Preparing a Pressbooks E-book

Every 6 months or so our organization puts on a multi-day educational program for lawyers coming to Ontario from other jurisdictions.  I frequently do a session on issues relating to confidentiality and technology during the program.  It is a baseline look at these topics – passwords, encryption, and so on – and preparation is usually a matter of a relatively straightforward update from the last program.

Rethinking CLE Materials

This has left me time to try to make the materials more useful – hopefully the content is as well.  Lawyer education materials at CLE programs tend towards paper and a paper full of hyperlinks seems oxymoronic.  Over the years, I have created many CLE papers with links to Web sites with little expectation most of them would be used.  Occasionally, I have used shortened links in part to be able to measure whether a link was used or not.  Mostly, thy were not.

The latest evolution has been towards e-books.  My first crack was a PDF.  That was okay as far as it went but there are obviously limits.  In addition, I was surprised at the variety of differences between the different PDF readers I tried on both Android and iOS devices.  Never mind the limitations of getting a PDF onto an Amazon Kindle or other e-reader.

Using Pressbooks

Pressbooks is an online publisher.  It’s not the only one – Papyrus and the new Nook Press (f/k/a PubIt!) are other options – but I chose it for a couple of reasons:

  • you can output in HTML, PDF, epub, and mobi formats.  That covers just about any device;
  • you can create multiple one book books for free.  Since this was a CLE paper, not a commercial venture, I wasn’t looking for any additional overhead;
  • it’s based on WordPress, a publishing platform that is both easy and with which I’m already comfortable.  They’ve also just open sourced the plugin so you can run your own site and create as many books as you want to (which might be useful for a CLE provider who wants to ensure they’re getting uniform papers from their speakers)

The end result is here:  Confidentiality in a Wired World.  The Web version is a pretty good way to understand the Pressbooks output.  Each element – the “about” page, the front content, the chapters or parts – is created separately within the editor.  You can cut and paste directly from a word processor or create from within the system.  You can embed videos and images just as you would with a Web site.  I created my cover in Microsoft Word, using Office clipart, and then took a screenshot.  Once resized and saved using Microft Paint, it was ready for upload.

A screenshot of the Pressbooks dashboard for the Confidentiality in a Wired World e-book, showing the different parts and organization of the content.

As you create the elements, you can decide which one will live only on the Web version and which will be included in any export.  I like the flexibility this creates.  Since some content is incompatible with e-book readers, you can exclude it from that output.

The export function is easy.  Once you’ve created your online book, you head over to the dashboard.  The first thing is to select the theme or look of your book and tailor it for each of the output options.  You can also customize the cascading style sheets (CSS) and fonts to fit your own needs.  Then over to the export tab and push the button.  Pressbooks will generate the output options you select – PDF, epub, mobi, and a few others.

In Action

Once I’d finished the first iteration, and exported, I tested the output in different readers.  I left the hyperlinks in the text as well as making them into footnotes (Pressbooks supports a footnote function).  In some e-book readers and apps, the links work normally and pass you over to your Web browser.  In others, they don’t work at all but the footnotes do.  I don’t like doing both but I’m loathe to give up the linked text.

The exported files live in your dashboard.  The one complaint I have about Pressbooks is that there is no obvious way to share those exported files.  By default, both it and WordPress will block the upload of epub and mobi files as “media”, the default way you upload and share non-HTML content in these platforms.  PDFs are not a problem.  If you are running your own site, you could edit this limitation.  In the end, I uploaded them to a public Dropbox folder and then created links to them by (a) creating a Front Matter part for the Web book and (b) adding direct links to each format.

No project experiment like this is complete without some measurement.  Pressbooks supports a linkage to Google Analytics so you can activate Web statistics and see if anyone visits and what they view.  In this case, I don’t expect much in the way of hits but if I was making this a bigger activity, I would want to measure it to determine whether it was successful or not.

Lawyers appear to be adopting tablets and e-readers as quickly as other consumers.  I am hoping that, in providing a more useful, flexible version of the paper, it may have a greater likelihood of being used.



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