After much initial groaning over the neologism “vook” several months ago, Vook has finally launched with its initial selection of digital books.
And they’ve managed to bring something good to the discussion too.
A full explanation of the Vook digital book web interface is at the Vook blog. I’m not going to rehash that. Instead I’ll point out what’s exciting and innovative about it below.
Above, the digital book cover.
Check it out: paging is not done via flipping. It’s a sideways scroll. This is beautiful. It’s the way things should be done. The designer put some real thought into this for the future. The future of desktop computers is a touchscreen — and this will also be absolutely killer on the iTablet.
We’ve already seen the Microsoft (nee Editis) video of the dual-screened Courier. What Microsoft requires two screens to do, Vook’s designer has shown a economical framework for using a single screen.
The video is well shot — what I could see of it (more on this later). This isn’t someone grabbing a Flip camera and playing at being a director (the case with too many book trailers).
In the mixed view, the economical design is made apparent with two pages on one screen: the left is video and stationary, while the right sideways scrolls to the next page. This is brilliant! For all of Microsoft’s supposedly-bright people, why couldn’t they think of that instead of trying to burden the future with an expensive second screen?
Now about that embedded video. I couldn’t play it. That’s not Vook’s fault, however. I’ve already detailed how video playback on my PC has been crippled by Microsoft updates. Before the updates, I was able to play any video perfectly. Post-update, even lightweight low-bandwidth standard YouTube is very skippy.
What Vook’s running into here is precisely why the iTablet is going to be a monstrous hit — even beyond the monstrous hit of the iPhone. I won’t explain that statement right now. I’m saving that for a future post.
Let me just say, however, if your machine doesn’t have any video playback problems, the Vook embedded videos should play just fine for you.
Unfortunately, people will have to choose which kind of vook they’ll buy: the web version or the iPhone version. Right now, purchasing doesn’t give a buyer access to both. This is a shortcoming I hope Vook will address. It doesn’t make sense to me for people to have to choose between the two — or worse, pay twice.
Anyone who has an iPhone most likely also owns a Mac or other powerful desktop machine. Still, between buying the web version or the iPhone version, I’d recommend the iPhone version because it can be carried around.
I’m not going to comment about the content because I’m currently unable to see the video and judge how it works with the text. Guy LeCharles Gonzalez stated on Twitter that video embedded in fiction felt “like basic cable movies stuck in the book.” I can’t yet judge. But what I can say is that these are early days and this is all brand new.
The early days of television mimicked radio, until it began to mimic Broadway with live plays. Then the Hollywood studios finally joined in with serialized filmed programming. Television didn’t start out as it is today. Pioneers had to go in and make mistakes and discover what suited that medium. It will be the same with digital books — especially with fiction. People seem to immediately — if not intuitively — grasp how non-fiction digital books would be a plus.
I’d like to see Vook try its hand at two things:
1) Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus — since this is all public domain material (or so I suppose!), it’d be relatively inexpensive to create. I remember the cry of skepticism that went up when plans for the animated TV special was announced. This could work as a beautiful vook.
2) Time and Again by Jack Finney — this is the 800-pound gorilla that even Hollywood hasn’t been able to tackle. It’s published by Vook’s print partner, Simon & Schuster too. Finney’s book already has period illustrations in it. There’s more that could be done to enhance it and add to its charm. But I warn Vook: this is one of my favorite books of all time, so any adaptation must be capital-G great.
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