Lighting Up the World’s Text: A Talk with Vook Founder Brad Inman
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buy a regular book. But there are people who respond extraordinarily well to the immersive experience of video, and to the experience that video can add to text.
You’re right, though, there is something sacred about a book. My father said once, “Why are you doing this, it’s like attacking motherhood!” And I said, “Dad, we’re not attacking anything, we’re adding a layer that people can choose to engage with or not.”
By the way, I think we’re going to see new forms of storytelling that we can’t even imagine. That is the part I’m really interested in pursuing. Our stuff is only as good as the authors’ original stories, which today is mostly text. But there are people who are going to go out and tell stories with their cameras. That doesn’t ruin anything that already exists.
But the bar is always higher for technology. The same people who used to wait half an hour in the bank-teller line now get upset if their ATM takes more than ten seconds. So we have to show them that this is a better experience.
X: You launched Vook before the iPad came out, and your first vooks were readable only on the iPhone and in Web browsers. How has the iPad changed the landscape for you?
BI: Before the iPad, I had this mission of going around telling people about mixing video and books, and the reality is that Steve Jobs and the iPad are telling my story a lot better than I ever could. We put vooks on the browser and the iPhone with the anticipation that the device market would make it easier over time to render mixed media. We just had no clue they would render it as beautifully as the iPad does. In fact, it raised the bar for us, and we are now reworking all of our titles for the iPad. We’ve come out with 20 and soon it will be all 60.
X: What do you have to do differently for the iPad?
BI: It’s a visual device so you have to lead with the visual imagery. The whole UI and look and feel of the product is so much more visual. [Inman pauses to demonstrate Reckless Road, the company’s first fully iPad-optimized title; it’s a tribute to the hard rock band Guns N’ Roses.] You can see we have much more in the way of graphics. There’s more emphasis on video, and the text takes a back seat. We have 250 images in here and 50 videos. Then you can also share in all kinds of new ways. It has the typical e-book reader stuff, like adjustable fonts. But it also has ads, which is a very controversial idea. We are going to experiment with live streaming and all kinds of stuff. The vision is the same—we’ve just been given this wonderful, game-changing device that allows us as creators to do something different.
X: You mentioned advertisements, which is one way to get away from the old economic model of single-copy sales in publishing. Do you think mixed-media books will bring with them whole new ways for authors and publishers to earn money?
BI: We’re experimenting. For example, in the e-book world you can sell “singles” instead of “albums.” We have a golf title that sells in bookstores in the form of a $19 book with a DVD tucked in the back. We took that one book and turned it into eight separate vooks and sold them for $5 each. So we are demonstrating that publishers can get double what they could before, and leverage the value of what you have and get better economics out of each unit.
Then there’s advertising. These ads are elegant, they’re not going to get in your way. And in the future we may give people an option. The consumer can choose: would you like to pay $6 for this e-book, or is it okay if, say, Fender Guitar sends you some ads? Those are things that haven’t really been done in the book world.
X: Do you plan to take vooks beyond the iPhone and iPad?
BI: Sure, we’re going to be on Android and everywhere. We already have a ubiquitous, HTML5 browser product. The challenge with the other platforms is that they don’t have that elegant marketplace like iTunes. With Apple, it’s like a candy store. Whether other platforms will be able to create that monetization platform is a big, open-ended question. But we are going to be everywhere. We don’t have an ideology—we’re too new.
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