co-founders of CompletelyNovel, Anna Lewis (@anna_cn) and Oliver Brooks (@cn_oli), have a new startup brewing. ValoBox, which is gearing up for private beta, will allow readers to consume books any way they want — they can buy pages, chunks, or entire books. Readers can also earn a 25% cut of sales by sharing and embedding books on blogs or Twitter.
Lewis and Brooks discuss the inner workings of ValoBox in the following interview.
(ValoBox will also be featured in the first TOC Sneak Peak webcast on May 31.)
What are some of the major issues with web-based content?
Anna Lewis: We’re looking at the issues around premium content on the web. By premium content I mean quality media that people are willing to pay for — books feature prominently in this category. It’s a bit cheesy, but I would summarize those issues as “hoops, headaches and hangovers.”
A major issue with premium content is the number of hoops we currently have to jump through to get it. It is often tucked away behind a checkout process on a separate e-commerce site or a subscription paywall. This is enough to make casual web users run for the hills.
If you do stick it out, then you are rewarded with a product that can be a real headache. Best case scenario, you get to a web article or a fairly standard file, such as a PDF. In the worst case, it is an obscure file type restricted by DRM. All the downloads require special software to open, which you might not have.
After you’ve bought from a few places, the hangover kicks in. You are juggling different logins, files, licences, and software sprawled across your devices.
How will ValoBox overcome these sorts of barriers?
Oliver Brooks: We think of ValoBox as a premium content layer for the web. Rather than pulling users away to a different platform or website, ValoBox sits comfortably on top of communities of users who want to interact with that content on their own networks.
To enable integration with the web, ValoBox’s content and the delivery system are designed to web standards. ValoBox content can be embedded in any forum, website, or blog, or shared in any Twitter or Facebook feed. To reduce other barriers to access, we have created a pay-as-you-go system. This makes the “shall I buy it?” decision much easier. Anything spent is taken off the cost of purchasing the whole book, so there’s very little risk. My favorite thing about this is that premium content can be linked to and accessed easily, so that fluid web browsing experience is not interrupted.
Once the content is accessible, we can start to do some really cool things with the community surrounding it. ValoBox will reward every member of the content community who shares books with 25% of any sales that occur from those shares. Sharing can be as simple as tweeting a link or embedding in a site, or, for developers, integrating the content with web and phone apps.
How will ValoBox work? Can readers move something like a Kindle book into the system?
Anna Lewis: It’s probably easiest to throw out an example. Let’s say you are a publisher and you load up one of your titles to ValoBox. The ValoBox book is in the form of what I tend to call a super-widget — it’s an embeddable reading application that you can place on any website, which will not only let customers start reading without leaving the page, it will let them purchase, too.
So, a customer, “John,” comes along to one of your titles and starts reading. John decides to write a blog post about that title. He can embed the book on his blog and link to specific pages in the book that he identifies as useful for his audience.
Another reader, “Jane,” starts reading John’s blog and she jumps straight to the pages that John has blogged about. If she likes what she sees, she can pay for more pages, or the rest of the book. John’s opinion is clearly valued, so he will get a 25% cut of any sales to Jane, or anyone else who accesses the book through his blog.
Oliver Brooks: In terms of moving content between platforms or formats — such as moving a Kindle book into ValoBox — we have the philosophy that once a book is paid for, the customer should be able to get it on any platform they want. We have plans on how we can make this work, but it will depend on the publishers’ wishes.
When will ValoBox launch?
Oliver Brooks: We will be launching a private beta in June, when we will invite publishers and lead users to test the platform. We will use that opportunity to load more content, polish the interface, and take on board views that will help us get a great user experience. We’re planning a full public launch in autumn.
What inspired ValoBox?
Anna Lewis: I’ve been to publishing events where people in the trade have — only half joking — said that they don’t care if people read their books, they just care that they buy them. That kind of attitude can’t last when there are so many things competing for people’s attention. We want to give the best choice to customers and help publishers learn which bits of their books and communities are most valuable.
Oliver Brooks: ValoBox is a result of us, as web enthusiasts, working in book technology for three years. We’ve done a lot of thinking and experimenting, and talked to many people working in the publishing and tech industries. We have a strong aversion to the closed, proprietary form that ebooks have taken. However, as we run a book publishing service, we have also seen the requirement for effective monetization. I hope ValoBox will help provide the infrastructure for the content community to innovate, and ensure that premium content producers and their communities are supported.
This interview was edited and condensed