Vook Acquisitions Chief on the Future of Publishing Technology

By Jeremy Greenfield, Editorial Director, Digital Book World, @JDGsaid

If content is king of the digital book world, then technology may be the divine right to rule.

Publishers, booksellers and authors who have made smart technology investments over the past several years have reaped the rewards. Erotic romance publisher Ellora’s Cave made early technology staffing investments that paid off. Amazon, for one, has captured huge market-share through making it easy for readers to access books through technology. And self-published authors have leveraged book production platforms and new-media sales and marketing channels (read: Twitter and Facebook) to sell books directly to readers.

Enter a whole host of technology vendors that never existed before: E-book production and distribution houses, meta data consultants, social media experts, and so on. With clients from big-six publishers to NBC to Google, Vook is prominent among them. Vook is a cloud-based e-publishing platform that offers those that want to publish their own books the technology to edit, format, publish and distribute e-books.

To get a sense of what’s going on in publishing platform technology, we sat down with Vook vice president of business development Matt Cavnar. The timing was prescient considering Apple’s announcement yesterday of its new self-publishing tool. How does a company like Vook stay competitive in the face of new daily developments in publishing technology?

Cavnar is a founding employee at Vook and as VP of business development, he finds new clients, new intellectual property and helps determine the product and business roadmaps for the firm. We spoke with him about Apple, the publishing company of the future and why people will read more – as soon as they get more comfortable with new technologies.

Related: Apple iBooks Author Tool Sets Stage for Showdown With Amazon

Learn more about new publishing technology and the future of e-books at the Digital Book World Conference + Expo in New York City from January 23 to 25.


Jeremy Greenfield: What a week in publishing. With the Apple announcement and the DBW conference coming up (admittedly, it’s our conference, but it is gathering much of the community together; apologies for the shameless plug). Good time to talk. So, what did you think of the Apple announcement?

Matt Cavnar: First of all, congratulations to Apple. They’ve been a great partner for us. Everybody would agree that textbooks are better off digital and this is going to speed that. It’s also really good because this is really a plug for e-books. This is not an app announcement, this is about e-books.


JG: As in, creating something fancy with bells, whistles, etc. as an e-book rather than a native app?

MC: Yes. Apple is putting weight behind the idea that e-books are the file format of the future.


JG: What else?

MC: We like the tools. We see some similarities in design in the Apple tool [and our tool] and that’s great to see. Great design minds think alike. Apple creates beautiful things.

The next part is the complication and the fact is that they’re introducing another proprietary file format [.ibooks]. Vook reaches the other 99% of the market. That [.ibooks] can only be delivered through one store front, one device. But when people release books, they want them to go everywhere. Using our tool, you can go cross-platform.


JG: Back to Vook. What’s the status over there? Revenue? Employees? Hiring?

MC: We’re keeping the number of employees under the radar, but it’s over 20.

We’re not sharing revenue right now.

We’re recruiting like mad. I’m recruiting for five rolls: Everything from engineering to marketing to customer support.


JG: You are backed by several investors, including venture capital firm Vantage Point and have received about $5.25 million in funding. Usually venture capitalists expect a big return for their investments. Book publishing is a famously low-growth industry. How do you expect to return on the investment? And when?

MC: This company is all about creating something that works. If you’re focused on a goal line, you’re going to run until your body collapses. What we’re focused on is creating a company that provides substantial value.

Digital publishing is not just book publishers. It’s the rapidly evolving world of digital content. Our tool can be the [Adobe] Dreamweaver of that experience. [Dreamweaver is a highly popular HTML creation tool.]

What we’re looking at is going beyond publishing companies. We’re looking to go to media companies that have an audience and tell them that they can create digital books and deliver them to that audience.

That’s why we think the future of Vook is unlimited, because we have a huge market of companies we can go out to. It’s not just publishing companies but the whole world of content.


JG: Is Vook the publishing company of the future? A technology tool that content creators can leverage?

MC: Vook is the publishing platform of the future. If you have a powerful enough platform, it can serve the needs of the original creator as well as an enterprise level organization.

We’re going to remove the pain and complications around the actual creation of the e-book because it’s actually incredibly vexed. Even some of the major publishers are having problems with digital conversion, so it’s a serious pain point.

It’s also about making a better looking e-book. It’s interesting, the designer’s role has become a hand-coders role. You have to hand-code them to make them look nice. That’s hard for a medium-sized publisher that wants to put out 400 titles but wants them to have a unique look. That’s why we have a styling tool. E-books don’t have to look like everything else out on the marketplace. You can make something that’s uniquely yours.


JG: Speaking of publishing companies, there has been debate lately about the relevance of publishing companies.

MC: Publishing companies are relevant because the creative capital they have is outstanding. They have gathered within their walls the smartest people when it comes to this kind of content. They are both the curators and producers. Curators say that you should read this; curator-producers say that you should read this and we made it for you so you can read it. And that’s very valuable.

The alternative is that you have the content creator saying “I think this is a good idea” and providing it directly, which is great, but then the landscape becomes more fractured.

People need editors. They need production, they need marketing teams. Publishers can solve the tricky marketing problems.

I’m really interested in the fact that so many young tech companies find ways to take existing intellectual property and chop it up or re-imagine it or put it on devices. None of the young technology companies are in the content creation business.


JG: One production issue that publishers have to think about right now is how they are going to prepare for more e-readers supporting EPUB 3. What should they do?

MC: They should be building sample EPUB 3 books. They should have someone on their team build it and test it. And then figure out how to implement a new workflow.

One of the interesting things about EPUB 3 is that it’s a richer experience and you can create richer things, but how do you integrate it into your workflow? Something we’re looking at doing is building a template of EPUB 3 enhancements and applying it to a range of content. You can’t test with just one thing because it’s too likely that you’ll hit an outlier. If you do 20 to 30 books, you have a basis to test how effective these enhancements are and you give the consumer an experience they can adapt to.


JG: Will people adapt to it? Will people read more or fewer books in the future?

In my own life, in my family, I have seen the amount of book consumption explode. My father walks around his kitchen now with his iPhone in front of his face reading books. He read more books in 2011 than in the decade before that.

Once people get over the hang-ups they might have reading digitally, they will purchase a lot more books. They will immediately pick up the next book in a series. They will read easier.

Publishers might not be optimistic, but I am enthusiastic because I see people that weren’t readers are reading all the time because digital makes it so easy.


JG: What are you reading and on what platform?

MC: I am reading The Map and the Territory by Michel Houellebecq [Knopf]. It’s very funny, very humane and I’m reading it on my Kindle app for iPad.

Write to Jeremy Greenfield

Learn more about new publishing technology and the future of e-books at the Digital Book World Conference + Expo in New York City from January 23 to 25.


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