Why Vook Became Pronoun to Keep Chasing a Share of E-Publishing

With a new name and a few changes in strategy, a New York-based e-publishing company is still trying to become a central character in the next chapter of digital books.

In June, Avalon Ventures invested $3.5 million into Pronoun, previously known as Vook. Pronoun’s CEO Josh Brody likens the evolution of digital publishing to the way videos and music proliferated online. However, there is more to the industry than turning manuscripts into e-books, he says: “As the book business shifted online, the traditional forms of market research were becoming irrelevant for the decisions publishers needed to make.”

A gap exists, he says, in how authors of e-books get discovered and promoted. Back when his company was still called Vook, it offered authors software tools to quickly publish and promote their digital titles. The company gives authors a way to get their e-books distributed through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google, and Apple, and has collected data so authors can make decisions on how to price and categorize their titles, says Brody, who joined Vook via an acquisition in 2014. Over the years, Vook worked with The New York Times, Fast Company, and The Wall Street Journal, as well as independent authors.

Vook, co-founded by Brad Inman, has gone through some growing pains since its birth in 2009 in the San Francisco Bay Area, and relocation to New York. At first, the company combined videos and books, hence the name Vook, in a multimedia package. Over its history, Vook raised some $7.8 million before the rebranding.

The video-embedded in digital books strategy faded to the background as Vook went on to land deals with media companies to quickly publish e-titles. For example, the company could produce e-books for The New York Times that repurposed or augmented stories from the core newspaper within a few hours, Brody says, to be sold or given away to subscribers. That compares with traditional publishers, who could take up to 24 months to get a book on shelves.

Back in 2010, while Vook was getting off the ground, Brody separately co-founded and led a startup called Booklr, which provided data and analytics on the burgeoning e-book marketplace. In February 2014, Vook acquired Booklr, combining that data research with digital publishing services, Brody says. He came onboard at Vook as chief operating officer, then later became CEO.

These days as Pronoun—the name Brody says was adopted in May to better reflect a forward focus—the company helps authors find copy editors, cover artists, and publicists to work with, in addition to its other e-publishing services. Further, the company wants to help authors take more control of the economics behind the publishing industry, he says.

Brody says Pronoun is an “author-first” platform, compared with the old standards of the industry where publishers control what books get released and their distribution. “In return for licensing your rights, publishers gave you a modest advance, but then they were the majority owners of the profits going forward,” he says.

Some of the new funding for Pronoun, he says, will go towards expanding the staff of 20 in such areas as engineering and product development. Other investors in the company include Lerer Hippeau Ventures, SV Angel, Floodgate, Founder Collective, Baseline Ventures, VantagePoint Capital Partners, Felicis Ventures, and Tribeca Venture Partners.

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