Pressbooks as an automated book production tool has has existed since 2011. The software was built on top of WordPress, an open source and widely used content management system on the web. Pressbooks was intended to be an easily usable tool for anyone wanting to make books, and to enable new models of publishing to emerge. Its first user base was mostly self-published authors and some small presses, seeking to decrease design costs and automate the design and formatting process. Meanwhile, Pressbooks was available for free as an open source software, and academic institutions began to take notice. Post-secondary institutions were hosting instances of Pressbooks on their own servers and using the book production software to sustain their open textbook production.
In 2017, the Pressbooks team decisively pivoted their business model away from the self-publishing industry and toward higher education, launching the PressbooksEDU initiative. Increasingly, colleges, universities, and educational consortia were beginning to look for software that could help make their OER programs successful. With many institutions using open source instances of Pressbooks to facilitate their book production, and others actively seeking to purchase hosting services for book production, the path forward was becoming clear. The simple, WordPress-based automated production system that small and medium independent presses had shied away from was exactly what OER programs—in search of easy-to-use, cost effective production methods—needed. Rather than charging a one-time fee per book on one shared network, Pressbooks opted for a business model based on charging an annual fee to host an entire network per institution. The change enabled a more stable revenue flow for Pressbooks, and also allowed for the innovative, unconventional web-based publishing models that CEO and founder of Pressbooks Hugh McGuire sought to explore from the beginning.
A large turning point for the company was its partnership with learning technologies consortium eCampusOntario; though many large organizations with OER programs, like SUNY and BCcampus, were already using Pressbooks in an open source capacity, eCampusOntario was the first consortium to commit to a hosted network and major financial investment in Pressbooks. eCampusOntario purchased a Pressbooks network that had the potential to make OER creation possible in all public post-secondary institutions in the province of Ontario, and also commissioned the custom development of educational features for the software. In the months following, Pressbooks worked to change its marketing and business strategies in a large overhaul of the company’s approach to book production. Pressbooks.com would still offer single-serving books, but PressbooksEDU would differ; the business model would be built on hosting standalone book production networks for institutions on an annual or monthly subscription basis. With the changed direction came the onboarding of several new team members; over the year, the team doubled its personnel and more than doubled its working hours.
As of September 2018, Pressbooks was hosting book production networks for approximately 40 institutions. Notably, Pressbooks has partnered with the eCampusOntario and the Unizin higher education consortia to offer affordable solutions to OER production, and is now available in many other high ranking institutions across the United States and Canada.
What Does PressbooksEDU do for open education publishers?
PressbooksEDU is a book design and production tool, as well as a multisite-networked content management system. While the first of these is important for any author not working with professional designers, the second is integral for an OER production program. Pressbooks can both automate the design process and facilitate the bulk distribution of openly licensed works – an ideal combination.
Book Design and Production
Pressbooks’ main service is the automation of book design and formatting. Any user on Pressbooks can import their work and create a completely designed book file by choosing one of the more than twenty pre-designed book themes. After the theme is chosen and the content is uploaded, Pressbooks enables users to export book files into a number of different file formats, most notably PDF, EPUB, and webbook. Webbooks are hosted online on Pressbooks networks, and users can then decide to keep as private or mark as public. Public books can be distributed for free all over the web.
The PDF and EPUB formats are used more widely by far by the self-publishing audience, whereas the webbook is primarily used by open textbook publishers. The webbook, hosted on Pressbooks’ infrastructure, is built for ease of access and interactivity. Users can embed digital elements, such as videos, quizzes, and the Hypothes.is web annotation tool. These interactive elements are especially significant in increasing the value of the digital open textbook in competition with the traditionally published textbook.
Content Management and Distribution
Pressbooks’ standalone book production networks also serve as content management systems. When an institution opts for a standalone network, they gain the ability to create multiple books. Each plan has a set storage limit; the network can continue to create books until their storage limit has been reached. Network administrators of a PressbooksEDU network have access to all books and users on their network. Books can be created, designed, peer reviewed, published, and read – all within the Pressbooks platform.
Distribution is the other half of this equation. The Pressbook webbook in its public form can be distributed to readers in various ways. Users who prefer to reserve their copyright typically choose to create books as EPUBs or PDFs and distribute them through third-party services, but the Pressbooks platform has built-in distribution methods for users who choose to distribute with open licenses. Pressbooks supports use of Creative Commons licenses, which are the widely recognized open license standard for publications, especially in the open textbook community. On PressbooksEDU networks, authors or administrators may choose to distribute all file formats from the webbook’s homepage. This means users can download their own prefered file of the book to their personal computer and view the content from outside the Pressbooks platform, which can be critical to students who may not reliably have access to texts that require an internet connect. Pressbooks also enables “cloning” of content—creating a copy a book that can be used by another network, revised, or even recombined with other books.
Adoption of Pressbooks in Higher Education
Pressbooks is in an ideal position to greatly affect how the OER movement is formed and changes. Counting hosted networks alone, PressbooksEDU is available to more than 100 institutions in North America and Australia through local networks or through consortia. With no tracking mechanism for open source network downloads, it’s difficult to estimate exactly how many schools are using Pressbooks, though numbers are likely in the hundreds. With major organizations like eCampusOntario, the Open Textbook Network, SUNY, Lumen Learning, and BCcampus actively using Pressbooks to create and adapt OER, the platform is reaching a level of visibility that being noticed by the OER community. Pressbooks is now in a position to learn from the institutions which it hosts and create a platform that is tailored to the needs of educational publishers. By engaging actively with the OER community, knowing its needs, and sharing its values, Pressbooks can then inform the ecosystem itself by how it offers its services. Pressbooks seeks to establish a reliable and replicable process for post-secondary institutions; one intention of this study is to help identify how Pressbooks can be informed by the current workflows of OER publishing programs currently in operation.