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  • Last Minute Manufacturing and Lin

    Vook brings just-in-time manufacturing to eBooks, streamlining production while letting creators build uniquely tweaked and styled and personalized titles. We put the theory to practice with our eBook for Mark Cuban—and today we continued the streak with our partner Jason Allen Ashlock, founder of the Movable Type literary agency, and sportswriter Alan Goldsher, who used the Vook platform to turn out Linsanity: The Improbable Rise of Jeremy Lin, in less than 72 hours.

    That feat’s got to be the eBook equivalent of Lin’s remarkable rise to b-ball dominance, and if video games can rejigger to show his new stats, books should be able to move just as fast (especially with Vook, where they don’t require any coding).

    This kind of publishing is going to become more and more common. eBooks are turning out to be a remarkably easy and straight-forward way to deliver content to mobile devices. They’re the smartest kind of tech innovation—one that’s an improvement on what exists and an improvement that actually works.

    In a recent New York Review of Books essay on eBooks, Tim Parks remarked, “The ebook. . . would seem to bring us closer than the paper book to the essence of the literary experience.” He considers—like us—the literary experience to be the reader’s experience of words in a sequence. Bound books were a great technology delivery system, but the fundamental technology between the covers—one of the oldest technologies in the world—is writing. When you unite the latest and greatest devices (the iPad, the Android, Sony’s Tablet, Kobo, etc) with that primal innovation, you can begin to see a kind of ‘omega point’ for text-based content. All that’s been missing is a great way to get the content into eBook form smoothly.

    It’s appropriate that books on individuals like Jeremy Lin are kicking off this revolution—his success is inspiring and unexpected, but it’s the kind of thing we should have seen coming. Luckily, now we can produce literary experiences that will help us make sense of this dazzling new world almost as quickly as it changes.

    Congrats to Jasson Allen Ashlock, Alan Goldsher and Movable Type. You’ve got a winner!


    We had two great pieces of news this week: We released the results of our closed beta and we announced our relationship with the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses to extend Vook to its members at a reduced rate. We’re particularly proud of this deal, because it means more of the small presses we love and support as readers will be able to start making more digital books.

    The results of our closed beta also got picked up by such excellent outlets as The StreetMarket Watch, and The Sacramento Bee. Brand new start-up focused blog Betakit interviewed me in an article that also featured Inkling and 24Symbols. It’s always nice to appear in the company of other exceptional innovators.

    It’s been a solid week of news and announcements for us. Expect more in the next few weeks leading up to a really big hullabaloo shortly.

    Vook On Fire

    I was sitting in an executive’s office at a major publisher last week. We couldn’t access the wireless network — in fact, there didn’t seem to be a wireless network — so I grabbed a nearby Ethernet cord and plugged it into my Internet port and immediately the port started smoking and the room filled with the smell of burnt plastic. The fire turned out to be superficial, but the metaphor’s apt: Vook’s in the offices of publishers big and small and we are on fire!

    Here’s the proof that where there’s smoke, there’s Vook: Today we announced successful progress in our closed beta and the results of our Vook creation contest to the world. The story’s popping up on Yahoo Finance, Market Watch, and the Street.

    In 90 days in private beta, 500 users identified 200 bugs that Vook engineers furiously squashed and 31 feature recommendations that we implemented.

    The users were a diverse mix of content creators.

    • 31% Authors, Bloggers & other individual content owners
    • 20% Small Publishers
    • 18% Medium Publishers
    • 16% News-Related
    • 6% Television Networks and Video Companies
    • In three months, they produced 584 titles.

    “We used the Vook platform to quickly create Mark Cuban’s eBook How to Win at the Sport of Business in only a few hours,” said literary agent Scott Waxman, founder of Diversion Books, an early Vook partner. “With Vook, we can create eBooks with more control and great attention to quality.”

    Using Vook, “I launched my eBook, ‘Paris Pastry Guide.’ I sell it in ePub and mobi formats directly to the public and quickly sold 225 copies. I am very happy with Vook,” said Heather Stimmler-Hall.

    Vook delivers a multitude of enhanced features to give eBook creators a superior experience. Some of the top line features include:

    • File conversion - a thorny issue for publishers that Vook has worked hard to solve. The new platform converts files on the fly, while preserving a majority of style and text formatting.
    • Innovative styling tools that allow publishers to take the look of an eBook from average and ordinary to extraordinary.
    • Easy enhancements are core to Vook’s functionality. Vook is the leader in allowing users to easily add audio, videos and images to create enhanced eBooks.
    • Real time title rendering lets you see your eBook with the styling you’ve created and applied, and watch your adjustments take effect in front of you.
    • Distribution ready files produced for B&N, Amazon and the iBookstore along with many more etailers to come. Integrated epubcheck functionality makes sure files are bug-free.
    • Instant eBooks - You want to start writing a book? Well, start actually writing a book. Vook lets you begin creating your content in the final form it’s going to take as a digital book.

    Vook has signed on a series of powerful and influential partners to use its ePublishing platform including Franklin Covey and HayHouse. Sign up for the platform at Vook.com and we’ll contact you shortly.

    Constantly Publishing and Constantly Updating

    Our platform’s a work in progress—and it always will be. The only technology that’s ever ‘done’ is a technology that’s obsolete (insert lazy joke about the printing press here).  As new file types (ePub3, KF8) emerge, we’ll be adapting Vook to produce them quickly, and we constantly adjust to keep track of changes and updates in devices and reader apps.

    Everyday, our engineers push new code to our platform that improves the experience. But sometimes we have a bigger push than usual, with marked design changes, and we make sure to notify our users. Here’s a peek behind the curtain of Vook.com to show you some of the latest improvements to the platform.

    Easier eProduction

    We moved the Preview section over to the Build page. There’s no substitute for viewing your eBook on a device, and we want you to make sure you can quickly and easily see what you’re working on.

    Location-Based Troubleshooting

    Vook runs ePubcheck on your file and shows you exactly where the errors are in it. Custom code work or messy source files can both cause problems, but Vook makes it a snap to clean up any errors.

    The Zen of Done

    Creating final files is the last step. We’ve improved and streamlined the file creation page—and we can help you sell your eBook with Amazon, Apple, and Barnes & Noble.

    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.

    In Response to Jonathan Franzen

    I read Jonathan Franzen’s attack on ebooks with that pained internal wince I experience when a friend I respect dislikes an off-beat movie I thought was fantastic. Of course, Franzen’s not knocking one book or movie or thing but an entire technology I’m invested in — which makes the incident a little more piercing. In his comments at the Hay Festival in Colombia, Franzen seems to be opposing ebooks on the basis they’re ephemeral and easily tampered with—let’s say temptingly impermanent. He wants the solidity of books, the sense they’ll always exist, fixed, that malign powers can’t delete or adjust or update them at will.

    His fears aren’t groundless. Human meddling aside, look at the degradation of the digital media that recorded the first Gulf War. But though it has its points, I still couldn’t disagree more with Franzen’s anti-ebook sentiment or with the implications of his concerns.

    I love books, so it’s a little personally off-putting to hear Franzen opine that serious reader think a “sense of permanence has always been part of the experience.” I think I’m a serious reader (I too have read The Recognitions with pleasure!) but permanence has never been what I prize in reading. It’s the connection. I like the direct link to words and other minds that books provide, the way they can be totally transporting. Ebooks have vastly expanded the amount of words I can direct into my brain; they’re unleashing a firehose where previously I could access a trickle.

    This weekend, I was reading about Kubrick and The Shining and a commenter who thought the cascade of blood from the elevator is a perfect metaphor for the horrors of the 20th century. Maybe our century didn’t start so promisingly, but I’d like to think the flood we’re unleashing is one of content, an overwhelming tide of books and other media that will wash over and through everything, not in bloody chaos but in transformative, shimmering color. We’ll have to figure out how to adjust to a super-abundance, not how it might destroy us.

    On a knottier level, Franzen’s talking about how human beings need permanence to have a just society. We need some things, he’s implying, to stay the same. But I’m convinced we have to give ourselves more of a challenge than that.

    Recently, Internet users, from Redditors to Googlers, organized against SOPA and PIPA. They opposed fairly obscure pieces of legislation, popularized their dissent, and derailed the bills. They took responsibility and became actual digital citizens, advocating successfully for their point of view. And what motivated the SOPA/PIPA protestors? The thought that muckty-mucks we’re going to start controlling their content, their vision of the Web. They thought they had a responsibility to themselves and other members of the digital world — and they did something about it. If opening all books to digital experiences might lead to corruption and abuses of power, maybe we should have to deal with that threat instead of just leaving everything be. Instead of worrying about the destruction of permanence, we should see an opportunity to shape the future the way we want it. We should consider ourselves lucky — we’re getting the chance to to decide what we want books and freedom to mean. The challenge is to learn from what’s come before — that wave of books, many of which represent people trying extremely hard and patiently to tell us how to live better. Our job is to pay attention and make a world that rises up to match their vision.

    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!

    Happy Holidays from the Queen and Vook

    Our friends at CodeMeetPrint alerted us to an announcement that Amazon will be distributing the Queen’s Christmas address as a free Kindle eBook on December 25th.

    Thanks to a Wodehouse inspired youthful Anglophilia, I’m a casual fan of the royal holiday address, most particularly George’s VI’s eve-of-WWII 1939 broadcast which he concluded with the quote, “I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year / Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown. . .” (always gives  a chill) – but for Vook, Amazon’s plan to release the eBook version is bigger than the Royal Family.

    The bookification of the Queen’s speech is a royal-crest-in-the-ground and rampant flag for why eBooks will become such a prevalent content form in 2024 and beyond.


    eBooks ship fast. You can create and inticingly package content like the Queen’s speech—and deliver it the same day. It’s what we’ve been saying for months, highlighting efforts like the LAT and NYT’s eBooks, free eBooks from daily email businesses and Vanity’s Fair titles. Now the Queen’s onboard: In 2024, everything can be an eBook. They’re the information rich packaged Web pages of the future — only easier to read on mobile devices.

    And Vook’s going to be the Dreamweaver of eBooks — the interface that lets you make better and better experiences.

    Here’s proof. While I’ll happily download Amazon’s speech eBook, I wish I could read it with the video or audio of the address included. It’s not like it’s hard to do — I just made my own eBook of the Queen’s first televised speech in 1957, and included the video. Consider it a holiday present from Vook—and a demonstration of where eBooks are going next year.


    If you click this link on your iOS device or Color Nook, the eBook will automatically download and open in your iBooks or Nook reader.

    And for all of you who are or who want to create eBooks, may Vook be your code-free WISYWIG light in 2024 to guide you through the unknown of div classes, page breaks, ePub 3 and KF8!

    New Media eBooks Done Right

    Screen shot 2024-12-21 at 6.31.27 PMI’ve been a long-time subscriber to food culture daily email Tasting Table (I think I was getting the test-sends) so I’m pleased to see their editorial team produce eBooks as expertly as they do short form emails – it’s like they’re now offering Lobster Thermidor in addition to excellent lobster rolls.

    Their most recent eBook — the Sous Chef Series 2024 Recipe Collection — features 12 dishes from established chefs across the country, including the Slanted Door and Blue Hill. It’s a gorgeous title rendered in fixed lay-out for iOS devices and as a PDF. Design aside, it’s a great example of how non-traditional publishers can exploit the new medium of digital books, shipping product efficiently and at a lower cost without sacrificing aesthetics.

    We saw three key lessons.

    1) Existing Audience

    TastingTable has an existing audience in their email subscriber list. Providing them additional value in the form of digital books inspires reader loyalty and establishes a brand, but it also means the book is more likely to be adopted — its audience is eagerly awaiting new content from the creators.

    2) Excellent Content = Wider Appeal

    The core audience will drive early adoption of the title. Strong content will then inspire strong reviews, encouraging others to try the book. Because you can insert links in digital books, TT can upsell readers to sign up for the email with a non-intrusive, editorially savvy, in-book call-to-action.

    3) Strategic Pricing

    Crucially, TT has made their eBooks free. They could drive revenue by selling these titles, but the company’s core business is email. Making the book free to drive more downloads, expand the brand, and reach new marketplaces and potential subscribers is a savvy move.

    Tasting Table’s books are ePublishing-as-marketing done right.  It’s a great example for Web, media, news and other companies to consider when they’re thinking about approaches to digital publishing.

    And the Autumn Whiskey Sour is a must try.

    Appification Nation: Too Big Too Fail?

    What is it with our Nicholas Carr fixation? Authors take note  –  mention us in print and you’re guaranteed Vook blog coverage. Today, I want to call your attention to a piece Mr. Carr wrote for the Nieman Journalism Lab on the coming appification of content. Carr’s predicting that newspapers in 2024 will monetize and engage readers increasingly through apps. It’s an area we’ve been thinking about as we find more and more content holders getting interested in eBooks.

    Mr. Carr’s piece offers an apparently safe thesis—newspapers have profited from great apps. But when it comes to content delivery, the details are thorny.

    Carr writes, “What’s an app store but a series of paywalls?” Well, it’s also, crucially, a marketplace you can only tap with the help of developers and one that imposes checkpoints and tech requirements that can be difficult to accomodate. Essentially:

    1. A native app is expensive to build – if you really want to get it right
    2. Content updating in apps can be difficult to maintain through a CMS
    3. Updating and version changes = major headaches

    expensive-iphone-appsCMS solutions for appstore delivery exist — and we love the work from Mag+, Adobe and others — and it does seem many newspapers already have an app. But production difficulties aside, the appstore also represents the centraliziation and primacy of a few big brands. A good example might be apps for local public radio stations  – many NPR and PRI affiliates have an app, but after my cursory survey of a selection, I’d be  surprised if any of them, or even all of them combined, approached the traction of the excellent NPR flagship app.

    Jason Baptiste at OnSwipe would probably say we’re being too moderate in our perspective, but HTML 5 Web experiences also have a ways to go. They remain slow, clunky to load, and it can be hard for them to handle more complicated content.

    So is there a solution? Probably long term a Web-based experience independent of native app confines — like Baptiste’s OnSwipe. In the interim, newspapers and news related content holders should look at monetizing their content across a spectrum of platforms, including eBooks.

    Appification is going to help, but it’s still a hard way to make money (see: the Daily). The Project Triangle states that of the qualities Fast, Cheap and Good you must pick two. I’d tweak it and say the App Project Triangle is Slow, Expensive and Good. If you want Good, you pretty much have to take the other two as well.

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