Over the past several years, industry executives have been casting about for new business models that will allow them to monetize their print assets in an increasingly digital world. Last week, two publishers unveiled new products that look to do just that. Simon & Schuster teamed with multimedia startup Vook to publish four video—e-book hybrid titles—dubbed, appropriately, vooks—while Disney Publishing Worldwide launched a more ambitious effort in Disney Digital Books (disneydigitalbooks.com), a Web site with the central feature a $79.95 annual subscription entitling customers access to, at launch, 500 Disney titles online.
While S&S has characterized its deal with Vook as a test, Disney is supporting the DDB rollout with an extensive online marketing campaign. In a webcast discussing the launch, Disney Publishing Worldwide president Russell Hampton called DDB an “additive experience” that will reach new readers who have not read Disney’s traditional print books. While Hampton still expects Disney’s print business to grow, he said DDB will be “a key growth driver for our overall business” and expects the product to be “very successful” for many years.
S&S has more modest expectations for its vooks, which meld text and video content in a digital edition. The publisher, which launched four inaugural vooks last week, is testing the market to see if—and how—consumers warm to the content. Among the four vooks that went live, two—a thriller (Richard Doetsch’s novella-length Embassy) and a romance (Jude Deveraux’s Promises)—are available exclusively as vooks. The other two titles—a workout guide (Pete Cerqua’s 2008 The 90-Second Fitness Solution) and a makeup book (Narine Nikogosian’s forthcoming Return to Beauty)—were expanded from the print versions.
S&S’s choice to work with books that have been published as well as content that will never make it into traditional print, speaks to the experimental nature of the partnership with Vook. The vooks, which sell for $6.99, could prove valuable in a number of ways. They could be marketing platforms for authors—a way to entice readers to buy pricier print and e-book editions. Or they could be viable revenue drivers on their own, standing as alternatives to either print books or e-books. Or they could simply be add-on content. The vooks—which can be downloaded as an app onto an iPhone or iPod Touch or to a desktop/laptop—are value-added books, featuring a series of minute to two-minute videos that either riff on the story line or, in the case of the nonfiction titles, demonstrate either workout routines or makeup instructions.
While the expectations for vooks and Disney Digital Books may be different, both efforts point to an attempt by publishers to embrace interactivity. Hampton said Disney chose a Web-based platform because it provides the closest experience to reading a book; additionally the site supports full color, something e-readers do not. Among the interactive features are a “look and listen” option that allows children to hear the story read aloud, and a “story builder” feature that enables children to create their own stories. As technology evolves, Hampton said, Disney will explore adding DDB to other platforms.
Similarly, vooks have interactive features—from the titles, readers can log on to author Web sites and join social networking discussions, via sites like Twitter and Facebook. Vook is also touting the fact that its hybrid titles are ideal for both desktop and hand-helds, pointing to the reference potential for desktop use and the advantage of having clips of things like workout routines on your iPhone.
DDB and Vook also allow the publishers to sell directly to customers and to control the pricing. Disney said it plans to add a retail option for DDB, which could include bookstores, primarily through the sale of gift cards. “We are in advanced discussions with several retailers at the current time,” a spokesperson said. “We expect gift cards to be available at retail starting this holiday season.” As for Vook, it’s looking to partner with other publishers. The company’s partnership with S&S is also continuing, with plans to create more vooks with the house’s authors.