9.5 Alternative Publishing Platforms

Before leaping into Bookdown or any other software platform, consider the costs and benefits of using tools to achieve your goals, such as writing and publishing a web-and-print book like this one.

  • Conventional word processors: Most authors work primarily with text, and are content with a traditional book-publishing workflow that begins with composing in Microsoft Word or LibreOffice, then handing it off to a publisher for review, copyediting, layout, and distribution. But this book is designed to blend text and digital media (such as interactive maps, video clips, scanned documents, and links) and publishing the book in two formats: on the public web (for free) and an inexpensive paperback (for sale). Traditional word processors do not achieve this goal.
  • Sophisticated word processors: Scrivener by Literature & Latte is a powerful word-processor and outlining tool designed to help authors see both “the forest or the trees” of book-length manuscripts. In fact, the first few chapters of this On The Line book were initially composed in Scrivener. Although Scrivener supports a different version of Markdown, the tool was not designed to integrate interactive maps and charts into text, nor does it support multi-author collaboration or sharing files on a public repository.
  • Cloud-based word processors: Some authors realize the benefits of writing collaboratively or sharing drafts in public or semi-public venues for early feedback. One way to attain these benefits with little investment of technology and time is to compose chapters of a book in Google Documents or similar cloud-based word-processors. In fact, some text of chapters for this book were collaboratively composed and edited in Google Docs, then converted to Markdown format using a Google add-on tool, Docs to Markdown by ed.bacher, and migrated to Bookdown. Although Google Documents can display static images of interactive maps and videos, with links to live online versions, it was not designed to publish book-length editions for the web or PDF.
  • WordPress.org is an open-source web authoring platform, used by over 33 percent of the top 10 million websites as of 2019. Users can create a free account on WordPress.com, or freely download the WordPress software and run a self-hosted version on a server, which requires developer skills or a third-party service, such as ReclaimHosting.com. Although WordPress creates web pages, it was not designed to produce PDFs or print books. An earlier version of this On The Line book was hosted on a WordPress site from its inception in 2010 until 2014, as shown in these links to the Internet Archive.227
  • Pressbooks is an open-book publishing platform built on an open-source variation of WordPress Multisite, which produces books in different formats: web, print (PDF), ebooks (ePUB), etc. Authors can pay to publish on the Pressbooks.com platform or a third-party service such as ReclaimHosting.com, or freely download the software to run on a server, which requires developer skills. Although Pressbooks is a powerful tool, it requires an investment of time and resources to install and maintain its platform, dependencies, and updates. Also, creating a book in Pressbooks requires authors to compose directly in the WordPress-style editor, or copy-and-paste content from word processor to web platform. The latter workflow is better for authors who wish to easily see and edit across all of their chapters, but requires continually updating back-and-forth between the word processor and web platform to keep both versions identical. An earlier version of the On The Line book-in-progress existed on a self-hosted Pressbooks server at Trinfo.Cafe at Trinity College from 2015 until 2017, as shown in these links to the Internet Archive. While the digital and print versions looked great, maintaining the self-hosted Pressbooks site was a chore, and continually moving back-and-forth between the word processor and web platform versions was not ideal. Composing in Bookdown was simpler because there was only one version of the book: the word processor and web platform are the same.
  • Scalar is an open-source scholarly authoring and publishing platform by the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture, with support from the Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The platform was created primarily for authors to assemble born-digital book-length works online, with media from multiple sources, and it allows multi-author collaboration. But the platform was not designed to produce PDFs or print books, so was not considered for this book. See examples of online-only works at https://scalar.me/anvc/scalar/showcase/. Users can freely register to create works on the Scalar platform hosted by the University of Southern California at http://scalar.usc.edu/works/, or
  • Manifold is an open-source scholarly publishing platform created through a collaboration by the University of Minnesota Press, the Graduate Center at the City University of New York, and Cast Iron Coding, with funding from the Mellon Foundation. The platform was designed primarily for authors to integrate digital media into their texts, and also for readers to view and annotate drafts and finished books online. It appears that print book production is handled separately. Since installing Manifold on a server requires developer skills, most authors will submit text and media to be uploaded to a server hosted by a publisher or other organization. For example, see Manifold-produced books on the University of Minneapolis Press server at https://manifold.umn.edu. Since the Manifold platform can ingest texts written in Markdown, Microsoft Word, and other formats, it should be feasible to upload a manuscript that was originally produced in Bookdown.
  • Fulcrum is an open-source scholarly publishing platform created University of Michigan Library and Press working with partners from Indiana, Minnesota, Northwestern, and Penn State universities, with initial funding from the Mellon Foundation. The platform was designed primarily for authors to add or integrate digital media into their works, and for readers to view finished books online. It also appears that print book production is handled separately. Since installing Fulcrum on a server requires developer skills, most authors will submit text and media to be uploaded to a server hosted by a publisher or other organization. For example, see Fulcrum-produced books on the University of Michigan Press server at https://www.fulcrum.org/michigan, and note that only a portion of these are open-access books. Current documentation does not clearly explain formats authors can submit for Fulcrum to ingest.

  1. Jack Dougherty, “On the Line,” Wayback Machine, Internet Archive, October 1, 2010, https://web.archive.org/web/20101001000000*/ontheline.trincoll.edu