Monday’s Musings: Electronic Textbooks

Apple’s recent release of iBooks Author, an application designed primarily to create electronic textbooks, has brought renewed attention to the area of custom publishing of academic materials. 

While not unheard of, most textbooks are not written in isolation by a single author but as a collaborative effort by multiple contributors, editors and researchers.

Viewed in this context, Apple’s offerings lack of integrated collaboration tools seems to point to a deficiency, but unlike the other authoring tools in this marketplace, iBooks Author is a stand-alone, client-based application intended for use by a single author.

While other single-user publishing applications exist, few are specifically designed to be used for Electronic Textbook publication, and even fewer have the ability to feed mobile web devices.

Client Server Applications


Sophie is free and open-source software for writing and reading rich media documents in a networked environment. The program emerged from the desire to create an easy-to-use application that would allow users to combine text, images, video, and sound not only quickly and simply but with precision and sophistication. Sophie’s users are interested in creating robust, elegant, networked texts without requiring programming knowledge or training in the use of more complex tools such as Flash.

Initially designed and developed under the auspices of New York City’s Institute for the Future of the Book, Sophie has been significantly revised and improved thanks to a generous grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded in the fall of 2008 under the sponsorship of the University of Southern California. Sophie 2.0 has been developed and continues to be enhanced, maintained, and supported by Astea Solutions AD of Sofia, Bulgaria and additional contributors using a Java code base contributed to the project by Astea Solutions.

Sophie’s goal is to open up the world of multimedia authoring to a wide range of people, institutions, and publishers. In so doing, Sophie redefines the notion of a “book” or academic paper to include both rich media and mechanisms for reader feedback and real time conversation.


Booktype is another free and open-source platform designed for collaborative development of books, either by teams of authors or by an authoring team of writers, editors and researchers. The finished product can be published 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 is a new offering; a cloud-based platform for the professional textbook market. The 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.  According to the company, 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 has several unique features that help automate some of the editing process that is unique to eTextbooks, like checking for broken links between special terms and their definitions in a glossary.

Next week we’ll take a look at other offerings in the eTextbook marketplace.

About Gwendolyn McIntyre

Author, editor, businesswoman, musician, lover of jazz and horses. Chief investigator of all things that go BUMP in the night.
This entry was posted in Blogging, Books, Paying Attention, Publishing, Tech-know, Things you might have learned had you been paying attention, Writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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