The Rise of Ebook Platforms

Digital publishing is a hotbed of startup activity, though that activity is somewhat threatened by recent moves Apple has made to enter the space. Some companies aim to gain traction based on the hype Apple brings to any industry it takes on rather than be crushed under the weight of its sizeable influence.

One of those companies is Vook, an e-publishing startup that finished up a successful private beta of its multi-platform digital publishing tool earlier this week. In an interview with Vook’s Vice President of Business Development Matthew Cavnar, he spoke about the beta, which generated an impressive 584 e-book titles in a 90 day period, and about his company’s plans for the future.

Cavnar sees ebooks as a space with plenty of growth potential, not just because they provide a means through which more authors can get their content into the hands of readers, but also because they offer a way for media companies to monetize a wide range of content, including audio and video, in a simple, digestible format that’s accessible across a range of devices. Cavnar noted that NBC recently announced a new publishing venture, making it the last major network to have an affiliation with a publishing company (the others share parent companies with publishing houses). Media companies are looking to reach audiences in as many ways as possible, and Vook offers a solution that Cavnar says companies are eager to explore. He says they’ve already won over some significant paying customers, including business material publisher FranklinCovey, ahead of the platform’s wide release.

Vook isn’t alone in seeking out the opportunity to provide third-party clients with the tools to create rich media ebook experiences. Inkling announced its new Inkling Habitat platform on Tuesday, which provides users with an “integrated publishing environment” built specifically for professional publishers. Inkling’s target audience is similar, but the idea behind opening up its product as a platform other companies can use is the same. Inkling’s founder and CEO Matt MacInnis says the response to Habitat’s launch has been immense; in the three hours following the product’s unveiling, he’s heard from “many hundreds of different publishing organizations” that have asked to join the program. The company is gating access in order to make sure every company that signs on can take full advantage of what Habitat has to offer.

Habitat provides a way for publishers to update content once and have it roll out to multiple platforms simultaneously, allowing people to work in the cloud collaboratively on co-created content. It’s a one-stop solution that provides a way to start and live in the digital medium, instead of the traditional process of working backwards from a printed product.

Turning an ebook startup into a platform is an emerging trend in 2012. 24symbols also announced last month that it’s turning its “Spotify for books” product into a SaaS offering aimed at publishers, in addition to educators and service enterprises. The idea is that 24symbols will allow businesses to create personal, on-demand libraries for use with a specific, targeted audience. It’s markedly different from what either Vook or Inkling is doing in terms of reach and audience, but it’s also about providing an easy way for businesses to get their content quickly and easily into an ebook format that’s cross-platform, easily updated across a range of devices without a significant amount of rework. With businesses moving more towards bring-your-own-device models of IT hardware deployment, that’s no small advantage.

Both MacInnis and Cavnar expressed the opinion that Apple’s launch of iBooks Author has only served to invigorate the ebook space and expand the opportunities available to all. MacInnis says that Habitat caters to a different clientele than Apple’s publishing tools, and contends that Apple wants tools like Inkling to succeed just as much as its own, since more content that works on its devices ultimately means more users. Apple may have done a lot to bring interactive ebooks to the forefront of public consciousness, but companies like Vook, Inkling and 24Symbols are the ones that will help put content in the hands of those now-curious users.