At a time when print book sellers like Barnes & Noble are in retreat, digital books on the iPad and Kindle hold a lot of hope for keeping books alive in the digital age. But so far most of the titles are just digital versions of printed books, with maybe a video or two thrown in. Slowly, however, as new capabilities are added to these digital books and they are linked to the living Web, some books will become more than just books.
One company experimenting with the form is Vook. Started by Brad Inman, who previously founded TurnHere and HomeGain, Vooks are electronic books sold in versions for the iPad, iPhone/iPod Touch, and the browser. They generally incorporate video, sometimes produced by one of the TurnHere network’s 10,000 freelance videographers, but up until now they didn’t go much beyond that in terms of presenting a new experience.
Vook is in the process of updating all of its titles on the iPad, beginning with Reckless Road, a tribute to Guns N’ Roses written by one of Slash’s early friends from high school who documented everything with video, photos, and his recollections. The Vook has a new interface, and a slew of new features, including the ability to highlight text and share it with your friends via Facebook, Twitter, or email. Since there are often videos in these Vooks, you can share those also. Within the next month or two, more social features will be added such as the ability to leave comments and ratings. “I think we are going to find out better and better ways to light up the text,” says Inman.
There are 62 Vooks available, including Seth Godin’s Unleashing the Super Idea Virus and Gary Vaynerchuk’s Crush It!. There are also cookbooks, and Sherlock Holmes mysteries. Inman says that by the end of this year, Vook will put out 250 titles. Upcoming titles include another Seth Godin book , Linchpin and a version of Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Discovering Your Life Mission. Self-help seems to be big theme in the catalog.
Each Vook costs anywhere from $2 to $17. Most of them are priced around $5. But the new Vooks also support ads which can take over the entire screen. These will be able to tap into regular in-app advertising networks, and will also b used to cross-promote other Vooks.
None of the Vooks I’ve seen have really blown me away yet. I think that is just because they happen to be repurposed print books instead of created from scratch with videos and images in mind. I suspect that the cookbooks and other practical how-to books will benefit first from the incorporation of video. But Vooks are cheap to make. Inman estimates that most Vooks can break even after selling a few thousand copies, sometimes as little as 500 copies. Most books need to get into the tens of thousands of print copies sold before they start to break even for the publisher.
Electronic books like the Vook are disruptive in that they don’t need to sell as many to be competitive. Maybe that means fewer blockbusters. But a big hit will also be much more profitable. Vook is still waiting for that hit. A vook that sells 2,000 copies is considered a success. Overall, only 30,000 Vooks have been sold (100,000 have been downloaded if you include free versions).
Are Vooks what will replace books? I don’t think so, but Inman is pushing in the right direction.