Q&A With Kotobee Founder Ayman Abdel-Rahman

logoI was looking for a free tool I could use to publish ebooks to the Android platform when I came across Kotobee Author. I downloaded a free copy and discovered how easy it was to use and how versatile. In this interview Ayman CEO of Vijua talks about the Kotobee Author, its many features and how it can help aspiring writers, publishers and educational institutions.

What’s your elevator pitch?

Kotobee is a comprehensive solution for creating interactive ebooks and libraries in different formats, supporting all platforms.

Who is your ideal customer?

multiplatform-1Well, Kotobee really fits anyone wanting to create an ebook, putting aside all the tiny details. But ideally, our customers would be educational institutes (training, universities, schools) and ebook distributors.

What are the pros and cons of producing an app version of an ebook as opposed to a standard ebook for the iBook Store?

We get asked that quite a lot actually. For an app to work as an ebook, an embedded-reader is required. That is, an engine responsible for running the ebook file, providing common functions like search, note-taking, bookmarking, etc. That’s one of the things offered by Kotobee. Having an embedded-reader gives you the advantage of doing whatever you like with the interface. You can control the design, layout, functionality, etc. An app can have your own logo and name, hence stronger branding – something that is not possible with standard ebooks. The embedded-reader however increases the size required for download.

Library CustomizationA standard ebook for Apple’s iBook Store will give users the luxury of accessing all their ebooks from a single app, i.e. Apple iBooks. Publishing to the iBook Store is free, in contrast to the App Store, which charges $99 annual. Ideally it would be best to publish to both formats.

What ebook formats can be created using your solution?

The ebook formats supported by Kotobee Author, our creator software, are EPUB, Kindle (MOBI), HTML5 web apps, Mobile apps for Android, iOS, Windows Phone, desktop apps for Windows and Mac, and SCORM components for an LMS. All these formats are actually free to create on Kotobee, with the exception of mobile apps.

One of the services you provide is a branded e-library. What are the benefits of this service and what kind of customer is that aimed at?

Kotobee libraryThe Kotobee library solution is targeted at institutes who want to have their own platform for serving ebooks or courses to their users, instead of publishing ebooks individually. So the institute will have their own branded library app to offer to their students. The institute can then dynamically publish books to the library from a friendly administrator panel, plus they control users’ access to the library. User permissions can be assigned to specific books or book categories. Their library app would be made available for web, desktop, and mobile.

Our library solution is a significant investment and provides a full end-to-end solution for institutes.

With the library app you can:

  • Publish books dynamically (individually or in bulk) and edit them on the fly.
  • Collect statistics on book view and downloads.
  • Create book categories and genres.
  • Add users to the library, with different access permissions.
  • Limit the number of devices to be used per user, for security reasons.
  • Customize the look and feel, and enable only the components you need.
  • Assign different administrators and authors to your library.
  • Export the library to multiple formats.
e-Books have been slow to make an impact on the educational market. Why do you think this is?

Kotobee Reader AppThat’s a good question. We are actually seeing ebooks catching up really quickly in the corporate training sector, but not so much for large educational entities, that are long established and deeply rooted. Changes with such entities are slow. That explains why we are finding the majority of requests coming from small or new institutes, rather than established ones. Large entities are interested in having solutions that integrate with what’s already in place, rather than replacing it. Our SCORM ebook format is kind of popular actually even with older universities, because that simply plugs into their systems without any risk of change.

What do you view as Kotobee’s greatest achievement so far?

We’re proud to be offering the most comprehensive white-labeled ebook solution available today in the market.

What mistakes have you made and what have you learned from them?

Kotobee adA marketing mistake we had made in the past, is not providing a free value for users in Kotobee Publisher, Kotobee Author’s predecessor. Although we provided a free trial, this was not sufficient. To capture users and make effective exposure for your software, you really need to provide a free value to the users. This made exposure for Kotobee very slow. In Kotobee Author, we’re providing a good free package, for commercial or non-commercial use, without asking for anything in return. This has increased our customer loyalty and exposure through word of mouth.

How do you intend to change and develop Kotobee for the future?

Kotobee uiCurrently we are extending our ebooks’ SCORM components, to introduce new integration capabilities with LMS for universities and schools. We will also be creating support for built-in payments inside libraries, for example users can assign prices for ebooks and receive payments immediately into their accounts.

I know you are based in Egypt. Can you describe the startup scene in Egypt?

Egypt is a promising region for local entrepreneurs starting their ventures. The resources exist to initiate projects with zero-investment. These resources include various investment programs, co-working spaces, affordable offices, and a number of annual startup events to help network with key people. At the time of writing, a government-based fund exists to assist tech-based startups in different ways, leveraging up to 70% of their costs.

AymanAyman Abdel-Rahman is a digital publishing enthusiast with 10 years of experience in the ebook industry. He graduated from the University of Waterloo, Canada, with a Masters degree in Computer Engineering in 2006. Ayman spent his childhood in Kuwait, a few years in Canada, and currently settled in his home country, Egypt. He established Vijua in 2011, after the Egyptian revolution. Coming from a technical background, he is a certified project management professional (PMP) and is currently the managing director of Vijua, with particular focus on the Kotobee platform. Before establishing Vijua, Ayman was managing the Media & UX department at The Book Depository in Cairo. Ayman likes to write about ebook technologies in the Kotobee Blog and answers related questions on Quora.