Create and Publish Books with WordPress

If you are looking  for a simple and straightforward tool to create, edit and publish your books don’t look further, use PressBooks and enjoy creating your book using the beloved  WordPress.

PressBooks gives you all the essential tools for creating  e-books and even printed books. It lets you export your books in all major data-formats so your books can easily go on any e-book format for Amazon Kindle, Apple iBooks, Nook, Kobo and others. You can export your book in PDF for printing it on paper, and as you are creating your books on WordPress you can get a familiar XML export as well.

This revolutionary e-book publishing application is all Free and has been built on WordPress by – a visionary developer: Hugh McGuire and there are other nice guys at PressBooks team; Dac Chartrand is Lead Developer. Sonia Gaballa makes the nice designs and Ned Zimmerman wrangles various plugins.

BookPress in fact is a WordPress MultiSite(WPMS); Users can register in the network to create an unlimited number of books, and each book is a site in the WPMS network.

The BookPress MultiSite is powered by: “PressBooks Open Source Plug-in.” Anyone can download the plugin and activate it in a fresh WPMS install and turn it to a book publishing platform, but the developer suggests to use as a ready and managed platform. I have to say I agree with him, because publishing e-books is not only creating the export file there is a new phase of complex works waiting for the authors to distribute their book across several major marketplaces such as Amazon or iBook. has made a productive arrangement with BookBaby to take care of all necessary steps for distribution the e-books and even self-publishing the print books with reasonable fees. There is a $99 set up fee and that’s it. BookBaby also offers Book Cover design for few hundred dollars, but I honestly did not like their samples.

BookBaby charges no fees on the sales, yet provides a functional dashboard to the authors to manage their sales across different channels. For print books authors optionally can order small circulations as low as 25 volumes, and it might cost only few dollars per print. BookBaby by the way is a sister company of “CD Baby”.

Back to PressBooks:

Press Books Chapter

A chapter in PressBooks is very similar to WP standard post formats and includes “chapter meta-data” without taxonomies

PressBooks provides all the essential features of a book, including:

Front Matters, Back Matters, Parts and Chapters and standard books and chapters meta-data. Then authors can organize their books and do the fine finishings.

Authors are allowed to create their books in private and export them, but they also have option to publish their books publicly and users can read the books on a WordPress site installed on a sub-domain of PressBooks. There are three theme to chose as the canvas for the books, all the themes are minimal and inspired by print books:

Press Books theme options

Press Books theme options

On the frontend PressBooks looks very much like a paper book:

PressBook Frontend

PressBook Frontend

PressBooks Setbacks:

PressBooks is reliable, fast and solid. It does what it says and it does it smoothly, but it does too little in comparison with the possibilities and expectations. I realize PressBooks in foundation has a bottomline. The bottomline is compatibility of exported files with the respected distribution platforms. This is a very legitimate goal but as a result PressBooks is far behind the latest content publishing trends and it’s very difficult to be monetized and highly profitable. Lets see why.

Let’s look at the classic Kindle as the pioneer of e-book platforms. The reason Amazon created Kindle was to avoid bankruptcy and also to hit its traditional rivals such as Borders who used to  do business with the ancient methods. By accessing new data analysis and technology awareness, the smart guys in Amazon knew that age of print media was over, and it’s only matter of time until everyone stops printing altogether. Later in 2010 for the first time in history more paper has been consumed for toilet papers than newspapers in the US. Anyhow Amazon designed the Kindle format as a digital replica for paper books. They used to say it loudly in all the Kindle commercials (example). Well Amazon has been doing a great job by transforming reading technology and more importantly changing peoples’ habits. It’s one of the toughest jobs to change old habits. Yet Amazon had no other choice, it has a huge customer base including tens of millions of existing paying customers, Amazon needed to have a very conservative approach in applying new media and latest technologies. Well that’s Amazon and it’s playing based on its scale, it can’t justify a fresh start-up to be restricted at Amazon standards.

General internet users are very different than Amazon customers. They are younger and eventually mobile oriented. They love the apps such as Pulse and Evernotes.

Look at Pulse with its innovative UI and advanced usability. The majority of users like to receive content in such a canvas.

Pulse App

Pulse App

It’s not only beauty that matters, PressBooks themes are not responsive and there is no technical reason to justify this issue. Seems the theme designer has designed the theme to be very similar to paper books! It’s not reasonable, why we should limit our users to a design that belongs to a few millenniums back? As I mentioned above, Amazon must adopt such an approach to preserve its market, but online readers are much larger and different from Amazon customer base.

PressBooks doesn’t allow authors to embed video in their content. You may say then what happens to the video in a PDF expert? Well, there are many ways to handle that, I think the simplest practice is to replace the video with a short-URL linked to the Youtube post, in a PDF  format. Anyhow limiting the users and not adopting advanced trends is the biggest challenge PressBooks has created for itself.

PressBooks has adopted books and chapters meta-data, that’s necessary but not enough.  Micro-Formats such as are the minimum practices to structure various data.

Suppose I am writing a cookbook in PressBooks platform. I need books meta-data, I need recipe meta-data too. In addition I like to have a custom taxonomy with hierarchy for my ingredients the top level categories can be items like: vegetables, spices, meats etc and all ingredients can be organized on sub-categories.

Then I can show a list of ingredients on the frontend to the readers or I can let my readers search the recipes filtered by custom-fields, and they can chose to see all the dishes that contain Fish or Capsicum. WordPress has extensive tools to structure data with custom meta-data, custom field, custom taxonomies, post formats and custom post types.

There are also features like geo-tagging, that can revolutionize books that are created by PressBooks. Imagine when you read a book on your tablet, if you see name of a place in the text and tap on it, instantly you see the Google Street View image of that place in a lightbox.

Why PressBooks has ignored all these advantages while they can be used on WordPress version of the books and respect the Kindle or iBook formats in the export files in the same time. Now both iOS and Android encourage authors to  present their content as apps.

Al Gore’s “Our Choice” is an excellent sample of turning books into native apps. I acknowledge creating similar apps automatically, is far behind the abilities available on WordPress and any other CMS but with using the existing potentials we can create very attractive books.

Taking Evernote as another example, this app is popular because it helps users to write notes with tags, add images and record audio all in the same note. This is the type of content that users expect. Evernote did it to organize notes, imagine how amazing it would be if PressBooks adds similar features to enrich its books.

There are other features to consider that might transform PressBooks into a formidable application that can be monetized, multiply its users and get the start up founded generously. PressBooks is a great concept and can be a leader in e-book creating and publishing.

PressBooks is not social now, and by being social I don’t mean sharing buttons. There are many scenarios for integrating social features into this great application but as a minimum PressBook should at least provide some reports to its readers to create a sense of community among the users. How many books have been published lately? What are the most popular books? Best authors? And so on.

PressBooks also can take a direction to be a cash generating platform. It is a network of books and by adding membership features for small fees it can create a premium library. Authors could have the option to publish their books into the premium club and the fees coudl be distributed among the authors based on the popularity of their books.  Many scenarios can be defined or considered for monetizing the application. I am hopeful based on the innovations that the PressBooks team has already shown that they will soon become a highly profitable and popular platform.

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Got something to say? Join the discussion.
  1. Craven Lovelace says:
    A nice overview that's given me a lot to chew on. There are organizational advantages to Pressbook that are very attractive to someone like me, but your criticisms are also very well-founded and haven't been addressed in other articles I've read on the service. Thank you!
    • Pooria Asteraky says:
      Craven, I'm delighted that this article is helpful for you. The final verdict about such applications is subjective based on the user needs, Overall if you like to publish a book on Kindle and iBook and limited print version then PressBooks, relatively is a great option. But if you like to have a PDF or HTML book, there are other options to consider, perhaps a self-hosted WordPress install with a beautiful and responsive theme and a right set of plugins to support taxonomies, meta-data and data structure, SEO, social media integration, PDF and paid membership(if needed).
  2. Brion says:
    I appreciate your insightful article Pooria, PressBooks has the potential to quickly become the "ibooks author" of the self-publishing masses once it gets to the next level and it's capabilities expand as it surely will.
  3. Jonathan Wexler says:
    Great constructive criticisms. Nonetheless, as a longtime technical writer and user of such software and technologies as FrameMaker, LaTeX, WebWorks ePublisher, DITA, etc, the innovations of creating a book publishing pipeline on top of WordPress are astounding for me. Surely a lot of what you suggest will be implement and infinitely more, I mean, it is all WordPress, so for example for social, surely there will be a way to mash up BuddyPress with PressBooks in the near future. So thanks again. And I am not discouraged.

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