For a long time, I’ve felt like something is missing from the online book buying experience - which currently seems way too clinical. So, almost a year ago to the day, I quit the day job and set out to create Inkflash: a VirtualReality (VR) book discovery website; I’ve since been joined by a couple of programmer friends, and we launched the new site about a month ago.
What Inkflash absolutely isn’t is a replacement for bookshops. Faithful 3D recreations of bookshops have been attempted before, but utterly failed to set the world alight - and with good reason. The real experience of a bookshop is the touch and smell of the books, the ambience as you step in from out of the rain or the noise of a city street, that rather awkward avoidance of eye contact with other shoppers; and, best of all, the return to your home with a carrier bag of prized new tomes. Any attempt to create an online version of that would be doomed before it got off the ground.
But I still wanted to create something that’s more of a fitting experience for buying books than a clinical point-and-click website. So Inkflash, then, is something brand new. Authors can sign up to create virtual “rooms” that are themed to evoke the world or period that their books are set in; and visitors can browse for murder mysteries in virtual recreations of Victorian London, or find perfect books for Winter in a snow-laden park where the only sound is the crunch of their footsteps.
The result is something that, I hope you’ll agree, is far more than simply an attempt at a 3D bookshop. Inkflash mixes social media with Virtual Reality (yes, the sort seen in 1990s movie The Lawnmower Man), with a particular emphasis on books and authors. But you don’t need a chunky VR headset to use Inkflash: simply visit the website, click the Start Exploring button, and settle in. The site is an ever-growing labyrinth of themed rooms; the perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon exploring books, and discovering new authors along the way.
Rooms are linked via doorways, so visitors to the site can wander from one room to the next, exploring books and discovering new authors as they go. Although Inkflash is still very new, it’s already shaping organically into different “neighbourhoods” of historical novelists, science fiction authors, romance authors and so forth. A room itself can resemble a dimly lit cave, a stormy mountainside, a castle, a twinkling panorama in outer space; or even a pub. Whatever befits the books contained within the room.
As ‘The Writing Desk’ is a blog for writers, I’ll go into some detail about how Inkflash can help you, as an author, to promote your books. But first I’d like to emphasize that getting a room on the site is really straightforward; and being an author with a room on Inkflash is actually a lot of fun (and more activities on the Web should be fun, not tedious!)
A nice benefit of going 3D is that the books themselves, which have become very “flat” on the Web, are more like tangible objects again, that you can pick up and turn around:
Even Kindle books can (optionally) have back covers and book spines now.
I’d initially planned to offer author rooms free of charge, but quickly realised that this wouldn’t necessarily work, even for the authors involved: having taken the time to set up a themed room that perfectly represents your books, you wouldn’t want thousands of people to set up “casual” rooms for free, drowning out the quality with copious amounts of quantity. Instead, there’s a small monthly fee of £10/month. This also means we can afford to spend time modelling each room individually; so each author has a truly unique home for their books. (Everyone can view the rooms for free, of course).
So, your new room is set up, and anyone on the Web can visit. How can you best put Inkflash to use, to promote your books?
Your author room can be used as the hub of your book marketing activities, or as a “side dish” that complements your other activities with a nice dash of 3D. Either way, a few very quick, straightforward activities will help you get the best from your Inkflash author room and help your books reach a new audience.
First, the most obvious (and most effective) way: link to your room! Each room has its own bookmarkable web address; e.g. historical novelist Fredrik Nath’s room is at:
http://inkflash.com/FredrikNath . As with any web page, as web traffic to your room grows, the room will grow more popular; more people will link to it, and so on. It’s the “old-school” viral network effect, from before social networks became popular.
Your room can also be displayed on your own blog or website, rather like embedding a YouTube video. We provide an “iframe builder” to make this very easy to do; and it’s a great way to add a touch of 3D magic to your own site:
Inkflash will fit right in with your social media marketing plan; for example, anyone who visits your author room can tweet a “room photo”, at the click of a button. Your author room - along with your books - may just go viral!
Repeat visitors are the lifeblood of any website, and your author room is no exception. So it makes sense to keep the room updated with new content. Thankfully, this is made easy for you, as we can display blog feeds, Twitter updates etc, on a “message wall” inside the room. Everything in the room is interactive; so posters, videos and message walls can link back to your website or book page.
If you’ve spent time and/or money creating a book trailer, you’ll want to feature it everywhere possible. How about on a video wall inside your 3D room? It’s funny how our perception of the world can play tricks on our senses, but in a virtual environment it really is like seeing your book trailer up on a big cinema screen.
We also embed the YouTube version on your Book Details page, along with any reviews of your book. So, in addition to your 3D room, the Book Details page can become a central hub of activities around your book, automatically updated:
A fair few of you will have participated in virtual book tours; they’re a wonderful way to launch a book or to increase a book’s visibility for a time. On Inkflash, you can add a new dimension to book tours, literally. As it’s easy to add and remove books and posters from your room, you can host a guest author’s book during their tour, along with a personalised note describing the book, and a link to its Amazon page.
Here’s where a virtual book tour (Inkflash-style) really pays off though. When someone views a book’s details page, they’ll see a list of links to all rooms that the book appears in:
So if you’re hosting a book by a guest author, your room will also appear. More inbound links to your room means, we hope, a growing audience and more book sales for you.
That about wraps it up for now… there’s actually plenty more I could mention here, including our future plans for Inkflash, but the term “information overload” springs to mind! Perhaps there’s scope for a follow-up Inkflash article on The Writing Desk… Please feel free to post any suggestions or questions in the Comments section below.
During the year leading up to Inkflash’s launch, there were real signs that social networking and Virtual Reality will soon converge: not least when Facebook bought VR headset pioneer Oculus for a mind-boggling $2 billion. Social networking has already shaped how we all sell and market our books; and now, it seems, VR is shaping up to play a big part in the future of social networking. So it follows that book marketing and VR will also converge in a big way. So the timing really couldn’t be better. As web-based VR becomes more mainstream, authors on Inkflash will be very well positioned to ride this new wave. If you’re an author (aspiring or published), I hope you’ll join us on Inkflash very soon!
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About the Author
Based in London, Matt Stephens is the owner and co-founder of Inkflash, and founder of indie Historical Fiction publisher Fingerpress. Before that he spent 20 years as a software developer, mainly in finance, and wrote some books on software design. Authors who would like a virtual room on Inkflash should contact Matt without delay, at: email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @InkflashVR and @maffstephens.