Launched by Sourcefabric in February at the O’Reilly Tools of Change conference, Booktype is an open-source platform for writing, publishing, and printing books that can create different kinds of files and can format a book for Kindle, iBooks, or various other devices, and for print. While Booktype as an independent platform is new, it has a long history as the underlying software ofBooki and FLOSS Manuals, which gives it a noticeable maturity.
One of its most exciting features is that multiple people can work on a book. That can mean collaborators simultaneously writing various chapters; several readers suggesting changes to a draft; an author, editor, and translator working within one unified system…the sky is pretty much the limit. Collaborators can communicate via an internal chat system, or leave comments. Changes are tracked and various versions (translations, updates, special editions) can be saved. Probably one of Booktype’s most impressive qualities is that even though it’s a powerful tool, it isn’t a complicated one.
As it becomes easier to produce well-made books, and as companies become more aggressive about proprietary formats and restricting sales channels, questions about control, profit-making, and ownership are becoming more urgent. It makes sense to pay special attention to open-source, non-profit solutions like those offered by Sourcefabric. Its open, collaborative character pushes those same questions in a rather different direction. Flor cites an example from Umberto Eco’s most recent book, The Prague Cemetery: a nineteenth-century forger comes into contact with photographic reproduction and realizes that one day there will be no original to forge. “This is something that Umberto Eco writes today because that’s where we are. Today there is no original which you can forge. What you have is a copy, and that’s where Booktype starts…The idea of ‘my book’ in ten years time will mean something different and I think Booktype plays a big role in opening this idea of ownership.” (Though it should be emphasized that Booktype can be used with any kind of copyright.)Riener elaborates, “We’re freeing people from worrying about the formatting and the not-so-nice things and allowing them to focus on the content, which means really getting the ownership back…because by opening it up that doesn’t mean you’re losing control, you’re controlling the control over it.