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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.

    Vook Interviews Heather Stimmler Hall

    Heather Stimmler Hall is a Vook tester who’s achieved our dream for the closed beta—she’s helped us improve the platform and produced an ebook she’s actually making money from.

    imagesHeather writes guidebooks to France, offers private tours of Paris and publishes travel guides. She runs the Website Secrets of Paris and has a devoted audience of followers. We interviewed Heather over Skype to learn more about her success writing, creating and selling eBooks directly with Vook.

    Can you tell me about the project’s background?

    I wanted to create an eBook out of an iPhone app that I did with David Lebovitz, called Paris Pastry Guide. Too many people don’t have an iPhone or iPad and can’t access apps. They want to know how they can have an eBook. But I didn’t have any fancy design program and I didn’t want it to look stupid, and I wanted to get it on the other markets like Amazon and iBooks.

    So we used Vook. I have an iPhone and David has an iPad and we created the book and checked it out and used the online testers for the Mobi version. We sold it on our own Website, paris-pastry.com, for $2.99 for Valentine’s Day. We’ve sold 300 titles through our own site and 150 through the Kindle site. It will be in iBooks soon.

    How has the process been selling it through your site?

    I’m hoping we can maintain a consistent number—maybe 1,000 in the first month it’s out. Then maybe 20 or 30 a week. It’s selling more than the app version of the book.

    The great thing about selling the eBook on your site is being able to go in and update the file and then immediately replace that file with the updated file, whereas going through Amazon and iTunes you have to resubmit everything.

    photo (2)The eBook is easier to fix. In our app, we can’t even fix a typo because since the app came out, Apple has gone to iOS5, which no longer allows offline content, which our app has. So if we take the app down just to change a typo, it won’t get accepted. We’re stuck with a choice of, do we leave the current app up there, or do we take it down and wait til we rebuild it?

    Are there any hang ups with direct sales?

    The only glitch is that selling it through my own site I have to do a back and forth to teach the readers how to load the file onto their device without going through a store.

    The mobi file doesn’t have DRM, so it’s just a mobi file and it appears that if you put it on your own computer, and save it to your harddrive and then synch it to your device, it works fine. It only takes two seconds longer.

    What mechanism do you use to sell your book directly?

    I use a service called e-Junkie that emails them a link to download the book, but if they click on that link to open it instead of saving it, it doesn’t work. It’s just a raw file. You can’t just open the file. You have to open it in something else, but I explain that via email.

    I have 10,000 subscribers to my newsletter, and David Lebovitz gets lots of traffic a day to his website. And most people will come right to our site and buy the book directly. It would be helpful to be able to sell automatically through the Web from Vook.

    What do you think will make a difference to writers in digital?

    I know a lot of writers who absolutely want to be able to sell their own content. Even those who don’t have a huge following, they still want to have the option to set up a Website and sell from it. Maybe it will make money, maybe it won’t. But it’s sort of free money.

    Check out Heather’s eBook at her Website—and if you buy a copy, you’re not only learning about the culinary arts of France, you’re seeing first-hand what you can create with Vook. It’s a David Lebovitz book on pastry, it’s only 2.99, and it’s easy to read on any device, which makes it almost as irresistible as one of David’s petit-fours.

    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.

    Vook in Motion

    Watch the Vook video!

    Screen shot 2024-01-23 at 5.38.35 PM

    We demo’d our platform today at DBW (without a hiccup!) and fielded lots of curious eBook creation questions at our booth. For everyone who couldn’t be at the event, please check out this video. We’re launching it in honor of of our DBW appearance. It gives you the complete picture of what’s in the works at Vook.

    eBooks (and Vook) everywhere

    Apple’s iBooks 2 and iBooks Author announcement ahead of next week’s Digital Book World lit up eBook discussions like a bonfire of paper books or, you know, End User License Agreements—which is exactly what many commenters seemed to want to make of Apple’s EULA for iBooks Author, which requires books created with the application to be sold exclusively through iBooks.

    EULA brouhaha aside — Apple’s an innovative company, a valued distribution partner and we think they’ve made a sharp tool.  There’s more than enough room for other eBook creation platforms (like us!) to co-exist with what Apple’s developed. We’re agnostic in who we serve; they’re a grand cathedral—though more like Osaka’s Church of the Light than a gothic Chartres.

    Content holders are going to need platforms to create files that can be accessed by a multitude of devices and readers, both those existing now and those yet to come. Vook’s already delivering this service, and our output file types and feature sets will grow ever more robust.

    We’ve been featured in articles and interviews this week, both giving our take on the Apple announcement and talking about what we’re building. Here’s a quick round up of the Vook press coverage for those keeping score.

    Vook in eBook Newser: We defend publishers, which isn’t too surprising—some of our best friends are publishers.


    Vook in GigaOm: We give some perspective on the iBooks Author announcement.


    Vook in Digital Book World: We deploy the phrase “barbed wire gardens”.


    Look for us next week at Digital Book World!

    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.

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