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  • 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.

    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.

    The good, the bad and the Guggenheim

    The Guggenheim’s usually ahead of the curve (probably inspired by their geometry),  so it’s no surprise to see them move into eBooks. They’ve recently launched Guggenheim.org/publications, which offers a “newly digitized selection of essays and historical material dating to the 1937 founding.”

    The offer fits our vision of the future, where non-traditional publishers quickly become publishers.The museum has an audience and a content back-catalog, and most of that content is ideal for eBooks.

    I went and tried out the service and had a few thoughts.

    First, the Guggenheim doesn’t seem to be selling its titles through any major digital book markets—ie, Amazon, BN, iBooks. Selling the books/essays solely off their site allows them to keep all the revenue,  but it also results in a cumbersome purchase process, where I have to fill out a variety of order fields and CC information to get my file.

    But the real rigamarole comes post purchase — when I have to find a way to read the file.

    The Guggenheim lets me download my ePub as soon as I buy it—but if I was a general consumer, I’d probably be at a loss. What do I do with this thing now? How do I get it onto my iPad? There’s no instructions, no way to easily figure it out.

    Buying from an eBook merchant means that eBook is sent directly to your device. Without this feature, you can have some confused consumers.

    It all brings up a larger issue—ePub is a leading file format and one recognized by most devices. But since most device manufacturers also provide eBook storefronts, how does one seamlessly get eBooks onto a mobile without selling through device supported stores?

    At some point, there will be more options for reading and distributing eBooks, but right now, the very question of eBook formats and file types is inextricably linked to the distributors and their storefronts.

    It’s an interesting conundrum for content holders.

    At Vook, we let you email a link that readers can immediately click in a device’s email program to open the book inside that device’s native reader—it’s the first step towards a more elegant solution.

    Until then, it makes the most sense for non-traditional publishers to develop some distribution relationship, either with an aggregator, or with a storefront directly.

    It’s a positive sign for the future though. I jumped through hoops to read my Guggenheim eBook. If the file was delivered more directly, I’m sure I’d have purchased additional titles.

    EDIT: I’m seeing reports that the Guggenheim will sell through Amazon, BN, and iBooks — but the files don’t seem to be available yet.

    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.

    Dostoevsky & Interruption Marketing

    Turning an unknown author into a surprise bestseller is publishing at its finest—and a classic example of old fashioned interupption marketing.

    The author toils in obscurity for years and emerges with a work that transfixes an audience that hadn’t previously existed.

    That’s art. Great art, more often than not, finds an audience (even great-but-completely-insane art, a la Henry Darger). But it’s a hard task. You’re convincing people to pay attention to something new.

    Stephen Elliot, who often reflects on art vs. commerce, being read vs. not being read, remarked that anyone is lucky their work’s read. No one owes you a reading.

    Artists don’t build audiences. They make art. That art makes an audience, or it disappears. Or it disappears and returns a hundred years later, when its audience arrives.

    But here’s the good news: Not everyone is an artist. Most people aren’t.

    Which is excellent.

    If you’re not an artist; if you’re a company or a Website or a person who works for a Website or runs a Website—if you’re anyone who has an audience: You’re already lucky.

    You already have readers.

    You don’t have to produce a stunning piece of art they never knew they needed.

    You just have to give them what they come to you for — whether it be expertise on model train collecting or interior decorating— in an intelligent, thoughtful and well packaged format.

    Give it to them in a digital book. That looks great. That reads cleanly. That shows what you do at your best.

    Make it easy to buy on your Website. Offer the first one, two, three, even five eBooks for free.

    More and more readers are carrying tablets — and tablets are just book covers that you can beam any kind of book into.

    People want to beam in what they’re familiar with. If you’ve already done all the hard work of building a Website or a business or a brand, you’re lucky.

    Dostoevsky remembered being told his first novel was accepted for publication as the finest moment in his life. The world probably didn’t know it wanted to read thousands of pages about the internal life of deeply troubled slavs. But apparently we did!

    You don’t have to suffer to share your vision with the world. If you’ve got a Website with traffic, you know what people want.

    Now all you have to do is write the book.

    Your audience is waiting.

    Read-Along T.S. Elliot

    TS-Eliot2 As he probably did for many, T.S. Elliot inspired my love for poetry. Reading him twenty five years after struggling through the Wasteland in my parent’s copy of the Norton Anthology, I have new insight into his appeal. While some poets wrote about love or abstract art or the will or nature or romanticism, Eliot articulated a sensation everybody knows: Utter despair in the face of boredom. Before the oppressive office cubicle existed, Eliot wrote poems that instantly transported you into one that did not have an exit and was made of gray carpet.

    What does this have to do with digital publishing? Well — it’s the medium. Poetry can’t be rendered differently to make it more itself, but our reactions to it can be so varied they require other media to express. What Elliot’s poetry has made me feel I’ve always described as, “the feeling you get when you hear Eliot read it.”

    Eliot made a few recordings of the Wasteland. His voice is thin, reedy, and forlorn sounding. He puts a wistfulness into the recording that reinforces its melancholy. Ever since, I’ve read the Wasteland in Eliot’s voice in my head—which makes lines such as “we stopped in the colonnade/And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten./ And drank coffee, and talked for an hour” sound like a pessimist’s summary of the emptiness of life.

    I’ve always wanted to express this feeling to others and now I’m able to realize my dream with Vook: I’ve embedded audio of Elliot reading the Wasteland into an ePub of the poem, creating a read-along Wasteland experience in just a few minutes.

    With Vook, it’s easy to create audio and video enhanced eBooks—which means you can spread your vision of literary despair far and wide, and finally share the little voice in your head with everyone else in the world.

    See what I’m talking about: Get the free ePub here.

    How Vanity Fair does eBooks right

    Yesterday I was thinking about books in video games, today I’m reading about books in books, how we make books, how some people write them. The book in question: Vanity Fair’s How A Book is Born: The Making of The Art of Fielding, by Keith Gessen.

    If the title looks unwieldly, for an eBook it’s aces. With digital, only a limited number of words show up on a reader’s screen, in a storefront or in a search result. Putting Vanity Fair first plays to the most eye-catching brand association, while the descriptive title is intriguing and straight forward. As for the aesthetic of the image itself, the cover shows up excellently in the Kindle Singles store. It looks sharp and eye-catching and authoritative; which can be difficult to pull off with digital’s little pixels.

    The single’s about how Gessen’s friend, Chad Harbach, wrote this year’s literary hit the Art of Fielding, the book’s arduous path to publication and how it was sold to the public. It reads like one of those John McPhee essays on river barges or the nation of Switzerland—focused on detail, skill and method, with an eye for the characters who have an expertise in each step of the narrative. As for the book within a book, the Art of Fielding contains segments from a fictional philosphical guide of the same name. So Gessen’s writing a magazine piece that’s become a book about how a book with a book inside of it is turned into an actual, physical, real book; and what that process might be like in the future.

    Anyone interested in digital publishing should read the essay and the novel—for my tl;dr blog take I want to point out what a particularly sharp example of digital publishing this is. Gessen’s essay on books is now a book I’m reading and enjoying just as I do Michael Lewis’s Boomerang.  It’s rich, smart, and absolutely worth what I would pay to watch an episode of the Office on iTunes.

    Vanity Fair is setting an example for magazine publishing about how to turn great stories into items you can sell. Magazines seem to be so focused on the app environment, but that’s not the only solution. Other magazines have published Kindle Singles, but this particularly self-reflexive exercise, complete with clever branding, is a best-in-class example. It points the way to the future. One could say it lets the path of publishing become its own path — to manglingly appropriate Harbach.  Apps are pretty and gorgeous and Newsstand is an excellent innovation. But don’t forget what Graydon Carter writes in his introduction, “What doesn’t appear to be up for grabs are the old-fashioned virtues of craft and quality. They still count for something. Actually, they count for everything.”

    eBooks may lack the gee-whiz of apps—but they put the craft and quality and fineness of words first. As an eBook, Gessen’s essay is now something I can pay for. It’s a product. It does what Gessen makes clear books have to do: generate revenue. If John Locke is making a living selling well done thrillers at 99 cents, there’s no reason others can’t take a stab at paying the rent with bookish essays on the crannies and complications of culture.

    A note to Gessen though—Carter’s listed as the author in my Kindle Reader. This is truly exceptional clever branding.

    Buy the single here.

    A future for fiction in video games

    For those of you who aren’t gamers or don’t keep reddit open in a browser tab, Game of Thrones isn’t the only property turning television screens into Scandanvian Renaissance Festivals. Video game company Bethesda Software recently released Skyrim, an incredibly detailed, open world role playing game that shipped 3.4 million copies in 2 days and scored a 96 point overall average on review aggregator Metacritic.

    It’s a definite blockbuster hit, but is it another reason for fantasy lovers to turn away from literature? Hardly. Skyrim’s littered with books — from romance novels to religious books to spell tomes to journals to straight fiction. You can pick up books, carry them around, deposit them in your house and read them in-game, paging through what’s estimated to be a thousand plus pages of actual text.  It’s that weird, possibly too potent perfect time-suck — a fantasy video game stocked with fantasy books that you read as a fantasy character you created.

    Of course, it’s a self-limiting audience—even if we’re living post triumph of the nerds, most people are still adopting to digital books instead of actually fantastical digital books. But it’s interesting that Skyrim’s developers saw the potential to populate their world with books — a real life case of transmedia storytelling that doesn’t feel tacked on, but natural, even necessary.

    Just a few days ago, I was discussing at Vook how video game companies – like Bethesda – could use Vook to produce eBook versions of their in-game lore. Sure, the audience is niche, but it’s an audience that’s committed. And when you make it as easy to create an eBook as Vook does, why would you skip the opportunity?

    That’s the future of publishing. Or at least one path of the future. Companies who have rich, deep, intricate stories that don’t exist in “real-world” book form will start producing books independently. And if they have an audience they can reach digitally — they have a bookstore too.

    We’re not the only ones with the idea. Metafilter today alerted me that the blogger behind capane.us had turned all of Skyrim’s in-game books into actual eBooks for the Mobi and ePub format.

    It should send a message to video game and media companies everywhere: If your own users are hacking your content into book format, shouldn’t you put them together yourself? Email us at Vook today at Matthew@vook.com. Or just hang tight — we’ll be knocking on your door soon.


    Everyday we get requests from people who want to build an eBook with Vook immediately. Everyday we look at what we’re building, what our users want and expect, and what we’ve committed to delivering. Our engineering team is working night and day (which isn’t hyperbole, I’ve interrupted them at 2 AM on our conference line in the past)—and the rest of us are constantly using and testing Vook, making sure it meets our standards.

    On Thanksgiving, I’m not grateful for the elements we can control – our commitment, our resourcefulness, our smarts – I’m grateful for that harder to hit factor: What people want and what we’re building seem perfectly aligned.

    I’m judging that interest by how many people sign up every day for our beta – and anecdotally by how many people have emailed me on Thanksgiving asking if they can use the platform while they have time off.

    And we will ship to our beta users very soon. But today I wanted to share a segment of a clip I found on the Next Web’s Shareables site—a video of Steve Jobs brainstorming with the team at NeXT in the 80s about when they’re going to release their product.

    Steve Jobs and NeXT UPDATE: You’ll want to start watching at the 8:00 minute mark for the relevant section. YouTube Preview Image

    The part I’m focused on starts 8:00 minutes into the video, during a brainstorm/debate/conversation between Steve and the team members, ranging from Product to Tech to Business. I’m not highlighting this clip to swoon over Job’s exceptionalism—but because it clearly shows how product innovation, consumer demands and the abilities of technology interact with and react to each other.

    My favorite part? When Steve, slightly exasperated, says, “I can’t change the world.” Many people would consider that ironic – but I think Steve’s right. This clip shows it’s commitment,  intensity, and smart people pushing each other that make a difference.

    Steve might have said, “I can’t change the world – but my company can.” And that’s the truth.

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