Lighting Up the World’s Text: A Talk with Vook Founder Brad Inman
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doing video profiles of book authors. Publishers were looking for new ways to market and promote their authors. By getting to know publishers through that experience, I began to learn about their fears and concerns and sometimes (rarely) their enthusiasm about e-book. If such a big industry was wringing their hands in fear, it seemed like a big opportunity.
We looked at maybe having TurnHere do e-books, but they were very focused, so we spun it off. I had written a novel on a lark, and I got a filmmaker and a couple of engineers and we started mixing video and text. The company lore is, one day I was typing “book,” and the V key is next to the B, and I typed “vook.” But the name turned out to be fortuitous, because people say it piques their curiosity.
X: Did you feel there was something lacking about the old-fashioned book?
BI: I think of publishing like the Tate Museum in London. The conventional art is at the Tate, and the Tate Modern does all this new, innovative stuff. In music videos, people at first thought that having videos set to music was insane. Our belief is that authors will come together with filmmakers and make things happen. Our company was built around this idea that creators will do new stuff, because they can, and we are just about helping to enable that. We have now down 60 titles and should do about 300 this year, which will make us one of the largest independent publishers.
X: In some ways, what Vook is doing reminds me of what producers of edutainment CD-ROMs were doing as long ago as the mid-1990s. Did you study that genre at all?
BI: I was never in that world of CD-ROMs and never used them myself, so I’m pretty unfamiliar with it. If you just look at computers, every day there is text and there is video, so I’m not sure how original my ideas were. I had somebody say to me once that they were reading a book, and then flipping to YouTube to get related videos as they were reading. When I heard that, I thought “Wow, you could do that a lot easier.”
X: Do you think some genres are better suited to the video e-book treatment than others? Cookbooks and self-help books seem to lend themselves well to your format, for example, but what about novels—do you have a harder time there knowing how to supplement the text?
BI: I don’t think there’s any limitation. People say non-fiction works better, but if people hadn’t started playing around with new ways of presenting fiction we wouldn’t have movies. The very fact that there are tools artists can use means this will happen in fiction as well. There are some things that are suited better, maybe. We are big into the inspirational category, where people want to meet the leaders, like Gary Vaynerchuk or Seth Godin or Stephen Covey or Deepak Chopra or Karen Armstrong. Those are best-sellers. But we’ve also done a very good job of selling some of the fiction we’ve done.
X: If you talk to committed readers, a lot of them will say they love to get absorbed in a book, that there’s something immersive about reading. I’m just playing devil’s advocate here—because I’m fascinated by multimedia myself—but I wonder whether having video and other media at hand can sometimes interfere with that immersion.
BI: I used to know people who were journalists and complained when they got a PC that they missed the sound of the carriage return on their typewriter. I used to like talking to my travel agent. Technology enables people to do new things. We are not destroying the book; you can still go and … Next Page »