Earlier this year, I chatted with Anna Lewis (@anna_cn) and Oliver Brooks (@cn_oli) about their new startup, ValoBox — a platform that allows readers to consume books by the page, chunk, or as a whole. The duo has been hard at work through the summer and fall, and ValoBox has launched. I got in touch with Brooks to see how the platform and development have progressed. Our interview follows.
How has ValoBox evolved since our interview in May?
Oliver Brooks: The product has stayed laser focused on keeping things light and simple. It has gone through a lot of tweaks to the user interface and system, to boil it down as much as possible.
ValoBox is really comprised of two applications, the publishing system and the ValoBox reader.
The changes to the publishing system have focused on ease of integration use and quality of output. The system can now create a ValoBox book automatically from an ONIX and EPUB file feed. A lot of effort has gone into making sure the content is presented perfectly, even when split into small, purchasable sections. We’ve also built a system similar to Google Analytics for books, which provides the publisher with information for each book, such as where on the web is best for selling books (Twitter feeds, blogs, etc.) and details about how each book is used.
In our earlier interview you discussed a “premium layer for the web.” Is that still guiding your efforts?
Oliver Brooks: Absolutely. We believe books are just the start of our game — we see ValoBox as suitable for premium articles, audio, video, and even web pages. We think premium content should integrate with the web rather than be a separate ecosystem.
The existing book reader interface will be one of many portals into premium content. We have designs for interfaces that don’t intrude on the design of a website at all. When you want to buy something, you will see ValoBox branding and have an easy way to purchase the content. As almost everyone is always signed into a system of some kind — be it Twitter, Facebook or Google — our vision is that you can always access premium content with just a click.
How does ValoBox work?
Oliver Brooks: It’s an HTML5 application that runs inside any modern web browser. This means you can access it from any website, on any device wherever you are. Content is stored in the cloud and streamed securely from our servers on demand. A future enhancement will mean you won’t even have to be online to read books you have read before; they’ll automatically be stored on your device for later.
How does ValoBox help readers?
Oliver Brooks: The core benefit is accessibility to premium content. ValoBox lets you access an entire catalog, and you can choose which pages you want and buy them for cents at a time.
So, you might see a book reviewed on your favorite blog or hear about an interesting topic from a Twitter feed. A couple of clicks and cents later, you can be reading what they are talking about. We think it’s ridiculous that books are locked behind lengthy and expensive checkout and download processes, and then require special applications to read when videos and audio are available with a click.
Another huge bonus is our social retail system. If you like what you read and think you know someone else who would like it, you can share it with an embed or a link. Anything that is bought from your share will earn you a 25% cut.
How does it help authors and publishers?
Oliver Brooks: Authors will have an awesome tool for promoting their books. Books can be integrated with their websites and social media promotions, providing the tip of the pyramid leading to many other shares and embeds. All the activity is tracked in real time to give an unparalleled level of knowledge about where books perform best. Don’t forget that if an author sells the books, they will not only get their royalty but also the 25% ValoBox social retail cut.
As for publishers, they get a great way to empower their readership to create new and sustainable sales channels. Imagine thousands of innovative readers finding the right places for books inside their personal and professional networks. No traditional retailer could dream of going into places such as a university e-learning environment or a team management wiki, or of garnering sales from inside a full-scale social network. Just like authors, publishers have real-time, detailed analytics of how each book is being bought. They also have a view of how all of their books are read across the entire web.
I like to think of ValoBox as a way to realize the value of creating a symbiotic relationship between the content creation and consumption communities, rewarding each one for their efforts appropriately.
This interview was edited and condensed.