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  • 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.


    This post is a digression. We’re a platform focused on helping you create quality ebooks that you can distribute everywhere, but! I have seen much discussion recently about when enhanced ebooks work. Having produced 800 + enhanced titles, I wanted to weigh in — mostly on a personal level — to relate my particular feelings that I can no longer keep bottled up.

    When it comes to enhancements, book lovers like to say they work fine for non-fiction, but fiction’s off limits. Enhancements dumb down books, are destructive, spazzy, distracting. I think that’s the accepted argument. Dark secret — I don’t really get it.

    Enhancements can work fine in literature. In some cases they may even improve a book, which is the kind of statement that could get me banhammered in digital and real world book salons alike.

    It’s not conjecture though. Great books are being produced right now with enhancements. Such as . . . People Still Live In Cashtown Corners, by Tony Burgess. It’s a 201 page novel from ChiZine Publications, released in 2024. I read it on the Kindle App for iPad.

    The book tells the story of gas station clerk Bob Clark’s apparently unprovoked killing spree in rural Cashtown Corners, culminating with Clark barricaded in the home of a family he’s murdered. Sounds grim? It is! But it’s also smart, tricky, brainy, entrancing. I was hooked by the first two paragraphs, which read like Robbe-Grillet doing a Thomas Bernhard impression. I’m a sucker for Robbe Grillet and Bernhand so mashing them up? Mr. Burgess, where may I subscribe to your newsletter?

    I thought it was a plain text book—but it’s got a twist. Halfway through, I swiped from one page to the next and had a shock.  SPOILER: Burgess has embedded an image purporting to depict a crime scene from Clark’s rampage. The photos show grainy, real-life scenes that push into reality in a way I didn’t expect. The next few pages then shift without explanation to pictures of a crude World Trade Center art project one of Clark’s victims was building in school.

    The pictures expand the previously hermetic universe of the novel, forcing you to connect events real and imagined, staged and actual, drawing imaginary lines between crime scene photos we’ve seen on the Internet and TV, the perpetrators behind them, the victims in them. They make a strange book stranger but also stronger, like the suddenly illuminating digressions in a Chris Marker film.

    It’s art. Good art. Not emotional art. But art that did something to my brain I didn’t expect. I enjoyed it. I had an experience. I remember the experience more strongly than I remember reading the Family Fang, which I liked, but which was about people trying to create the kind of feeling Burgess actually inflicts on you in the eBook version of Cashtown.

    And I’d claim that these photographs wouldn’t work in a print version. I know I’d be able to tell by the change in the paper consistency and the glimpse of a darker line from an illustrated page that some kind of picture was coming. The element of surprise would be gone. And it’s the surprise and the shock and the smooth transition from text to image to image to image that makes your brain speed up while simultaneously trying to slow down and work out connections. Which creates vertigo. And tension. And a strange powerful sense of unease and displacement.

    That’s one example of a piece of excellently effective enhanced literature. There are more. There will be more. But for everyone who claims enhancements can’t work in literature, I say: Enhancements can work fine – you just aren’t reading enough books.


    Tl;dr: You might not like enhanced ebooks but there’s an awesome arty one that works with some creepy pictures. Also, Stone Arabia, the narrator wishes it had a video in it, at one point! DANA SPIOTTA WRITE ME!

    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.

    Exposing Prostate Cancer

    One in six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, resulting in about 200,000 new cases during the next 12 months.

    These astonishing figures inspired Dr. Gerald Chodak to create awareness about prostate cancer in his Vook, “Prostate Cancer: Reducing Your Risks,” which is available in the iTunes App Store and iBookstore.

    “Prostate health and prostate cancer are topics with considerable confusion among men and considerable bias among physicians,” he said. “The Vook was created to help men make choices that reflect their age, health and quality of life.”

    Dr. Chodak has dedicated his life’s work to prostate cancer, which is the most common serious cancer in men and the second most common cause of death from cancer. He has published more than 150 articles on the subject and has been invited to speak about topics in prostate cancer throughout the US and in more than 14 countries. In addition to founding his own prostate cancer support group, Dr. Chodak has also been a medical commentator for PBS channel WTTW in Chicago.

    Dr. Chodak gave us some helpful tips about prostate cancer, from commonly overlooked warning signs to dietary needs:

    Tip 1: Although urinary complaints may be associated with prostate cancer, most men who have the disease will not have any symptoms until it is advanced.

    Tip 2: Eat a healthy balanced diet, have periodic exams including a blood test for PSA beginning at age 50 unless there is a high risk, such as having a brother or father with the disease or being African-American.

    Tip 3: Good studies show that vitamin E, selenium and vitamin C are not effective in reducing the risk of developing this disease but two drugs used to treat and enlarged prostate can lower the chance of getting diagnosed. They do have trade-offs so men should discuss the pros and cons with their doctor.

    And Dr. Chodak’s final tip? Be informed.

    Aubree Munar contributed to this article.
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    Vook is a happy camper!

    Vook had a fantastic time at Book Camp 2: The Return of Book Camp yesterday! We enjoyed a lot of discussions about open platforms, design for enhanced e-books in the editorial stages, and work flow management for digital products. We couldn’t walk anywhere without hearing about apps, digital product development, e-book marketing and technology advancements. And we apologize for eating some of the gobstoppers, we didn’t realize those were probably not Book Camp intended.

    We also enjoyed connecting with a lot of notable figures in the publishing space, such as Sharon Cordesse (sales manager for conferences) from O’Reilly Media, Brett Sandusky (director of production innovation) from Kaplan Publishing , and Matt Schwartz (director of digital strategy and business development) from Random House.

    As usual, it was a pleasure to see Ami Greko keeping the pieces in place and to hear Guy Gonzales drop some knowledge on how to build a sustainable social community.

    Make sure you come visit us this week at Tools Of Change and say, “hi!”

    Have a Vook week!

    eReader market ready to explode

    We certainly saw that last week at BEA – with newer, cheaper devices from Cooler and BEbook starting to steal a little of the thunder from the Kindle and Sony readers.

    Now, this week, a new report from Forrester that points to growing market for eBooks and eReader devices.

    So why the growth?

    Epps acknowledges that Forrester’s initial reaction to the Kindle as a niche device that would only attract a small number of book-loving early adopters underestimated the fact that consumers would fall in love with the Kindle’s one-step shopping system and the immediate gratification of buying books in the Kindle store…

    Of course what was most of interest to us at Vook was the prediction that by Q4 2024 we’ll be seeing video enabled readers hitting the market.


    Here’s hoping it’s sooner than that!

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