Digitisation has made books more accessible than ever, but that process has meant that some of the magic associated with gifting and sharing those reading experiences has been lost.
You can hand someone a paper book without giving them instructions on how to open it, or worrying if they have the right reading device. The same is not necessarily true for eBooks.
So, at ValoBox we have been working with Constable & Robinson to look at the way that we share content, particularly in the context of gifting, and try to transmit more of the ease and delight associated with physical gifting to the digital world. The result – the Gift An eBook website.
Why we wanted to look at gifting
Gifting digital files can often be painfully similar to file-sharing – something that is rarely described as a delightful experience. It frequently involves a long, complex series of steps that the recipient has to follow to get the file to a place that they can read it. The easiest flow is when you send a gift to someone who you know has the same reading device as you. But what to do if you’re not sure?
Companies like Enthrill have previously explored selling eBooks in bricks-and-mortar stores through the use of giftcards, which is a great way of bringing eBook buying into the flow of regular offline shopping. However, with many retailers and social platforms predicting that this will be the year when multichannel shopping really comes into its own and with an even greater variety of devices in households this Christmas, we wanted to fully take advantage of the potential convenience of giving a digital gift – where you don’t need to know a postal address, find a postbox, or go to a store.
eBook gifting needs to respond to retail trends and evolving consumer expectations, whilst becoming more personal and easy for the recipient.
How Gift An eBook works
There are three main elements to the ‘Gift An eBook’ website, launched with Constable & Robinson.
1. Sharing great reading experiences
One of the nicest things about giving a book as a gift is that if you have already read it, you can hand it over knowing that they are going to enjoy it, too. So, when creating the service, we decided that when you buy a book, you should be able to gift a second copy to a friend for free, whenever you want. We want to encourage and facilitate people sharing their reading experiences and help generate conversations around books.
2. Making it personal
Many people want to add their own personal touch to the gift as they would with a physical gift, so we started by designing the email to be more charming than the usual ‘X has sent you a book’ that you might have previously experienced. We wanted to keep a little of the anticipation and surprise of gifting, so we decided that we wouldn’t tell the recipient what their gift is in the email. You can also add a note similar to one you might write on the inside of a printed book, which will then be visible when the recipient opens it in the future. We’ll be adding more personalisation options over the next month too, including the ability to attach your own photos or images to your gift.
3. Making it easy
Easier for the giver
To gift a book all that’s required is that you click on the gift button inside the ValoBox reader. We’ve worked hard on making our signup process very quick (you only need to add an email address and password). Purchasing the book is easy too – just clicking on a ‘buy’ button will take you straight to the checkout.
We’ve opted for using a payment platform called Stripe – a US-based payment company which has just recently launched in the UK. Stripe makes it incredibly easy for first time buyers on ValoBox to input their credit card details. It has a device-responsive form that only contains essential fields and gets rid of all the hassle of zooming and scrolling that you might have previously encountered when paying on a smaller screen.
Easier for the receiver
Recipients only need click on the ‘See your gift’ button in the email they receive to be taken to a personalised landing page for the book. They can click to start reading instantly through the browser on whatever device they are using.
Rather than immediately pushing them through a sign-up process, we send login details to them via emails, so they can pick-up where they left off by logging in later (again, just using an email address and password).
How this project came about
In March 2013, Constable & Robinson put out a challenge to seek out ways to develop new, commercially focused means of sharing, discussing, gifting, or creating communities around publishing content.
The challenge was put out via IC Tomorrow – a government program that has been running a series of digital innovation contests, which see tech companies pitching ideas that respond to the challenges faced by leading businesses in the creative industries.
From a start-up perspective, this format of collaboration has a key advantage – you already know what the publisher is looking for, and that the time and resources are there for them to work with you to make it happen. This means that you can save a lot of time on pitching either something that the company is not ready for, or to someone who can’t say yes on behalf of their company (both quite frustrating!).
At ValoBox, our main aim has been to remove as many barriers as possible between the reader and the content they are interested in. One of the ways we’ve done this is by making our platform browser-based, so you don’t need to download anything or use a particular device. When it comes to sharing or gifting content, we saw that universal, fast access could be hugely valuable.
Anna Lewis is the co-founder of ValoBox and CompletelyNovel. Her focus with both ventures has been connecting content creators with new technologies so they can build a better relationship and experience for their readers.
Outside the world of publishing Anna has managed a series of international digital campaigns for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.