An Open, Webby Book-Publishing Platform, Based on WordPress

by Hugh

Ever since Book Oven shifted focus in November 2009 to Bite-Size Edits, I have been wanting to write about one of the major reasons for the shift: my realization that:
a) the world needs an open book-publishing platform
b) rather than building from scratch at Book Oven, we should have started with WordPress, and built atop it.

I just published my thoughts about this on O’Reilly’s Tools of Change for Publishing blog. The key points are:

The key insights behind Book Oven were the following:

* publishing a book is (almost always) a collaborative enterprise
* online tools (should) make collaboration on making books easy(er)
* if you build a “book” in the cloud, using structured mark-up, then expression of that book in various forms (print, epub, pdf, mobipocket, html, etc), on various devices (including paper & print) becomes arbitrary, and should be nearly trivial
* further, if the “book” exists in the cloud, then the range of things that can be done with this “book” multiplies significantly
* if a system built on these ideals is implemented well, it will be transformative, both for professional publishing workflows, and for the emergence of a new grassroots of indie publishing.

I am still deeply committed to this vision. But I have shifted towards a belief that the above-described platform should be open source. Or at least, an open source version of such should exist.


WordPress, it seems, is an ideal candidate as a platform on which to build an open source, online, webby, book-publishing system. There may be other likely candidates, but WordPress has the following characteristic which suggest to me that it is an excellent place to start:

* it is a familiar and comfortable tool to most writers and publishers who are at all engaged online
* it is a stable platform that can handle just about any scale of traffic you can throw at it (the New York Times, for instance, runs on a heavily-hacked version of WordPress)
* it is open source
* through its plugin architecture, it is infinitely extensible
* through its template architecture, it is infinitely stylable
* through WordPress Mu, it isinfinitely scalable it has a huge, world-wide community of committed developers
* existing plugins and plugin suites already achieve much of what would bewanted in a WordPress-based book publishing system.

And elaborating more fully, here is a list of plugins such a system would need:

1. robust version control
2. (based on the old commentpress)- to allow para by para commenting for editors, and later, if desired, for readers
3. wordpress –> epub conversion
4. wordpress –> ~LaTeX –> print-ready pdf conversion (or similar)
5. wordpress –> InDesign-compliant mark-up conversion
6. book-friendly front-end template(s) (including Table of Contents, Title page etc)
7. generation of a download/(sales?) page that lists available formats (epub, html, pdf etc)
8. table of contents generator
9. a book metadata generation/management tool (ONYX, OPDS compliant?)
10. …etc.

This list of plugins can continue, subject to the interest of developers, and the needs of users of such a system.

You can read the whole thing here.

And props to John Maxwell and his students at the Simon Fraser Masters of Publishing Program for actually building a protoype and publishing a book with it. Also, do head over to and see another implementation of something similar.