This week TIPM is starting a new series of Q&A interviews featuring people from the publishing industry with a particular focus on what is new and different and The Future of Publishing today.
Hugh, what I liked about Pressbooks is that it provides an option for self-published authors and small publishers to bridge a gap between manuscript and completed book file, There seems to be a perceivable shift for indie authors from paying out thousands of dollars to full service providers to DIY-styled self-publishing platforms like CreateSpace, IngramSpark, Smashwords, and Lulu; even the shift to working with Ingram’s Lightning Source or a local printer to provide a print-ready file. It’s a big bite to chew off for authors who want to take control of their book projects and they often find the learning curve is pretty steep with mixed results. Pressbooks has actually been around since 2008 and yet you seemed to have honed in on this struggle for indie authors at an early stage with your online tools.
When did you see that opportunity in the self-publishing service market and how has Pressbooks developed as an online tool and hands-on process?
It just comes from my own experience around books and publishing. Creating professionally formatted files is really the only true technology challenge of book publishing from the perspective of the author and small publisher.
The rest of the challenges (editing, distribution and marketing) are more business challenges, sometimes supported by technology. And I think ambitious authors and publishers can figure these things out, with support of various companies and services out there if they like.
But: you shouldn’t have to hire an ebook developer or a book designer to make a professional book. In the same way that platforms like Tumblr and WordPress made creating a beautiful website “easy” for regular people without any technology experience, we wanted to give that power to people making books.
So, while Lulu and CreateSpace and many other services have been around for a long time, there was always this blockage, especially for people trying to get their books into print: you had to hire someone and pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to design your book.
With Pressbooks you can do it yourself, no matter your level of technical expertise.
(One small correction: Pressbooks.com has been around since 2011, though its predecessor bookoven.com started in 2009.)
What is your publishing and software experience and what staff have you at Pressbooks?
I came at this from a roundabout direction. My publishing experience isn’t really from traditional publishing, but rather from starting LibriVox.org — a big, volunteer-driven publisher of public domain audiobooks — back in 2005. LibriVox has thousands of volunteers around the world, publishes more than 1,000 (free) audiobooks a year, which have been downloaded by hundreds of millions of listeners.
So in building LibriVox I really learned that new Internet-enabled technologies can transform what “publishing” means.
Pressbooks grows out of this idea: that it should be “easy” for anyone to publish a book, which, no matter how many people read it, is always a hugely valuable creative experience for the writer.
We’ve got a small staff with various experiences in book design, ebook development, web design programming and marketing.
What is the benefit to authors using Pressbooks over online services like Lulu, Blurb or CreateSpace? Is it just down to having access to a solid conversion tool and something better than a boiler-template book?
Pressbooks is a tool that lets anyone create a professionally formatted book, ready for print-on-demand and ebook stores.
Lulu and CreateSpace are distribution and sales platforms, though they both offer services (for a price) to format your book for you.
Blurb is closer to Pressbooks — it’s really a book formatting tool, though Blurb’s focus is image-heavy, coffee-table books, whereas Pressbooks, though we do support images, is more focused on novels and nonfiction.
I can see a lot of what Eileen Gittens has done with Blurb when I look at Pressbooks. But you decided to keep the software online-based. Was that always the plan and have you looked at licensing out the software to small publishers directly?
Yes, online was the only option for me. It never occurred to me to create desktop software!
Regarding small publishers — we have plenty of publishers using Pressbooks, some of them publishing more than 100 books a year.
How flexible is the Pressbooks online tool? If I have my own imprint and block of ISBNs, can I still use Pressbooks?
Yes, Pressbooks’ job is to make professionally formatted books for you (for print and ebook editions). We don’t publish them and don’t distribute them.
So, Pressbooks is really ideal for any author or publisher who values freedom! This has been important for a lot of our publishing users — who don’t necessarily want or need distribution, and really just want to improve the efficiency of their production processes.
Pressbooks is essentially a conversion service (free and paid) from manuscript to completed book file. Are there plans to develop some system of distribution or affiliation with some of the big providers in the future?
It’s something we’ve considered, but to date we’ve focused on being really good at formatting books.
How many authors/publishers are now signed up to Pressbooks?
There are thousands of authors and hundreds of publishers who have used or are using Pressbooks.
Where would you like to see Pressbooks one year from now?
We’d just like to continue helping authors and publishers create more books. Let’s be ambitious: we’d like to see 1 million books created on Pressbooks by the end of next year!
[TIPM will have a full review of Pressbooks coming up very soon.]
Hugh McGuire Bio
Hugh McGuire is the founder of Pressbooks.com, a simple tool to make professionally designed print books and ebooks. He has been building new ways to merge book culture and technology since founding LibriVox.org — the world’s largest library of free public domain audiobooks in 2005. He also is the co-author of “Book: a Futurist’s Manifesto” (with Brian O’Leary) and helped to start the BookCamps in Toronto, Montreal, New York and Melbourne.