Online ebook production tools

In this section, we’ll look at online tools that let users produce ebooks ‘in the cloud’. Many of them also connect to distribution services and use the online advantage to allow teams to work on a title, whether freelancers or in-house staff.

Online ebook production tools

An interesting category of tools to emerge in recent years is that of online ebook production tools. They combine many of the benefits – and address several limitations – of automated online conversion services and desktop ebook editors.

They’re web-based like online conversion services, so they can be accessed via any web browser, by teams as well as individual editors and designers. Ebook editors, like Sigil and Jutoh, are installed on local personal computers.

They include features such as rich authoring environments, and workflow management to accommodate multiple editors and contributors. Automated online conversion services such as Smashwords and BookBaby don’t provide access to editing tools, they simply convert a document prepared elsewhere.

It is a market in constant flux, with frequent new entrants and just as many players exiting or changing business models.

We’ll look at two of the early entrants, each taking a different approach.

  • PressBooks
  • Inkling Habitat


Pressbooks dashboard

The Pressbooks editing dashboard. WordPress users will spot the similarities. (Click to enlarge.)

PressBooks is built on top of the popular website and blogging platform WordPress. If you operate a WordPress-powered blog, the PressBooks interface will look familiar, albeit pared back to basics to focus on the job of book production. But this isn’t just a tool for WordPress users, it’s one of the best general-purpose tools for online ebook (and print) production.

It uses the standard WordPress editor for managing text and images but adds some new features such as Add Part, Add New Chapter, Book Information and, of course, Export to EPUB and mobi. It will also produce print-ready PDF files.

Using WordPress allows PressBooks to do some interesting things.

Read more

For a start, each new book is a mini WordPress website so your book can be read online if you choose, even allowing comments from readers on pages you select. (Here’s an example:

It uses WordPress to its advantage in other ways, adding e-commerce and online marketing features such as sharing of chapter samples and book promotions through social media.

Input formats: If you’re running a WordPress website, a nice feature is that you can import pages directly from your blog using the WordPress XML format. Most publishers, however, will be working from Microsoft Word files or similar. There’s a reasonable import capability for .DOCX (Microsoft Word – doesn’t support older DOC format) and .ODT (OpenDocument standard). You can also import EPUB files and HTML.

Output formats: EPUB, Mobi (Kindle), and ebook or print-ready PDF formats for print on demand or offset printing.  PressBooks also exports some non-ebook formats that make it very useful as a way to get your content into other applications (and point to PressBooks becoming a useful ‘content repository’ — a central place to store and manage your content). The non-ebook formats include XHTML, WordPress XML and ICML (for Adobe InDesign).

Summary: For reflowable ebooks, PressBooks produces a very good result and a great bonus is that it will produce the interior PDF file for a printed edition. It has a good selection of built-in book templates which you select with just a click. It also lets you customize the CSS style sheet – in fact, you can separately customize the CSS for web, ebook and print editions.

If your material is time-sensitive or frequently updated, the immediacy and ease of updating offered by this system is hard to beat, and you can display extra content online that is not included in the exported ebook.

PressBooks is free to try but you’ll need a paid option to remove the watermarks on output. There are a few rough edges, documentation is a work-in-progress, and it eschews the fancy multimedia features of many of its competitors. Its strength is that it does the basics well, in a fairly intuitive way and its use of the very popular WordPress platform points to plenty of interesting opportunities as it develops.

As well as the hosted online service at, PressBooks is licensed as open source software which opens the way for developers and users to install it on their own servers and expand its capabilities.

WATCHHere’s a video that shows you how to create a printed book and an ebook using PressBooks.

Other online production tools

This is a rapidly changing field with frequent new entrants and just-as-frequent exits.

Bookalope (

  • Upload a manuscript and Bookalope will turn it into a document ready for conversion to an ebook or print book. Behind the scenes, it turns the text into clean, well-structured XML, then provides a number of options for converting it. These can be both finished formats, such as EPUB ebooks or PDF interior files for printing, or they can be ‘intermediate’ formats such as InDesign or Word for further editing and styling.
  • A particularly interesting feature for developers is the Bookalope API which lets them incorporate Bookalope’s document processing services into their own applications.

Booktype (

  • Professional-grade, free, open source platform to produce both print and digital editions. Optional Pro version takes care of technical and hosting issues.

Draft2Digital (

  • An increasingly popular alternative to Smashwords, providing both ebook conversion and distribution services. You can upload a manuscript and Draft2Digital will convert it into ebooks for distribution to Amazon, Apple, Kobo, Nook and a handful of other major ebooksellers. This process is free and Draft2Digital charges a small commission on sales.

PubCoder (

  • Professional-grade service, aims at graphical and interactive publications such as illustrated and children’s ebooks. Fixed-layout only, good multi-format and multi-language support. Formats include EPUB3, Kindle KF8 and apps for Android and iOS. Paid service (per-user subscription) with a free trial option.


Find out more about this topic on our Digital Publishing 101 useful resources site.

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