Adapt an Existing Open Textbook

9 Technical Platforms and Tools for Adapting

While there are a number of tools that can be used to modify an open textbook, depending on what format the original source document is in, the BCcampus Open Textbook project will be focusing primarily on 2 tools for modifying existing open textbooks PressBooks and OpenStax CNX (formerly Connexions).


PressBooks will be the primary tool used to create new textbooks as part of the project, and to adapt most of the textbooks in our collection that have been gathered from other sources. PressBooks is a web-based authoring tool based on the popular WordPress authoring platform. Working in PressBooks is similar to working within a Learning Management Systems like Moodle or Desire2Learn.

You can import a number of different formats into PressBooks for editing, including Word, ePub and HTML. PressBooks will output the textbook as a mobile-friendly website, an ePub document (for use in e-readers), and a PDF (for printing).

For the BC Open Textbook project, we are using a self hosted installation of PressBooks, but you can try out PressBooks for free using their hosted service. All open textbooks targeted for adaptation are uploaded to a platform, or online editing tool, that the author uses to adapt the textbook. The author requires an account to access the platform, which is set up by BCcampus. Individuals that support the author, such as the project manager and copy editors, will use an administrative account to access the author’s work as needed.

We have a few PressBooks tutorials.

For developers and technicians working in Pressbooks, here are some support communities,

OpenStax CNX

OpenStax CNX (formerly Connexions) is a tool we recommend when modifying textbooks that are from the OpenStax College project. See OpenStax CNX tutorials.


Images used in an open textbook project should be in either PNG, GIF or JPEG  format. PNG is the preferred image type. If you use Visio to create images, you must export the images as one of these file formats.

Other useful platforms & tools for adapting open textbooks

If you wish to adapt an open textbook, you need to be able to have the textbook in a technical format that you can work with. This usually means the original source files used to create the textbook.

Common source formats for open textbooks that you should look for are:

  • HTML files (webpages)
  • Word or OpenOffice documents
  • Text files
  • ePub
  • LaTex files (if the original book includes math or science formulas and equations).

What tools you will use to create your version of the textbook will depend greatly on what format you find the original textbook in and what you feel comfortable working with.

PDF documents. Great to distribute, terrible for editing.
It is common that open textbooks may only be available as a PDF document. PDF documents are great formats to distribute the final version of the textbook to students in, but a terrible format for editing or adapting. If you want to adapt an open textbook that is only available in PDF format, you will need to convert the PDF document to one of the formats above. However, converting a PDF document to an editable format is a difficult, time consuming and an imprecise process that requires specialized tools that don’t always do the job. Therefore, if you are faced with the task of modifying a PDF document, before you consider converting that PDF to an editable document,  you should contact the original author and ask for a copy of the textbook source files.

Other editing tools

The chart below shows you some of the tool options you have for working with the various file formats. Note that this is not an exhaustive list. You may have a tool that works for you that you wish to use to create your open textbook.

Original Format

Possible Editing Tools (Web-based)

Possible Editing Tools (Desktop)

Word or OpenOffice Google Docs, PressBooks Microsoft Word, OpenOffice
ePub PressBooks Sigil, Calibre
Text Google Docs, PressBooks Word, OpenOffice
LaTex ScribeTex TeXworks, Texmaker
HTML Google Docs, PressBooks, MediaWiki Dreamweaver, MS Expression Web
OpenStax College Connexions n/a

A number of these platforms are free and can be used to modify existing open textbooks, or convert documents from one format to another. There are other tool that you might find useful when working with open textbooks.

  • Calibre (Windows & Mac) an ePub reader & document conversion tool. The Swiss Army knife of conversion tools.
  • Sigil – Open Source tool for creating and/or editing ePub books
  • eCub – Another Open Source tool for creating and/or editing ePub books
  • pandoc – powerful universal document conversion tool (LaTeX, Word, ePub, HTML & more)
  • Adobe Acrobat Pro – Not free, but useful for converting PDF to other formats. PDF conversion is a tricky process and chances are you will have to do significant manual clean-up. But this is the best tool to get you started cponverting PDF documents.
  • PDFtoHTML – Open source utility to convert PDF to HTML
  • TeXworks (Win/Mac/Linux) – Open Source TeX editor
  • Texmaker (Win/Mac/Linux) – Open Source TeX editor