Anna Lewis

In 2010 Anna started working on ValoBox with Oliver Brooks. It’s a platform that offers web-friendly books, solving the problem of accessing expert information when you’re short on time or money. It lets you read books directly through your web browser, and only pay for the chapters you need.

Prior to that she set up the online publishing community CompletelyNovel.com which offers print-on-demand printing and other publishing tools to authors and small presses. She is passionate about finding ways that new technology can enable people to engage in new and exciting ways with books and authors. She talks to us today about Valobox, digital content and the fusion of the internet to the written word.

Anna Lewis and Oliver Brooks

Why did you decide to set up ValoBox and what have been your highlights?

In our experience of studying and running a business, my co-founder and I often found it far too costly and time-consuming to find specific bits of information buried deep within a book. Our research started with Google, but finding the trusted, up to date content that publishers had painstakingly curated, was too difficult.

ValoBox grew out of this belief that there simply had to be a better way of doing this. We created a web-based ‘pay-as-you-go’ eBook service allowing the reader to buy content in smaller pieces such as chapters rather than the whole book. It opens the door to new opportunities for marketing and selling books. For example, pages of a book can rank alongside pages of a website in search engines, and readers are able to share important parts of a book simply by sharing a link.

Particular highlights for us have to be this year’s Tools of Change Conference in New York, run by O’Reilly where we were nominated as finalists in the Start-up Showcase. We’ve seen large amounts support and interest on an international level, which we didn’t expect. Besides the US we’ve been invited to talk to publishers in Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Italy and India.

Describe a typical day at Valobox

We work with our head in the clouds most days. And I mean that as a technological rather than psychological statement. Our ‘shop front’ exists in the ether so we can be anywhere and it’s a working day for us. We have an office in Camden, but I’m often on the road at various conferences or spending time in tech heaven (San Francisco). I couldn’t live without google apps, dropbox, lastpass or twitter. My most frequent question is probably “What’s the wifi password?” Work is where the web is!

We’re constantly looking to improve and grow our service and so I’m usually in conversations with publishers, exploring their content and discussing how this could best be suited to ValoBox.

Oli is the technical lynchpin. You’ll generally find him analysing, managing or building improvements to the website as well as working on streamlining processes with publishers.

Do you feel that the service that Valobox (promoting specific parts of a book) is a sign of the times in terms of how people digest content?

Absolutely yes. We live in an increasingly fast-paced world. When it comes to information, people expect everything and anything to be accessible within nanoseconds. And they are loathed to pay for anything that is not directly useful. Traditional book publishing models sit rather uncomfortably with this concept but ValoBox uses the latest in web tools to quickly connect their content to those who need it. We’re also using web analytics to shed light on exactly how people actually read so we can give publishers a breakdown of what chapter and even page is most popular, and they can keep improving their product.

If you could travel five years back in time what advice would you give yourself?

Go for it! Don’t be afraid to get things wrong, it’s all a part of the learning curve. I’m pretty happy with what I’ve achieved but there have definitely been too many sleepless nights worrying over things that were ultimately not that important. So… “sleep more, worry less” I guess.

Who do you admire and why?

Joe Wikert and Kat Meyer from the Tools of Change team. They radiate so much energy, enthusiasm and optimism when it comes to bridging the gap between traditional publishing and new technology.

What predictions do you have for 2013 for publishing?

It probably sounds terribly biased of me, but I’m going to say that 2013 will see books in browsers make a transition from the new-kid to the accepted way forward. It’s definitely starting to pick up pace (it’s not just a handful of us doing it these days). The fusion of web and books can only increase and although it won’t be ubiquitous by the end of the year, I think most publishers will have it as part of their future strategy.

Lastly if you were the living embodiment of a publishing business model what animal would you be and why?

This is a pretty bizarre question! Well, I think maybe the ValoBox business model is most like a hive of bees…

ValoBox books can fly around the web and pollinate the publishing ecosystem. Instead of waiting for a chance gust of wind to spread the knowledge, ValoBox actively takes it to where it can take root and germinate.

Everybody gets a share of the profits (the honey?) whether it be the publisher, the author or the person who promoted the book.

A huge thanks for Anna for taking the time to talk to us about Valobox and the concept of it. It’s always fascinating for us to get an idea of what’s happening at the front line especially from groups and entrepreneurial individuals. You can find Anna on Twitter here: @anna_cn and Valobox here: @valobox

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