonts help users create unique eBooks with our robust styling tool.

    Easier integration of multi-media It turns out that many users want to create video and audio enhanced eBooks. We’re the only platform that allows for the quick addition of these elements, but it takes a lot of fine-tuning to get the mechanism right. Users are helping us make the process more and more straightforward. Also, some of us can now launch second careers in video compression.

    We’ll be showing off addtional functionality around Digital Book World next week, so you’ll be hearing more soon. In the meantime, write me for further info on the beta or to share my extensive repertoire of engineering puns at Matthew@vook.com.

    From 95 Theses to eBooks being #1


    If the printed word had brainstormed a go-to-market strategy to spread everywhere in the 16th century, it couldn’t have done better than violent religious controversy. Luther’s 95 Theses and the invention of the printing press dovetailed to create what the Economist recently described as an early example of a viral marketing campaign that spread the Reformation — and, by extension, print culture.

    The Economist is keen to highlight the similarities to social media (and multimedia content; woodcuts were the apps of the middle ages) — but don’t miss how Luther took advantage of three opportunities that have a nice corollary with digital publishing.

    • Existing audience = Marketing
    • Short form content  = Form
    • Easy printing capabilities = Technology advancements

    Technology and the content form make sense — broadsheets were the Middle Ages’ Kindle Singles and the printing press’s invention made them easy to scale.

    But what about Marketing? Leaving the social spread aside, there’s an interesting perspective here. The pamphlet craze kicked off when the 95 Theses were nailed to the door of the Witenberg church. In the Middle Ages, churches were like the most popular Websites — everyone went there; they got the most traffic. Give that audience content that it just has to read (after all, everyone else is!) and you’ve got massive adoption.

    The lesson for digital is what we keep saying at Vook: If you have a Website, if you have any kind of property that has a following, that has, if you will, church goers — then you’ve got a bookstore.

    The authors, the technology, and the content exist — it’s the sites that need to turn their audiences into readers and give those readers what they want.

    Here’s to digital publishing in 2024. More importantly, here’s to the church doors: May you share your own Theses with the world!


    I raved yesterday about going to the National Book Awards; now I’m trying to catch up on reading the winners I didn’t grab from our table display — and I’ve hit a problem.

    Only 3 of the 4 National Book Award winning titles are available as eBooks—Nikky Finney’s collection of poems Head Off & Split is not available digitally. Dianna Dilworth also sharply caught this at eBook Newser, and I wish it was more widely remarked.

    I run into this issue when I’m trying to get more obscure titles — but I’m a book nerd and I can live with my tastes being off beat and not always digitally available. But this seems an oversight that’s bigger than my interests.

    Head Off & Split is a National Book Award Winner. And yes, I know, I can get it at a bookstore and support my local independent, but I like supporting the new digital publishing start-ups, and I don’t like going back to print. So, I want this in digital.

    Which is why, because our platform’s so easy to use, if publisher Triquarterly or Nikky or anyone associated with this project would just send me the manuscript –just send me a word document! or paste it into an email! — I’ll produce a high end, nicely formatted flowable eBook for them in a few days, for free. I’ll do it myself. Again, for free.

    I’ll even type the book into our tool if that’s what it takes—if they ok it.

    Just someone, let me know. For my own sake. And note that this is an encouraging sign for 2024–you’ve got someone pleading to read a book of poetry as an eBook. Viva culture.

    Matthew Cavnar




    Our digital publishing platform, VookMaker, is ever closer to public release — and our vision of an easy-to-use ebook creation, distribution and sales reporting platform. And yes! This is exciting, this platform we have developed. And yes! We are excited. But — a platform is only as good as what people make with it — which is why we’re even more excited that Apple recognizes the high quality, awesome looking eBooks VookMaker can produce. How do we know this? Because they have just launched a 15 TITLE PROMOTION for the video enhanced fitness series we produced with Gaiam. You can see it by clicking here!

    This is a front page promotion, sharing the stage with Mark Bowden, Lee Child, and Rin Tin Tin. Our hats off to you, other authors and dog subjects. We are honored to be in your fine company up there on the front page. And we are also so proud of our platform, VookMaker, because it produced these very fine looking titles very quickly. This, ladies and gentleman, is what VookMaker can do for you. And what you can do with VookMaker. Soon! GaiamLargeBrick

    How Can We Help You?

    A post at TechCrunch by Eric Ries this morning  caught my attention — it speaks to a core issue we’re wrestling with as we engineer new features and functionality into our digital book creation platform, VookMaker. Ries asks the question, “How do you know you’re building the right product — if you’re not talking to your customers?” Of course, he asks a lot of other things — but I’m going to focus narrowly on the bit relevant to us, so read the article yourself to experience its larger points.

    At Vook, we’ve gone from creating a large volume of titles for our partners and others to creating a platform they can use to make excellent digital books. They can also track sales, analytics, enhance, enrich, review, publish to multiple marketplaces — hopefully anything you’d want to do as a digital publisher. Which is the crux of this — what do people really want to do as digital publishers? We think we know –  but I’ve also championed a version of the Velveteen Rabbit with embedded YouTube videos of cute bunnies — so we’re aware we could use outside input and affirmation.

    Which is why, as part of our business development process, our first step is to shut up and not talk — but find out what our potential partner or associate might need in a digital book creation tool that’s not immediately obvious.

    Here’s some of the questions we’re asking:

    • “Where is your greatest pain point with digital book creation?”
    • “If you had to choose one function that would be most helpful in creating, managing, publishing and tracking your digital books, where do you need the most help?”
    • “Do you want more control of your digital books — or do you want better outsourcing of conversion?”
    • “If you could have the ability to control one aspect of the digital books you produce from your computer today, what would it be?”

    What kind of questions do you think we should ask? Where are your needs? We’re building a tool that will help solve problems that exist today — and could get worse tomorrow. So write Matthew@vook.com and have us get started addressing them. Think of us as your solution builder.

    Vook Heads to Book Expo America

    Greetings Vook Fans,

    I am really excited here in Vook New York City as I start gearing up for Digital Book 2024 and Book Expo America — the largest publishing trade show in North America — next week down the street at the Javits Convention Center, which is guaranteed to be a great time. Don’t be shy and make sure you stop by Kiosk 2311 in the Digital Zone to say “hi” and pick up some special download cards from me. Also, you’ll want to follow my live Tweeting by reading the @vooktv stream.

    Be sure to mark your calendars to check out our Vook speakers at the conferences:

    Monday, May 23
    Digital Book 2024 at the Javits Convention Center
    Rooms 1e02-04
    4:30 – 5:15 pm
    The Future of Digital Reading and the Business of Digital Publishing

    Vook founder and CEO Brad Inman will be speaking on a panel along with Peter Balis of John Wiley & Sons and Masaaki Hagino and Daihei Shiohama of Voyager Japan.

    About: Interactivity and rich-media enhanced eBooks are increasingly expected. Social reading and transmedia “storytelling” are emerging trends. Borders between books and periodicals are breaking down as content gets liberated from the constraints of traditional packagings. What are the business implications?

    Wednesday, May 25
    Book Expo America at the Javits Convention Center
    2:30 pm – 3:00 pm
    IDPF Digital Stage
    Matthew Cavnar, Head of Product Development at Vook, will be discussing the scalable creation of digital content, distribution to multiple marketplaces and how technology platforms can solve the problems publishers face in digital today.

    See you next week,

    Social Media Marketing Manager


    Vook Releases First ‘TextVook’

    The success of our Video Guides demonstrated that readers were hungry (or thirsty, considering the speed “Cocktails” flies off the digital shelf) for original Vook material. So we’re excited to announce the launch of our next imprint of all new titles: TextVook.

    This new imprint features the worldly teachings of Dr. Vook Ph.D as he takes readers on an animated journey through history, science, philosophy—the entire world of learning. His first TextVook, “American History 101: The TextVook,” was released Friday and is available in the iTunes App Store for the iPad and iPhone for only $6.99. It’s also available in the iBookstore. The app contains 8 animations and chapters about America’s economic system, American federalism and key issues in the country’s history.

    Readers can expect many more titles from Vook’s resident genius throughout the year, including upcoming adventures with the Civil War and Western Civilization, as well as economics, law and social sciences.

    Stay tuned to our blog for an exclusive interview with the man himself.

    textvook VideoVookLogo

    Guest Blogger Laurie McLean: Where to Learn All About eBooks

    We’re honored to announce that Vook CEO Brad Inman has been invited to speak at the West Coast’s first digital book symposium: All About eBooks. This unique symposium will bring together a dynamic group of innovators from the digital publishing world. Get all the details from this guest post by event organizer, literary agent Laurie McLean:

    The San Francisco Bay Area…It’s the second largest publishing center in America and the number one technology innovator in the world. It’s a magnet for change and a leader in new ways of thinking.  Why is this important? Because technology is evolving the publishing industry at the fastest pace since Gutenberg invented the printing press. And New York heads are spinning.

    Considering the powerful emergence of eBooks and enhanced books, the agency pricing model, efficiencies of digital publishing and the opportunities of localized print on demand, the publishing world is simultaneously horrified and inspired to greatness. Everyone wants to know what to do.

    How does this affect you as a writer, editor, publisher, content creator, agent, librarian or bookseller? I know a place where you can find out.

    Come to the first digital publishing symposium of its kind on the West Coast: All About eBooks. Industry leaders Brad Inman of Vook, Mark Coker of Smashwords, Rob MacDonald of Scribd, Mark Wolf of GigaOM, Philippa Burgess of Studio Mythopoeia/Creative Convergence, David Marshall of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Jay Hartman of Untreed Reads, online marketing expert Stephanie Chandler and many others are going to join me at this one-day intensive mind-meld that will cover all aspects of the eBook phenomenon.

    You’ll learn how to create and distribute your own eBooks for free and how to market them online. You’ll hear about the future of enhanced eBooks and transmedia.  Authors who’ve successfully sold eBooks will share their tales.  And industry professionals will give their perspectives. In one day you’ll dive deep into the pool of everything eBooks.

    Here are the facts:
    All About eBooks Symposium
    Friday November 12th from 9 am to 6 pm
    At the San Francisco Hilton-Financial: 750 Kearney at Washington
    Cost: $199 (including all sessions, lunch and a cocktail reception)
    Limited to 75 seats for an immersive learning experience

    To learn more,  go to allaboutebooks.us. To register go to: sfwritingforchange.org and then click on ‘Register for All About eBooks’. Hope to see you there.

    Laurie McLean is a literary agent with Larsen Pomada Literary Agents in San Francisco and Dean of the new San Francisco Writers University. She has been immersing herself in digital publishing news, trends and perspectives since 2024.

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