Apple’s recent release of free software to build e-textbooks has brought attention to custom publishing of academic materials. But Apple’s software, called iBooks Author, lacks easy tools for multiple authors to collaborate on a joint textbook project. Since most books aren’t written in isolation, two new publishing platforms seek to make that group collaboration easier.
The first, Booktype, is free and open-source. Once the platform is installed on a Web server, teams of authors can work together in their browsers to write sections of books and chat with each other in real time about revisions. Entire chapters can be imported and moved around by dragging and dropping. The finished product can be published in minutes on e-readers and tablets, or exported for on-demand printing. Booktype also comes with community features that let authors create profiles, join groups, and track books through editing.
Inkling Habitat, the other new offering, appears to have even greater ambitions. Where iBooks Author is designed mostly for would-be amateur publishers, Inkling Habitat creates a cloud-based platform for the professional market. Matthew MacInnis, Inkling’s chief executive, said the company’s tool is designed to give the global teams who work on professionally published textbooks a single outlet to publish interactive material for the iPad and the Web. Mr. MacInnis said hundreds of users can access the same textbook content at once, and the software will keep track of each step in the editing process.
Inkling Habitat also automates some of the editing process that is unique to e-textbooks, like checking for broken links between special terms and their definitions in a glossary. Those automatic functions, Mr. MacInnis said, will allow e-textbook publishing to get easier without requiring additional staff. “You can’t build the industry up around digital content if you’re going to throw people at every problem,” he said.