Saturday, March 5, 2011

COD: Vook – The platform that changes everything in book publishing

Thanks to ad:tech for publishing this first.

One of my wonkier interests is book marketing – a field with its own rules, realities, and best practices. I’ve heard that ultimately the industry is built on only a couple million consumers. OK, cookbooks can get beyond that core set, also romance which has something like 30 million core readers, ditto catchily titled books “written” by semiliterate pro wrestlers and UFC stars. But for most of the segments, there’s this fairly tiny set of power readers that hold the walls of the biz up. Similar to how hard core gamers can make or break a title in that business. (I am guessing hard core readers and gamers are decidedly dissimilar in demos and psychographics.)

So I have been interested to see how the world reacts to Vook, a platform that combines book-style narrative text with photos, video, and social media integration. Here’s the movie:

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Of course, every industry is anxious to see how digital can enrich its business – publishing is no exception. Since its launch Vook has garnered a strong list of authors and titles including Seth Godin, Deepak Chopra, Anne Rice, Gary Vaynerchuk, Slash of Guns N' Roses and Karen Armstrong. Additionally, a number of the largest and more significant publishing houses in the US. including Simon and Schuster, Penguin Group, Harvard Business Press, Harper Collins and Hachette Filipacchi, are releasing broad appeal titles to Vook. There isn't a huge number of titles yet, but it’s growing steadily, and the pace is accelerating as more people try out the platform.

Vooks are available on the site, in the Amazon store for Kindle and in the app store for iPhone and iPad. Since all hype looks most over the top in the Romance genre, I give you the trailer for Promises, by Jude Deveraux. It’ll give you a sense of how the Vook format enlivens content and can enrich a story.

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Obviously, only a small number of people who read these posts are in the book trade. But Vook is significant on a pan-digital industry level for a couple of reasons.

First, it demonstrates how digital can transform mature categories and add interactivity and exchange to seemingly staid, traditional businesses.
Second, the Vook format seems an interesting potential platform for marketing messages at some point in the future. Would consumers interact with multimedia brand experiences if they enriched book content? Absolutely, I think. Imagine a “cozy” mystery series, with video and enactments in a Starbucks, or a way to send virtual cups of coffee to friends.

Third is about audience extension, and how digital may be able to broaden the appeal of a category. Anyone who has been to my house knows that I am part of that small population segment that drives publishing. I have perhaps 4,000 books in my house, on shelves that climb 14 feet into the air and pretty much cover every wall surface in my tiny unit.

I can certainly see myself enjoying a Vook, particularly in certain emotional genres. For example, the ability to see The Last Supper while reading Da Vinci Code, or having a vid move in and out and make clearer the hidden symbols, yadda yadda. And WHAT A WAY to promote movies based upon books!

But the question really is, will the Vook open up new population segments to more frequent reading? Or even any reading at all?

I bet that Vooks can increase the number of titles read by light and medium category buyers, but that the non reader will remain so, despite the advent of the Vook. Perhaps more importantly, Vook and Vook trailers will offer the opportunity to better communicate a story than can cover or spine art, and that’s good news as well.

The social angle is fascinating. Reading is of course nearly always a solitary act, but the incredible growth in the number of book clubs demonstrates that readers want to be able to share their experiences. Vook integrates social right into the platform, which offers the added benefit of driving awareness and personal endorsements for titles. Marketers may also find the cohesive demos of certain book genres irresistible as well.

Whatever you think of the concept, Vook is definitely worth watching. Will it succeed? Will it be a niche? Only time will tell. In the meantime, it’s time for me to get back to watching The Raven.

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