I was lucky enough to be invited to a beta of Vook and given a free account. Because I used an early free account, I did not have the option of using Vook for distribution and used the platform only for generating epub and mobi files of my ebook.
The file generation for each format was pretty straightforward. I liked how I was able to import a Word file in its entirety and I could easily embed video, but there were a few hiccups.
Vook, like pretty much every other ebook generation platform, does not handle tables well. So if you embed a table in your book it’s likely there will be glitches in how the table shows up on ebook readers. The work around is to either use a different format other than a table for communicating your content or create an image of the table and upload that image.
Also, I embedded a video in my ebook. To do that I had to change the format of my video (originally in Quicktime) to an mp4 format. I found a handy dandy conversion application online for free, but found out the hard way that the audio bitrate of the converted file had to fall within certain guidelines for ebook retailers and therefore Vook to accept the file.
I could write a whole blog post on the process of getting my file converted, but suffice it to say, when you convert a file using an online tool, don’t believe what the tool tells you and convert to a bitrate higher than what you need.
Moreover, while the Vook guide is helpful, their help forums are not. The search function is poor and a lot of issues are not covered. On a couple of occasions I gave up on the forum and just emailed the Vook guys directly. To their credit, they responded promptly and kindly.
Listening to users is one of the reasons I like Vook. Since their beta they have made a host of changes to their service based on customer feedback. For example, they heard from users that the initial pricing was too high and they responded by introducing a more reasonable monthly package for smaller self-publishers. That was cool.
Today, individual authors and small publishers can take advantage of the Vook service for only $9.99 a month. That includes an ISBN (though note that this is supplied to you and not actually owned by you) and Vook doesn’t take a cut of royalties.
There are, however, some costs to using Vook that are not as obvious. First, the main draw for me to use the platform was that Vook allows users to easily integrate rich media – different fonts, video, etc. Something that eBookBurn (I used eBookBurn to generate another ebook) currently doesn’t allow.
Unfortunately, what wasn’t made clear by Vook when I produced my ebook (and it’s still not clear on their website) is that Amazon and Barnes & Noble will not accept rich media files via their self-service tools (KDP and PubIt) and while you can submit a rich media epub file to Apple’s iBookstore, it can be tricky to actually get it approved.
The upshot is I spent a lot of time creating mobi and epub files with video that I ultimately couldn’t use myself.
As you might imagine, this is where Vook steps in and points users to their distribution service. If you pay for their service (the monthly fee includes distribution) they can get your rich media file into Amazon, Apple and Barnes & Noble. No muss, no fuss.
But it’s all or nothing. At least until Amazon and Barnes & Noble open up their self-service platforms to rich media files.
Frankly, I’m not a fan of companies doing the distribution for ebook authors/publishers. I don’t think there’s a real purpose for these companies to get in the way of authors/publishers. There are really only three main retail outlets for ebooks right now: Amazon, iBookstore and Barnes & Noble (there are a ton of independent outlets you can reach through services like Smashwords, but truly they make up a tiny portion of sales and are often just not worth it) and they are not that difficult to manage.
I am a fan of technology enabling authors to become their own publishers. After all, authors are the brand when it comes to books, not publishers. That may change. Inkling, anyone? And as rich media ebooks become more prevalent the world of book authors/publishers may begin to look more like the world of mobile app developers. Who don’t rely on distributors and who look a lot like the music industry, but I digress.
Further, what happens if Vook (God forbid) goes out of business? Or more likely, you stop paying your monthly fee? Well, your ebook is pulled from retailer sites and provided you downloaded a copy of your file for yourself and still have it, you’ll have to go to the retailers directly.
Finally, you might be thinking it’s still worth it to use Vook to get your rich media/multi-media ebook published on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. And you might be right. I didn’t use their distribution service so I can’t say.
But to give you a sense of what you get for $9.99/month, note that I did create an epub file for Apple that was less than fifty pages and included a short video at the very end. That file was 24MB. The $9.99/month starter package gives you 100MB of storage. If you do more than one rich media ebook you’ll eat that up in no time and you’ll be forced to upgrade if you want to publish more.
In the end, ebook file generation is a commodity business that new technology erodes every day. So I’m not overly excited by technology platforms that make generation easier. It’s nice, but not that exciting.
The real need in the ebook market is discovery – how consumers learn of books and how authors/publishers get discovered. To wit, this market needs marketing tools.
There are definitely folks out there working the marketing angle – Wattpad, Goodreads, Readlists, to name a few. But the two sides of the problem (creation and discovery) have not met in the middle.
I could see Vook using their creation platform to discover talented authors/publishers and then promoting those books for a fee or share of revenues. That would make Vook look more like technology-enabled A&R, but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.
So should you use Vook? I’m not going to “should” on you. Consider what you need and proceed accordingly.
For more on publishing ebooks see this post.