There’s been a little buzz lately about a new e-publishing concept called the Vook, a supposed marriage of video and text. If you believe all the press releases, the Vook is the future of publishing, the salvation of readers everywhere, and the best thing to happen for authors since the invention of movable type. Of course, if you believe press releases, you need a serious reality check.
I wanted to know what this “Vook” thing is about, and after reading several conflicting comments from reader/viewers I decided I’d check it our myself. Within minutes of that decision, I popped $4.99 to download a Vook to my iPhone.
I chose a Romance Novella as my test case, Promises by Jude Deveraux. As always, the App Store made it way too easy to drop five bucks on a whim. The download took a while—at 108MB, this is HUGE compared to most iPhone apps—but it installed without any complication or complaint.
The complaints began shortly after a quick look-see, when I went to the online Vook site and discovered that buying the iPhone edition gave me absolutely nothing if I wanted to read my purchase on the web-based platform. To evaluate the web version of the same book I’d just bought for my iPhone would cost me an additional $6.99. In a world where I can buy an e-book from Amazon and in moments I can read that book on my iPhone while Sharon reads the same book on her Kindle 2, I found that unacceptable and refused to play (or pay). That’s really a shame, because from what I’ve seen, the web-based platform is much more video-integrated and has more potential than the iPhone version. If someone from Vook would like to toss me a comp, I’ll be glad to take a separate look at the online platform–but the inability to read the same purchase on both platforms is a real deal-killer for me.
Exploring Vook for iPhone
Unlike most of the other e-books I’ve read, Vooks are stand-alone applications (as opposed to reader apps that can select from a library of books). When you launch the app, it displays the lovely title screen shown above. It’s good that it’s a pretty screen, because unless you read the entire vook in one uninterrupted sitting, you’ll get to see this screen a lot. On my iPhone 3G, it takes around ten seconds of this screen before the app loads.
After the App loads, it presents a chapter listing and demonstrates what is, to me, a serious weakness. The Vook app can’t remember what you’ve read, the way virtually every other e-reader app can do. This is a major annoyance, particularly if you’re the type who likes to sneak in a page or three at slow traffic lights or while answering nature’s call. You can’t even fold down the corner of a virtual page.
Once a chapter is selected, the user enters the actual reading interface, a straightforward screen where all the usual iPhone finger movements work to change pages. Vook, however, does not support landscape mode. To view videos (which only play in landscape mode), the reader touches the play buttons when they appear.
Vook uses the built-in iPhone video player, which means leaving the reader to view video, then returning to the reader. The lack of video integration makes for a nasty roadbump that pulls the reader out of the story every time he or she views a video clip. That might be okay for non-fiction, but for fiction, it’s quite disruptive.
The Story: Promises by Jude Deveraux
Promises is a Romance Novella, and like most romances is horribly predictable. I found that disappointing. I expected a story written specifically for a new, cutting-edge platform to be a bit more creative, or even a little outside-the-box.
Promises is written in an omnipotent point of view, meaning that the narrator can see the thoughts, feelings, and reactions of every character in a scene. This isn’t the first romance I’ve read that does this; Nicolas Sparks comes to mind as another best-selling author who’s fond of this method. What I find interesting is that all the modern mentors who are molding the writers of next week spend a great deal of time spanking new writers for doing exactly the same thing (they call it “head-hopping”). I seldom read omnipotent POV, and when I do I find it annoying. I occasionally have to stop and go back a few lines because an abrupt head change has jarred me out of the story. Personally, I think it takes a lot more skill to tell a story one head at a time, but you may feel free to disagree.
The Text & Video Marriage
The big question with which I began this exploration concerned how the video content and story content would merge in a Vook. The video content was well-produced and highly creative, but when married to the text it not only didn’t enhance the story, it detracted from it. Every time I stopped reading to launch a video, it knocked me out of the story. While this may be less the case with the video more integrated into the text (such as the web version), I found another phenomenon: The video images sometimes conflicted with my own mental pictures. I’m a very visual reader (and writer), and I create my own visualizations of settings and characters. Frankly, mine are better than the filmmaker’s, because they’re mine. They reflect my thinking, life experience, and personal creativity. This was my greatest disappointment with the concept.
- Pocket size
- Colorful and pretty
- Lots of potential for non-fiction application
- No interplay of iPhone and web-based formats; you have to pay twice for the same product to use both readers. Vook claims it’s because the two use different selling platforms, but Amazon seems to have worked this out with the Kindle.
- No capability to bookmark last read page.
- Lack of video integration jars reader from story
- Videos pull reader out of the story and conflict with reader’s imagination
The Vook is an interesting concept, and I can see its application for non-fiction, particularly in how-to, travel, and history books. For fiction, it’s a flop. The web-based version may be better (I haven’t experienced it), with text and embedded video displayed on the same screen.
Hmm… text and embedded video on the same screen. Interesting idea.
I think Vook may have invented the web page.