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[Review] Vook: Books and Videos come together - but is that a good thing?

John Federico

I've been following Vook (the company) for awhile and was excited to see that they've wasted no time releasing their first Vook (the product).

As for the product, here's a description from 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.

Given current trends - the challenges of the book publishing industry, the adoption of ebooks, the use of the iPhone and other portable devices becoming more pervasive, near ubiquitous wireless broadband - I found the concept of Vook (the product) intriguing. This review is based on a thriller entitled The Embassy by Robert Doetsch.

There are two types of Vooks:

  1. Those that are sold as iPhone apps
  2. Those that are browser based

Each share the same basic premise - mixing text with complementary video - but with slightly different approaches. Here I review both types.

The Vook iPhone App

A Vook title is sold as a unique iPhone application. You purchase it in the app store like any other using iTunes on your computer or iPhone. The current price is $4.99 USD. 

 

Launch it as you would any other iPhone app.

 

  

 

...and you'll be greeted with a splash screen - the Vook equivalent of a book cover.

 

 

By default, the first screen you see is the Read screen which also serves as the Table of Contents. You can select any chapter from this screen.

There are also icons at the bottom that when tapped allow you to Watch, Connect or learn About the book, er, Vook.

 

 

Selecting a chapter presents the text of that chapter. If you tap the screen once the ereader controls will appear at the top enabling you to bring up the Table of Contents, skip to the next or previous chapter or adjust the font size. Double tapping the right of the screen advances a page while double-tapping the left goes back. You can also use the standard iPhone swipe motion to advance forward and back.

 

 

At times, a banner will appear on a page which links to relevant video for that chapter.

 

 

Tapping the banner begins the video playback in Landscape orientation, just like YouTube or iTunes content.

 


 

Tapping the Watch icon will present the list of videos contained in the Vook in a sequence that mirrors the banner appearance in the text.

 

 

The Connect screen seems pretty useless on the iPhone app. Here you can learn about the author and the film makers, visit the author's site, visit the publisher's site, follow the publisher on Twitter or follow Vook on Twitter. Unless I missed something, there's no connection to twitter to allow you to tweet, say, what chapter you're reading from the app.

They probably just needed a fourth icon for the toolbar. I expect the app to become more refined over time.

 

 

All of these things could have fit under the About menu which contains the equivalent of the book jacket information, ISBN, etc.

What's it like to read a Vook on the iPhone? The experience is smooth and stable while the interface is clean and uncluttered. It behaves like most other ebook readers for the iPhone except that there is the presence of video.

Perhaps it was user error, but I found that the application didn't remember my place within the text. Instead, I had to select the chapter, then page through until I found where I left off. This could be a bug (with the app, or me.) ;)

 

Vook in your Browser

This instance of the Vook concept has me stumped. One of the key contributions to the lagging adoption of ebook readers was portability which, of course, was remedied by Amazon and the Kindle. After all, who wants to sit at their computer and read a full length book? The only reason I can see adding this capability might be for use on netbooks, but the screens are too small to handle the layout. You need a full-sized notebook and net connection to consume your Vook. This could be an area of expansion for Vook - netbook-optimized versions of a Vook.

After paying an additional $6.99 for the privelege, you login to Vook.com and are presented with the a splash screen which is the equivalent of the book cover (similar to the iPhone app). 

Click to Enlarge

In this particular case, clicking the Start the Chase link will put you in Read view. 

 

Click to Enlarge

Like the iPhone app, Read view also contains the video call-outs in the form of banners. Clicking the video call-out banner immediately moves you into Watch view.

Click to Enlarge

Note that in Watch view, you have the opportunity to click a tab at the top of the video labeled Read. A semi-transparent layer drops down so that you can read and watch at the same time, albeit with the video content partially covered.

Click to Enlarge

There are a string of thumbnails at the bottom of the screen that, similar to the iPhone app, presents the videos contained in the Vook in a sequence that mirrors the banner appearance in the text.

You can change viewing modes by selecting the icons in the upper right corner. Your view options are Watch, Mix, Read, Connect.

 

The most interesting component of the online Vook is the Mix view. Mix view provides a unique layout that enables readers to consume both video and text in a single interface. Video can play on the left while you page through the text on the right. I'd like to see news sites adopt this approach, though admittedly there wouldn't be much room for ads.

Click to Enlarge

 

The Connect view in this case is much more useful than the iPhone app. Here you can use Facebook Connect to add the Vook to your profile, Tweet directly from the Vook online application and even follow a twitter stream of people who are reading the Vook. (Each tweet is auto-populated with a hashtag. In this case it's #embassyvook) You can also learn more about the author, follow them on Facebook, etc.

Obviously the folks at Vook (Vookers?) are hoping for some serious social media love here, but premium content, especially books (or Vooks) aren't all that shareable. Perhaps if they got hooked up with LibraryThing, Shelfari, GoodReads and their brethren they might see some uptake in social media distribution. Couple that with an affiliate program to sweeten the deal and it might work. Might. 

Moving on to the other features, there's a Table of Contents in this version of the Vook that can be made visible on the lower left of the application.

 

Readers can also set bookmarks for their favorite passages. This feature can be activated by selecting the Bookmarks icon in the lower right of the application screen.

 

Bookmarks 

The font size can also be adjusted and, for even more Vookiness, the entire Vook can be viewed full-screen. 

One thing to note is the co-branding that Vook provides a publisher. During a time when publishers are concerned about their corporate brands, this a positive step toward publishers continuing to test new media.

 

Final Thoughts

Plusses

+ A Vook provides rich interactivity on both the iPhone and online editions.

+ The combination of text and video can enhance understanding of specific subject matter.

+ Battery usage is nominal: I read the entire Embassy Vook in less than an hour (it was very short) and the application barely made a dent in the battery life of my iPhone 3GS.

+ The settings and controls on both the iPhone and Online editions were simple, easy to use and worked flawlessly.

+ The videos in the online edition were in high quality HD format.

 

Minuses 

- At least in the Vook I purchased, the videos don't appear to add much value. In fact, they detract from a work of fiction. When reading a work of fiction, you imagine what the characters look like, how they act and generally create your own map of the physical landscape in your head. The characters didn't come close to what I was imagining.

- Who wants to read full length books on their computer?

- Who wants to read full length books on their iPhone? (A lot of people do, actually. Personally, I prefer my Kindle. YMMV.)

Suggestions

  • I have a strong feeling that Vooks are better for non-fiction titles, where the video doesn't interfere with the reader's imagination. Give one of them a try first.
  • The Vook brand architecture needs to be better thought through. The naming conventions - Vook the company vs. Vook the product - can get confusing, especially for someone who is trying to share their enthusiasm for what the company produces.
  • A netbook edition might work, though it should be self-contained and not require network resources. If the audience is without wifi or 3G connectivity, it will create a negative experience.

 

 

Note: I paid for the iPhone app but received access to the online Vook for free - Vook was running a promotion that gave buyers of the iPhone edition free access to the online edition.