Importing Archive.org Books with Booki

For some months, Booki has been able to import Archive.org books. This development was sponsored by Archive.org. When importing a book, Booki requests an ePub from Archive.org, converts this to the ‘native file format’ (booki-zip) and loads this into the Booki database. It is then possible to export the same book back into an ePub file.

So, if Booki can import an Archive.org ePub and then export it as ePub what is the point? Seems like Booki is an unnecessary conduit. Well, one point is that with Booki you can export the book into multiple formats – such as book-formatted PDF. That means you can take any of those luscious out-of-copyright books, import them into Booki and make real books from them. This is pretty exciting when you see just how lovely some of these books are. Take for example the copy of Cinderella in the American Libraries section of Archive.org.

Cinderella original edition
Cinderella Edward Dalziel, 1865

This version of Cinderella is out-of-copyright and you can republish as you like. This is a pretty exciting prospect, opening the door for anyone to start their own publishing house importing content from Booki, styling, and exporting to print-formatted-PDF for printing.

However, there are a few steps that you may need to go through first, and this is the real reason why we have implemented importing from Archive.org. All the books in the Archive.org libraries have been created using OCR (Optical Character Recognition) scanning. The process involves loading books onto book scanners and scanning each page.

Archive.org Book Scanner.

However, scanning creates a certain amount of errors. OCR doesn’t render all text correctly and cannot tell the difference between text on a page and text in an image. Hence images with embedded text are usually split up, with the text elements saved as plain text and the surrounding image saved as multiple smaller images. So the OCR-scanned books need proofing and the import feature in Booki enables proofing of OCR scanned books from Archive.org. This means that teams can get together remotely, choose a selection of Archive.org books, and get to work improving them.

While this is all working, we want to build a tighter workflow and a few extra tools to assist the proofing process (if you are a developer familiar with Python and interested in helping us with this good cause then let us know). Douglas Bagnall (Booki/Objavi developer) recently extended the import functionality so that all the metadata imported from Archive.org is preserved. This opens the door to utilising this information to assist proofing of the content – we hope, for example, to eventually be able to show the complete digital image of the original scan, before it was reduced to OCR, alongside the OCR pages to assist proofing. Watch this space!

Incidentally, Booki can import any ePub, so this means that the way is open for the same proofing process to be applied to other OCR scanning projects. If you have a project like this then let us know, maybe we can help.

Bookimobile takes to the road

Last week the new Bookimobile took to the road. It’s a van that has everything inside to produce books, a mobile book production lab and powered by Booki!

Bookimobile in Barcelona

The van is a VW T4 and has the following equipment:

Fastback 15XS Binder
Ideal electric paper guillotine
Samsung 2851 ND duplex black and white laser printer + ink
IP4000 color inkjet
Heaps of paper (A4)
Card for covers
Scissors, rulers, paper knives, cutting boards etc
Power cables, extension boards etc

With all this, you can make books!

The idea is based on the Internet Archives Book Mobile. We pretty much stole the idea from them (we asked first 😉 and loaded the van with everything needed to make books and drove it on its first outing 2000km from Berlin to Barcelona. It was a long haul.

The process of making the books takes some time to refine but we learned a tremendous amount. In short, the process runs like this:

  1. create a book in Booki (we used existing books)
  2. output A5 book-formatted PDF from Booki
  3. print the PDF as a ‘booklet’ using the duplex (for double-sided printing) printer
  4. cut the book to size using the paper cutter
  5. bind the spine using the Fastback 15XS
  6. print the cover
  7. work out where to crease the spine to wrap nicely around the contents
  8. add the cover to the contents (it adheres with the binding spines we use for the fastback)
  9. trim the book nice and tight with the cutter

That’s it! Once printed, the procedure takes about 5 minutes and the total cost for a 100-page book is less than a Euro. The books look great!

Freshly cut book

The Bookimobile is designed to take book production to the world. With Booki and the equipment, it’s possible to go to schools, events, festivals, streets and make free books…

Booki User Guide

We will document more of this shortly on the blog and talk more about the Bookimobile and the process of producing books. We will also work on Booki to help the production of books using home or office duplex printers.

The Bookimobile is sponsored by Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, Mozilla, iCommons, CiviCRM and the Internet Archive. Many thanks to these organisations for making this possible.

The Book as Motivator

It is amazing what a great motivator it is to say to anyone, “you will be part of making a book.”

It sounds exciting. It is! It has more power than saying, “you will be part of making a PDF or web page.” Although… that’s actually what we are doing, creating it via a website interface, it is not nearly as magical. We are making a PDF that we send to a printer. Or we are making an EPUB/ebook or series of templated-HTML pages… etc… but that reality contains no magic. As Arthur C Clarke once said:  “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Enabling people to produce that magic themselves is very powerful. We have come to think of the book production process as something only publishers can do. However, we now have that magic in our own hands, enabled by a wonderful array of technologies such as digital file formats, digital networks, the web, standards, protocols, rapid binding technologies, cheap and fast printing, and online book production platforms. Each part of this technology chain might be familiar enough to us that we don’t think of them as magical but we put them together and something magic happens.

The invitation to make a book is a very important motivator – but don’t take my word for it, here are some nice quotes from some participants of collaborative book projects I have been involved in:

"This week has been amazing! ... I know I did NOT expect to have a book in print within the week!... Four books in one week, from 29 people. I still can't believe it."
 --from http://linuxgrandma.blogspot.com/2011/10/new-kde-book-beginning-kde-development.html
"Last week I wrote a book! Three of them, actually :) ... it was a (very!) collaborative effort. I’m exhausted, as I said, but also inspired...and I’m incredibly proud of what we produced. It would be a respectable outcome from several weeks of work, and we managed it in barely three days."
 --from http://blog.nerdchic.net/archives/688/
"I had no idea when the week started that we were going to write a book in a week, nor that it was possible to do that."
 --from http://www.maploser.com/tag/floss-manuals/

But don’t get me wrong, it’s not just the speed of making a book that generates this feeling of magic. The rise in popularity of print-on-demand illustrates that people love to make books even if it costs them more for a book ẃhich is sometimes of a lower print quality than mass-produced books. But that’s not the point either. The point is that it is their book, one they participated in producing. That is the magic and the motivation and the faster the book is produced the stronger that motivation.

Of course, what people are actually doing is not ‘producing books.’ They are collaborating in a very special way to produce knowledge and culture, a way that is almost egoless, amazingly energising, and can only occur because of free culture. That is what is really magical and the idea of producing a book is a great motivator to getting us there.

[Produced somewhere around 2010/2011]

What is a Free Book?

To get the rewards of collaboration and reuse, content must be easily shared and that means content must be free. What is ‘free content’?

What is ‘free content’?

Since 2001, there has been a movement called Creative Commons [ see https://creativecommons.org ] which is the latest in a long line of projects to produce copyright licenses that allow the copyright holder more nuanced control over the rights reserved and conferred. The ‘standard’ and default copyright license is ‘all rights reserved’. That means no one can do anything with your content without your permission. That license, for example, makes criminals out of students that photocopy chapters for their personal use. It is actually more complicated than that, as each country has its own specific laws governing copyright. However, copyright law for all countries has the same general intention – to stop anyone other than the copyright holder from reusing the copyrighted work without permission.

Creative Commons gives more control over the rights the copyright holder transfers to others. For example, the Creative Commons Non-Derivative licenses allow others to copy the work legally but not to change it. The Creative Commons Share-Alike license allows anyone to reuse and change the content, as long as they transfer the same right to others who utilise the derivative work

‘Free content’ is a condition of reuse and collaboration. It is extremely hard to work collaboratively within a constrained copyright environment and almost impossible to reuse such content. So is making content free simply a matter of choosing a Creative Commons license? No, it is not. To understand why we can start by looking at the requirements of software freedom as outlined by the Free Software Foundation:

  • The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbour (freedom 2).
  • The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

The sub-sector which labels itself ‘Open Publishing,’ while advocating Free Culture as the way forward for publishing, largely doesn’t seem to abide by these kinds of freedoms, especially with regard to making the source available for change, which is stated as a precondition for two of the above ie. “Access to the source code is a precondition….”.

‘Open’ mostly means ‘free to distribute’ in the open publishing world. It does not mean or imply the right to have access to the editable sources, nor does it mean the right to fork. The reluctance to embrace these freedoms is closely related to the fear of losing control of a book and the fear of ‘poor quality’ creeping in. Hence open production seems pretty untenable for the majority of the open publishing world.

If it is going to differentiate itself from merely ‘open distribution,’ ‘Open Publishing’ must address these issues. It might be good to develop a similar ‘Four Freedoms’ manifesto for free books. It is important to do this because so far we have got it wrong: Creative Commons licenses, for example, do not require the source to be available. However, freedom is not just about licenses and we shouldn’t rely on others to define free culture for us: we must generate a culture where we acknowledge and uphold the values and consequences of free content. If we don’t do so, we will not be able to take advantage of the immense value Free Culture really offers.

Books should be free, they should always be available to be used, transformed into other formats (an especially necessary freedom in this day of multiple ebook readers), re-used, translated, remixed – whatever you want. Books should not die on the shelves, or as a PDF-only release, or in an archive.

In the discourse of free culture, however, the discussion of what constitutes a free book pretty much starts and ends at the license. Is this a free book? Does it have a Creative Commons (or similar?) license? Yes? Then it is a free book. Solved.

We need a culture that embraces the values and consequences of free content, not a culture that worships licenses.

A free license does not mean that a book is free. The following are common strategies for copyright protection that are exercised by producers of ‘freely licensed content’:

Not-free free license

A not-free book in this context uses a license that appears free but isn’t really. Licenses like the Free Documentation License and those Creative Commons licenses that have Non-Commercial (NC) or No-Derivative (ND) conditions are not free. I don’t want to get into this here, as it is a lengthy and (in my opinion) boring conversation, but the bottom line for me is, can you use this book in any way you want? If the answer is no, it’s a not-free book.

Ambiguously not-free

Many publishers use two licenses for their content. Strange but true. They use a standard copyright ‘all rights reserved’ license and something like a Creative Commons license, or sometimes there is just confusing and conflicting information. If you want an example, take a look at page vi of the following Ubuntu manual

It states :   This book is published under the Creative Commons ShareAlike 3.0 license

Sounds good but it is soon followed by a lengthy ‘go away’ clause that reads :

This publication is protected by copyright, and permission must be obtained from the publisher prior to any prohibited reproduction, storage in a retrieval system, or transmission in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical photocopying, recording or likewise unless permitted under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license.

That is, in my opinion, confusing to most readers. CC-BY-SA is one of the most-free licenses but the clause reads like a standard ‘all rights reserved’ (proprietary) license and would send off the same signals to the average reader ie. go away and don’t even bother to try and do something with this book (other than reading it). This is not-free.

Practically not-free

This is the worst type of not-freedom as it is essentially a trick to appear free while actually employing a mechanical form of copyright protection. Many books might use very good free licenses and use very bold, unambiguous and clear license statements. So, does this make it free? Well, no. The reason is that in order for something to be re-used it needs to first be in a state that enables its re-use. For example, PDF is not a good re-usable format. Printed books are also not a good re-usable format. Both of these formats allow content to be copied but this is not the same as re-used. This kind of trick is often used by publishers wanting to gain currency and favour in the Free Culture or Open Educational Resources sectors. To them, we can only say : WE NEED THE SOURCE.

Many otherwise very good free content fails to even offer the content in formats that can be easily transformed. ‘Offering the source’ would allow readers to create other formats. One very good example is the Theory On Demand series (which is freely downloadable here ) which only offers PDF and online FLASH player versions of the books: you cannot get the sources so you cannot create EPUBs for your iPad or Mobi for your kindle.

However if ‘free’ means that only copying is allowed then it is a poor freedom to have. We want to be able to change books, convert them to other formats, translate them, improve them – as free licenses suggest we can. What if I want to change the contents of a book how do I do it? If I have to first reproduce the book by manually typing out 40,000 words then the book is practically not-free. It is for this reason that free culture licenses should mandate that books (must be specified as this clause is not applicable to all media) must provide the source somewhere (online is suffice) in plain text or other standardised popular format. Currently, most free licenses do not require this, so many books can avoid this issue while still calling themselves free.

A good analogy exists here with free software. For example, a PDF is essentially a binary and distributing a PDF and calling it ‘free’ is like distributing a software binary and calling it free. Free software is aware of this catch and hence for a software to be free you must be able to access the source code. You have not only the right to change free software but the means to change it. The same understanding should exist for books. Can you get access to the content so you can change it easily? If the answer is no, then it is not a free/open book.

Further to this, I would argue that all books must make it known through the appendices, colophon, or in the body of the text itself, where the original raw sources can be found.

On this topic, Creative Commons licenses are actually ill-equipped to tackle this issue. The source of books should be available for anyone to access so they can easily work with the book, and if we must (yawn) live in a world of copyright, then the license should at least require that the book source is available. Currently, Creative Commons licenses do not require this, whereas the General Public License (and others) do.

Access to the editable source of a book is a pre-condition for a free book.

Not-free mandate

Lastly, let’s re-examine the culture of proprietorship. In the world of software, there are two main types of software – free/open and proprietary. The former is licensed with open licenses enabling reuse and alteration etc and the later licensed under closed all-rights-reserved copyright licenses and complicated end-user agreements. Suffice to say that the effect of proprietary software is that you can’t mess with it.

However, free software can also suffer from cultural proprietorship regardless of the license used. Essentially if you do not feel that you have the mandate to change something then you are not empowered to change it. This can often be the consequence of the culture of a free software project – many of which are not open cultures by any means. Mostly they are male-dominated meritocracies which intimidate many would-be contributors.

The same scenario can exist for book production regardless of the license being used. In fact, books have a heavy cultural legacy of proprietorship that we must work hard to overcome. Books are made by “authors” and it is difficult to challenge the domain of the author even if the author is obviously not a single person. Evidence of collaboration in the production of a work is not the same as enabling an open mandate to change or fork (copy-and-change) a work. We must overcome this by celebrating the possibilities of forking and altering other people’s works. We do this by doing it. Without doing this – without actively participating and taking advantage of the riches that free culture production offers – we are maintaining the processes and values of proprietary (closed) culture.

[Produced somewhere around 2010/2011]

Google Summer of Code Book Binding Party

A few days ago, I facilitated the Google Summer of Code Book Sprint. We had already written one book last year in a 2-day sprint, so this year we updated that book and added a second. ‘Flip bits not burgers’ (the student guide) was written in just two days by a great team of experienced GSoC mentors. After writing the book in Booki, we output the text to the US 1/2 letter format (8.5 inches x 5.5 inches) which is the closest to the European A5. The book-formatted PDF produced by Objavi (the Booki publishing engine) looked fantastic so we printed the interior and I designed a cover in Inkscape (http://inkscape.org/) and printed the colour covers. We then cut all the content and had a binding party!

binding-copy

Google Summer of Code book binding party!

To bind, we used the Fastback 9 and the results looked fantastic. It was really good to write the book and then print and bind the book ourselves immediately after.

binding2-copy

Mentor & Org Admin Guide (right) and Students Guide.

The interior looked pretty cool too.

binding3-copy

Interior produced by Objavi in about 2 minutes.

Arctic Perspective Initiative

There are some interesting projects utilising Booki to create books. Some are groups, others individuals, some work with Book Sprints and rapid development strategies, others try the Book Slog… Of course, Booki being what it is means you can also help these projects ‘get written’ (or illustrated, edited, proofed etc) or you can also just open up the book-in-progress and watch it develop over time.

One project I want to highlight is the 3rd book in a series of 4 by API – the Arctic Perspective Initiative .

This project is a large collaborative effort made up of people from all walks of life from all parts of the globe. Many of those involved gathered for a conference in Dortmund (Germany) a few days ago to talk about the project and to also kick start a book on Arctic Technologies. This book is, of course, being created in Booki and you can follow its progress here (log in first).

API is, to quote from their website, :

“Arctic Perspective Initiative (API) is a non-profit, international group of individuals and organisations whose goal is to promote the creation of open authoring, communications and dissemination infrastructures for the circumpolar region. We aim to empower the North and Arctic peoples through open source technologies and applied education and training. By creating access to these technologies while promoting an open, shared network of communications and data, without a costly overhead, we can allow for further sustainable and continued development of culture, traditional knowledge, science, technology and education opportunities for peoples in the North and Arctic regions.”

API are using Booki as the centre for a collaborative process to create a book on Technology in the Arctic.

 

Book Sprint Textbooks…anyone?

My role as ‘an educator’ revolves around group processes – namely, Book Sprints. Essentially I facilitate groups of 5-10 people working together in one room over an intensive 3-5 days to produce a book. Zero to book in 5 days (or less). This process is known as a Book Sprint and although it is an uncommon practice, most people who ask for and participate in a Sprint see it as a Book Production methodology. However, I would argue that, in all circumstances, the collaborators walk away having learned a great deal about the subject they have just created a book about.

I also believe that this process can be used by students to write their own textbooks, learning what they write and passing the free textbook onto the next year’s students to improve. I am eagerly awaiting the first enlightened institution that would take this on, and I am sure they would be positively surprised by the results – both in the quality of books produced and by what the students learn in terms of content and collaboration.

Book Sprints utilise collaborative environments. The only Book Sprint (1) I know of before we did them (2) used word processing documents – passing these around via email between collaborators – and a wiki for collecting the articles. Part way through the process, they gathered in person to develop the outline in a one week intensive ‘Outline Sprint’ and then proceeded to collaborate via email and a wiki over a period of 4-6 months. After the material was complete, the group passed the documents through several editing stages. The process cut the standard industry timeline down by about 30-50%. Zero to book in 4-6 months is still pretty good in the publishing industry.

However, for FLOSS Manuals, 4-6 months was too long. We wanted to do it in 5 days and so we needed a quicker methodology and a better tool set. Wikis might come to your mind immediately as they did to us. However, we had already realised that wikis were not built with the right paradigm. Books are very structured and wikis are not. That is the essence of it – I don’t want to get into ‘future of the book’ discussions. Books can be many things, so I am talking here about what ‘most’ people mean by a book. A one piece cover, several hundred pages, table of contents, structured readable and comprehensive content, self-contained with very few references to other parts of the document, and careful use of outside references instead of a welter of back-and-forth hyperlinks. We built a system that could produce this kind of book – paper books – in a Book Sprint environment. Zero to book in 5 days – that leaves about 3 minutes at the end to produce book-formatted PDF ready to upload to a PoD service or send to the local printer. That is what we needed, and wikis don’t enable you to do that. So we hand rolled our own. The first generation was built on TWiki and we pushed it to its outer limits with extensions built by Aleksandar Erkalovic and a PDF renderer built by Luka Frelih. Now we are onto the second generation – Booki (a BOOK-wikI if you will). It does the same job as the first tool set, but does it better – it’s easier to use, more flexible, and it supports a greater number of possible output formats and types.

While Booki does a lot, and it’s hard to imagine a Book Sprint without it, there are limits to working digitally in a Book Sprint. Certainly, we also experience the highs of surprising networked collaboration. One Sprint (‘Introduction to the Command Line’) was written almost entirely remotely and written in 2 days (Mako Hill, FSF Board member and renowned hacker said it was the best book on its topic). However, there are also limits to digital media and digital networks. I believe that there is less knowledge passed through digital media communication channels when collaborating. I firmly believe this – other wise we would have all of our Book Sprints remote – it would cut down on logistics and costs. However text-based chat does not convey enough information, VOIP is terrible for more than 2 people at a time and even then I wonder at its real usefulness in intensive collaboration, and email is just too slow and the ‘unthreaded’ nature of email will soon drive you crazy in this kind of environment. Microblogging is as good as IRC in this instance – ie. barely useful. Sneaker networks are not only faster but more fluid and they enable better-shared understandings, quicker.

In addition, I find it is often good to push people out of the screen and into the book. Since we work fast in Sprints we sometimes realise we need to clean up structural issues. This often occurs when 2 or more people are working on content that needs to fit together – and it doesn’t. Often we print out the necessary chapters, sit on the floor, and (gasp) cut-and-paste the chapters into each other until they work. Same process as a digital text editor, just with a physical tool set – the result is that it gets better results quicker.

The end result of a Book Sprint is a book. That’s a great thing to have. However there is also a mandate to take care of, and content to take care of. How do you enable this content to live? Books do not live by licenses alone – they need help. They need the original collaborators to find the avenues to keep the content alive. One strategy is to maintain this content themselves although, despite good will, this seldom continues beyond some initial edits immediately after the Sprint ends. The original collaborators need to pass on the mandate to others and this is critical for the life of the book. As such I discourage the use of terms like ‘authors’ as this denotes legacies of ownership and does not encourage new contributors to take the mandate to improve the book. Instead, the strategies revolve around keeping the participation threshold low (minimising social filters, using open language, making Booki simpler and simpler to use) and welcoming in new contributions. We also welcome forking books. Take a book – make it your own whichever way you feel is best.

However occasionally Sprinters, caught up in the fervor of intensive production, often get worried about misappropriation or unethical use and erect barriers that do nothing to help and a lot to hurt. They ask themselves questions like ‘What if someone takes the content and makes money? What if contributors spam the book? What if someone changes the tone of the book? Could contributions ruin it?’ This is the ethical quandry put at the foot of freedom largely by the fears and protective necessities of the proprietary publishing industry, We all carry this a little bit and my response is always ‘let it go’. Let the content be free and you will be happily surprised by the results. The irony is that once sprinters are convinced of this idea they are left ‘fighting’ the default – standard attitudes towards publishing and authorship means it’s hard work to get people to uptake the freedoms of free content. Book Sprint collaborators (and free content developers in general) often need to put a lot of energy into reaching out to others to get them to take ownership of the material and make changes, but it can be done with the right approach. I am hoping soon we see will the integration of Book Sprints into curriculum to create and improve textbooks as another way to explicitly pass on the mandate to change,and I’m very much looking forward to seeing this strategy develop…

Notes:

(1) The idea of a Book Sprint as outlined in the article by Marco Zennaro et al was the brainchild of Tomas Krag

(2) Marco Zennaro, Enrique Canessa, Carlo Fonda, Martin Belcher, Rob Flickenger, “Book Sprint” in The International Journal of the Book (Melbourne, Australia, Common Ground Publishing, 2006) Vol 2 Number 4.

written by Adam Hyde, founder of FLOSS Manuals.

 

Book Design with CSS

Book creation is usually managed in multiple environments – the simplest toolchain consists of the writing and editing environment – usually a word processor – and the design environment – usually desktop publishing software such as Scribus or InDesign. The transition is time-consuming and ‘clunky’ and made worse if multiple text sources are to be combined in the design processes.

Additionally, this process means there are two sources for the text. Changes made to the text once the source is in the design environment usually have to be copied also into the word processing files if the integrity of that source is to be maintained, and vice versa.

It would be simpler if there was one environment that could be used for creating and editing AND for design. That is what we have created with Booki.

Booki enables content creation through a web interface. Chapters can be easily moved around and content can be easily modified through a very simple WYSIWYG interface. The design environment is also Booki and is web based, and we have developed a technology for creating book-formatted PDF using CSS.

The interface is simple to use – in the ‘export’ tab of any book you can paste CSS into the text field provided in the ‘Advanced Options’ press ‘export’ and a very short time later you have the book-formatted PDF complete with Table of Contents, numbering, headers, and margin control.

While the interface is easy to use, the tool does not ‘by itself’ create a good looking book. The secret to a good looking book is a well-defined stylesheet and time spent manually tweaking some ‘content’ elements in the WYSIWYG editor (paragraph breaks, placement of images).

To understand the relationship between CSS and the final result, there is no substitute for trial and error. Designers must first understand how a ‘web native’ technology – CSS – applies to page-based media (books). This paradigm appears simple but it requires a slight re-alignment of how book designers think about designing books, and to do this, designers must try the process and persevere until they succeed. After that initial success, things become easier.

Probably the best way to start is to take an existing book and look at the CSS, then change it and see what happens. Generating a PDF takes anywhere from half a minute to a few minutes, so this is a pretty quick method for seeing how CSS affects the layout of the book. For experimenting, first,  create an account in Booki  and then visit this page. On this page,  go to the ‘export’ tab and press the ‘Publish this book’ button. The PDF will be quickly generated – beware the ‘progress bar’ is rather fake… the PDF might be ready more quickly or slowly than the progress bar suggests.

Next, click on ‘Show Advanced Options’ scroll down and choose ‘Custom’ from the ‘CSS mode’ drop down menu. Now a text field will appear with the default CSS – the same CSS that was used for the design of the book you just created.

Now either change the CSS in the text box OR visit this site for help.

At the bottom of this page, you will find a link to the CSS used for the print version of the second edition of this book – it’s the same book you are currently working on. You can see that the CSS states:

/* Main CSS File: */
@import url("http://collaborative-futures.org/material/styles.css");
/* Uncomment based on the book size you export: */
/* A5 */
/* @import url("http://collaborative-futures.org/material/size/a5-hacks.css"); */
/* 5.5"x8.5" */
/* @import url("http://collaborative-futures.org/material/size/5.5x8.5-hacks.css");*/

This is CSS syntax that imports the ‘real’ CSS used which can be found here: http://collaborative-futures.org/material/styles.css

Copy this CSS, change it, and enter it into the CSS text field of Booki, then try exporting the book again. Experiment with changing the CSS and see what happens.

 

A Web Page is a Book

Most of us know an ebook is a digital file that can be read by devices such as iPads and Kindles. There are many different kinds of ebook formats and each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Some ebooks made to be viewed on the Kindle, others on the iPad, still others for reading online via a web browser. Kindle, for example, works with the MOBI format, whereas the iPad-iBook reader works only with iBook or EPUB formats. EPUB is one of the most popular formats because no one owns the format as compared to, for example, the way Microsoft owns the .doc format. Anyone can produce an EPUB without having to pay royalties. That makes EPUB a popular type of ebook format for publishers.

What is important here, is that many of these ebook formats share a lot in common with the web page. EPUB, for example, in the words of the International Digital Publishing Forum  (the group taking  responsibility for managing the development of the format), is:
“…a means of representing […] Web content — including XHTML, CSS, SVG, images, and other resources — for distribution in a single-file format.”

EPUB pages are made of HTML, the language of the web. EPUB pages are web pages.

The change of carrier medium for books, from paper to HTML, changes everything. Publishers appear to believe that just the format of the book (from paper to electronic) and the distribution process (from bricks and mortar to net) have changed. These are enormous changes indeed, but what about everything else? What about the rest of the book’s life?

To get an understanding of how this transformation of the content medium from paper to web page affects things, let’s first take a bird’s eye view of the current life cycle of a book. Painting it with broad strokes, the book life cycle (still) looks something like this:

  • Text Production – production of the book. Most recently it has become a very linear workflow with text originating with authors. Editors, proofreaders, translators, researchers, and designers are all involved with very clearly demarcated roles.
  • Object Production – the creation (typesetting, printing, binding) of the paper book
  • Market – distribution to retail outlets and sales through those outlets
  • Life – after being read, the book becomes an archive. The shelf life is connected to the value to the reader or owner (shelf life).

Digital networks and digital books, of course, have changed how publishers work. The disruption, however, has really been limited to the steps of object production and marketing strategies. Many publishers of genres from fiction to scientific journals do not have a workflow for the production of electronic books, they simply send their MS Word files to an outsourced business for transformation to EPUB. In their world, paper books are easier to produce than digital books. Even so, much has changed and can be captured in brief by the following:

  • Text Production – no change
  • Object Production – electronic books added
  • Market – online sales, devices
  • Life – no change or reduced (shelf or digital equivalent)

Arguably, the life of a book has been reduced, as many book formats cannot be transferred from one device to another and so have only limited visibility. Books, for example, produced in Apple’s iBook Author do not follow the standard way of making EPUB and are often unreadable on non-Apple devices. This is changing a little with developments such as the Kindle app which can be installed on iPads and computers for reading books purchased on Amazon. However, there are still many issues.

What is most astonishing to me, is that there has been little or no innovation regarding the production of books. Sure paper and pen were replaced by typewriter and then a computer and word processing software. But these technologies largely support the same methods for making books. In 2013, many years into the digital media and digital network world, there is little change. We are still producing books as we did back in the days of handwritten manuscripts, except these days we can email the file to someone to check. It is as if the digital network is just a faster postal service.

There are some notable exceptions. For example, OReilly is experimenting with some networked and ‘agile’ (fast-moving and iterative) production processes, but overall, the innovation and change happening now within the publishing industry is constrained to everything that happens after the text is produced and before the book is archived by the reader.

As it happens, this is about as far as the publishing industry can innovate. They are too heavily invested in production workflows, tools and methodologies to change the production process. In addition, it is too difficult for publishers to consider changing as there is the fear such disruption could break things on a much deeper level. Single author works, for example, are an important part of reputation-based sales and you can’t change one without the other.

In many ways, it is simply bad business and logistically too hard for publishers to innovate around production as it cannibalises their existing models. At the other end of the cycle, publishers do not seem to be interested in the life of the book beyond purchase, except where they retard life expectancy with DRM, delete the book file or link from your device, or surveil your reading habits in order to offer the next book for your consumption. After reading the book on your reader, it sits there as it would on a bookshelf.

Ironically for the publishing industry, the biggest opportunities are in the areas they are not addressing. The new publishing world, which might be populated largely by those individuals, collectives, ‘groupings’ and organisations that are currently not publishers, looks like this:

  • Text Production – collaboration and social production
  • Object Production – paper and electronic books
  • Market – distribution to retail, sales, online sales, devices
  • Life – living and growing books

The beginning of this cycle and the end are intimately linked. The conditions for collaboration have a lot in common with the conditions for extending the life of books.

The life cycle of a book is changing because books are web pages and production is coming online. Collaborative production is one very rich opportunity and it looks very unlike linear production models. In intensive collaborative or open collaborative environments, roles are concurrent and fluid. It is possible for one person to write original material, borrow material, improve another’s material, then proofread others’ work, edit and comment on design. This is all possible because the production environment is the browser. At its most intense, collaborative browser-based production becomes transparent. Anyone can look at the evolution of the book and witness the changes as they occur. In this kind of process, discourse becomes necessary and collaborators open up rich and valuable discussions which become part of the book. The book becomes a product of collective discourse and the discourse is often as rewarding as the book that comes from the process.

These conditions often lead to the book having an extended life as communities of collaborators form around the book and carry the book forward, amending and improving the work. The life of the work is then connected to the health of the connected networked community.

As the new production and carrier medium for books, HTML transforms everything. It leads naturally to collaborative production and the extended life of content. However, most of these transformations are occurring outside the existing publishing industry, leaving the future of publishing in your hands.

See also https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Edl_HvcEjs

[Produced sometime in 2011]

Print on Demand vs Demanding Printers

I have been experiencing quite a strange phenomenon recently. On several occasions, I have found myself looking for printers that can print perfect bound books quickly. A ‘perfect bound’ book is a book that is normally called a ‘paperback’  – black and white interior colour cover, and a nice thick one piece cover that tightly hugs the outside of the book and is creased and folded along the spine.

print_on_demand_booksPerfect Bound books printed in less than 20 hours

I have needed these services after a Book Sprint – typically I have spent 5 days in a room with half a dozen others and we have written a book of 300 pages or so. We output the content to book-formatted PDF with Objavi, and next, to make it a real party, we want to see the book the same day we finished it, or the next morning. It is entirely possible to do this, and I have done it many times. However, the one thing that might catch you out is actually finding the right type of printer that can make perfect bound books fast. This is not easy, and sometimes is made harder if you are in a non-English speaking country as the English term ‘perfect bound’ does not easily translate.

What I have found, is that most large cities have these services. In Berlin, for example, there is a service about 5 blocks away from my house. In Paris, you need to travel out to the suburbs to find a service but there is one. In Palo Alto, Kinkos does it (but doesn’t do it well)…etc….

While these services are relatively common, what I have found, time and time again, is that these services are very hard to find. The first issue is that they have no standard way of marketing their services. It is sometimes advertised as ‘print on demand’, sometimes ‘books on demand’ and sometimes they just don’t let people know they have these services until you ask. Hence trying to find a business that does this via a search engine, a phone book, or asking a local, just gets you nowhere. You have to call every printer one by one, carefully explaining exactly what you want. Sometimes this is also difficult since the operators might not be printers and so they don’t actually know the terminology, and I have found myself trying to explain what ‘perfect binding’ is to a ‘printer’.

The other issue, and this is the one that I find strange and has tripped me up so many times, is that often the locals – printers and non-printers alike – do not think this kind of service exists at all. That is, they think its impossible. This frustrates me the most.

Essentially there are two typical responses from printers that do not provide this kind of service. The first is from your typical ‘copy shop’ – they will tell you they provide these services and then, when you turn up to look at the samples, you find they are talking about spiral or tape binding. Ugh. After explaining this is not ‘perfect binding’ the normal response is a blank stare and a comment that ‘it is not possible’ and furthermore, if they acknowledge that maybe it is possible, the copy shop assistants, not usually knowing the printing industry very well, will have no idea who might be able to do this.

The next kind of response comes from your traditional offset printer. They will tell you they can make a book but you have to get 200 done, it will take a week, and it will cost you a lot per book and expensive set-up costs. When explained that this is not what you want, they will understand what perfect binding is, and they do know the local print industry, but they will not think doing this is possible or have any idea who might be able to give more information about where to find such a service.

I have been through this process many times. My advice is – it can be done. You can find, in most large cities, printers that will print a book in hours and print it cheaply. Recently in Paris, we had 50 books (300 pages) printed for 6 Euros each, no setup costs, and delivered in less than 20 hours. It could have been faster if we had less printed. Often 1 book can be done ‘on the spot’. So don’t give up. It’s perfectly possible to get the job done: the hardest part is finding the people who can do it…