Over the past few months, excited chatter and disgruntled skepticism about the iPad from Apple has dominated the conversation in the newly-plowed terrain of electronic book publishers; before the advent of the iPad, however, there was the Vook (rhymes with book). According to vook.com, a Vook is—
a new innovation in reading that blends a well-written book, high-quality video and the power of the Internet into a single, complete story.
You can read your book, watch videos that enhance the story and connect with authors and your friends through social media all on one screen, without switching between platforms.
Not surprisingly, Vook’s titles are already available on the iPad and it is abundantly clear that the company is pushing iPad content, as several titles (including Sherlock Holmes), are available for free on the iPad, but not online or on the iPhone.
What is not clear, however, is who exactly Vooks are intended for.
Vooks are a collaboration between publishing giant Simon & Schuster and Vook itself, with video content provided by internet video production company Turn Here. Titles include classics, such as Joseph Jacobs’ Jack and the Beanstalk and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, though self-help and technical books make up the majority of the Vook catalog. The “sneak peeks” available on the Vook website are mostly text, with an overview of what to expect on the integrated video. Here is part of the blurb for Seth Godin’s Unleashing the SUPER Ideavirus:
The most downloaded ebook in history, Unleashing the Ideavirus is Seth’s clear-eyed and to the point manual on how to make sure your ideas reach and affect the greatest number of people.
Now it’s become something brand new and immediately relevant as the Unleashing the SUPER Ideavirus Vook. Featuring eighteen videos and links to the Internet, Unleashing the Super Ideavirus is the best way to experience Seth and his insight up close and personal. In the videos, Seth speaks about marketing, innovative ways to spread your ideas out and companies that have succeed with unexpected techniques. Other videos profile companies who have taken creative approaches to sharing their ideas.
Computers, tech, and marketing reading on a high-tech gadget? Okay, that makes sense. But one of Vook’s first titles was Promises: A Romance Novella, by Jude Deveraux a best-selling historical romance author. According to Romance Writers of America, only 6.5 percent of romance readers use audiobooks, and 5.4 percent read e-books/use another electronic format. 90.3 percent of romance novels are read at home, too, rendering the portability of the iPad and the iPhone moot as readers could simply view Vooks on their computer.
There is something to be said for home use of the iPair, though; as Kindle users have noted, it is much easier to curl up in bed and read with a lightweight e-reader than with a hardcover or laptop, and Vook could be counting on at least some readers using their iPad in bed, although current (albeit limited) reports suggest the iPad, (~1.6 lbs, compared to the Kindle’s ~0.6 lbs) at least, is still too heavy to use comfortably in a reclined position for long periods of time.
More confusing, nine out of the eighteen Vooks currently available are titles generally found in the children’s department, from the Margery Williams classic The Velveteen Rabbit to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Granted, some of these titles may have been included because the books are now in the public domain, along with a few other Vooks, like Holmes, but why weight your catalog list with younger kids’ titles when your target audience is mobile consumers? While some children may have iPhones or iPads, it’s certainly not the norm.
Still more limiting, Vooks aren’t available on smart phones other than the iPad except through the online interface. Both mega-bookstore-turned-e-book retailers, Barnes & Noble and Amazon offer reading apps for non-Apple platforms (though B&N haven’t yet moved beyond the BlackBerry), encouraging the use of their titles across devices.
Unlike Penguin’s app-books, Vooks seem to have little point. There is no interactivity beyond the now-standard social media connections, and the video content appears to be about the same as the extras found on author and publisher sites all over the web.
While the iPad may render Vook’s video beautifully, pretty isn’t enough. Perhaps you can judge a Vook by its cover.