26 What Is a Webbook?
A Pressbooks webbook is exactly what it sounds like: a book on the web. Traditional book formats like print books and ebooks can start on the web too, but they eventually wind up in an export format – your standard EPUB, MOBI, and PDF files. These are the files you take to distribution services like Amazon or IngramSpark, who will host your book in ebook stores or allow readers to purchase them on a print-on-demand basis.
By comparison, a webbook stays on the web. It’s the exact content from your ebook or your print book, but hosted online with Pressbooks and available for free to readers. It’s also capable of a few things that traditional formats can’t do.
In this chapter, we’ll cover:
To understand what a webbook is, you first need to know that Pressbooks extends WordPress, a popular open source content management system used to publish content to the public web. Pressbooks transforms WordPress, however, so that instead of publishing a site made up of ‘posts’ and ‘pages’ as you would in traditional WordPress, you’re publishing a webbook. This means that each book you create with Pressbooks is a new website. Your book-website may live on the same Pressbooks network with hundreds, or even hundreds of thousands of other book-websites. No matter what format of book you’re creating, each of your chapters starts out as something like a ‘blog post’ or ‘page’ on a website. With a little code magic, Pressbooks then transforms those ‘blog posts’ into the book formats you’re familiar with.
With the webbook, the end result will resemble what you might see on a WordPress blog, but organized and presented in a way that invites readers to navigate the like a book. Each ‘post’ in your book – front matter, chapter, or back matter – becomes its own webpage. Readers can scroll down the webpage to read the entire chapter’s content, or they can use the navigation arrows attached to the bottom of the page to navigate backward or forward to another chapter. The reading interface for each page also includes a dropdown table of contents, like you may find in an ebook. To access the book, your reader just needs to have the link to where it lives on your Pressbooks network – something like https://guide.pressbooks.com/.
Just like in traditional book formats, ‘posts’ can be nested in a way that lets you divide your book up for your readers. Subsections can be nested under chapters, and chapters can be nested under organizational units we call parts. If a part contains content, it will display as its own webpage in the webbook format. Otherwise, it only divides the information in the table of contents. Subsections of a chapter will all be included on the same chapter webpage.
Most of the design elements that you see in your ebook and PDF book formats will also display in the webbook. For example, if you choose the Jacobs theme (as this book does) the ebook, print book, and webbook will all share the same Montserrat sans serif font, the same lightly shaded textboxes, and the same heavily bolded pullquotes.
The User Guide you’re reading is one example of a webbook. You can flip through it to see what it’s like to read a webbook you may create.
Most books have covers, right? On an ebook you may just see an image. On a print book, you might expect to see a fully design cover with a title, the names of authors, a description or excerpt, or even book reviews. The purpose of the cover is to introduce you to the book with details about the content and who wrote it.
In a webbook, the cover is replaced by the webbook homepage. The webbook homepage includes the same things you’d expect from a print ebook cover, plus a bit more, including:
- A cover image
- Title and subtitle
- License information
- Social media links
- Table of contents
- Book information
Most of that information displays “above the fold” as one may say – the most significant details are the ones the reader sees first. The reader can then scroll down to see the Table of Contents, Book Information, and Metadata sections. Since these contain quite a bit more information, we’ll get into that in the sections below.
One feature you may take particular interest in on the webbook homepage is the Download this book dropdown menu. If you’re creating your book on a PressbooksEDU or open source network, you’ll have the ability to share your latest export files with the public. Once that setting is turned on, the newest exported file of each file type will be available in this dropdown menu for readers to download to their device.
Table of Contents
The table of contents can be used to navigate to any part of the book. It displays in its entirety both on the webbook homepage and as a dropdown menu at the top of every page within the book.
Each part, chapter, and subsection in the book is linked to from the table of contents. Notice that subsections can be collapsed into chapters, and chapters can be collapsed into parts. To expand or collapse content, use the plus and minus signs to the right of the post title. You can also expand or collapse all items in the table of contents by clicking the Show/Hide All Contents button directly above the table of contents.
Chapters that have not been selected to show in web will appear with a lock symbol. You’ll only see these chapters in the table of contents if you are a logged in user with admin permissions for the book. Parts that have no content shown in web will not display at all.
Once you start looking around, you’ll notice that one of the biggest differences between traditional book formats is how the metadata – or ‘book information’ – is displayed. In ebooks and print books, your title pages, copyright page, and table of contents are considered front matter. These pages are automatically generated by Pressbooks using the details you entered on the Book Info page, and appear at the beginning of your book.
The same details are displayed in your Pressbooks webbook, but since webbooks aren’t paginated the same way, these details are instead displayed on the book homepage beneath the table of contents.
The Book Information section of the webbook homepage includes the following information:
- Long book description
- Author name(s)
- License information
Without going too deep in the weeds, this section of your webbook’s homepage provides visitors with more information about the book than is usually provided by the cover and title.
Using the metaphor from above, the metadata section pushes you completely into the weeds. Here’s where visitors can find a lot more details about the book, including:
- License and custom copyright notice
- Subject headings
- Publication date
- Digital object identifier (DOI)
- Ebook ISBN and print ISBN
- Social media hashtag
Nearly all additional information about your book that you may have entered on the Book Info page will be displayed here, in the Metadata section at the bottom of your webbook’s homepage.
Since much of the traditional front matter is displayed on this homepage, webbooks generally have fewer posts in the front matter section. Manually created posts, like dedications or introductions would still display as their own webpages, however.
The webbook interface is built to be responsive to all screen sizes: mobile, desktop, or tablet. The design includes several features to help readers as they work through the text.
Let’s start with the first thing people see at the top of the page:
Logo: In the top left corner, readers will see the logo for the network on which they’re reading the book. In the example above, the book is on the PressbooksEDU network. If a reader clicked that logo, they’d be taken to the PressbooksEDU network’s homepage.
Increase Font Size: In the top right corner is an option to increase the font size of the text. This lets the reader control the text size of the book without affecting the reading experience of other users. The Font Size button is sticky on screens larger than a cell phone so it can be enabled and disabled at any time.
Navigation Menu: The specific items which appear in this navigation menu will differ between networks, but the header navigation menu will generally always include the following links: Home, Sign In/Out, and Read. The Read button takes a reader to the first page in a webbook.
Search: The search box lets readers search for any term throughout the book and then displays a list of all chapters that include that term.
Contents: As you’ll have read above, the webbook includes a table of contents on the homepage as well as a dropdown version that’s available from the top of ever page in the book.
Book Title: The title of the book will display in the middle of the top bar on every page of the book. Clicking the book title will bring you back to the webbook’s homepage.
Buy links: If a book creator has made their book available for purchase through a distribution service (like Kindle or Kobo), they may include links to those distributors on the Buy page. The Buy button will appear on the right hand side of the top bar, and readers can click the button to find where they can purchase the book.
At the bottom of every screen are three buttons that let you navigate through the book.
The bottom left of the screen is a button that reads ← Previous: [post title]. Clicking this button navigates the reader to the previous page in the book. Similarly, the bottom right of the screen displays a button that reads Next: [post title] → and navigates the reader to the next page in the book when clicked. These actions can also be executed by using the left and right arrows on your keyboard.
The third button is an arrow in middle that points straight upward. Clicking the Up button will bring the reader all the way back up to the top of the page they are reading. All three of these buttons are sticky, so you’ll see them no matter where you are on the page.
There are two layers to the webbook footer:
One displays a bit of information about the book:
- Chapter-level copyright license*
- Social media sharing links
*If the chapter does not have a chapter-level copyright license, then the book-level copyright license will be displayed.
The other layer is the default footer for all webbooks on all networks. It typically includes links to:
- The Pressbooks Guide and Tutorials list
- The Contact information for your network, if available
- Pressbooks YouTube
- Pressbooks Twitter
One of the biggest advantages of the webbook is interactivity. As we got into earlier, this version of your book is kind of like a blog: it’s based on the web, so there’s a lot more possible than can be included in a traditional print book or ebook.
Take videos for example:
Some more recent versions of the EPUB format do allow for videos, but unfortunately those versions aren’t widely supported by all ebook readers yet. The video above was just copy/pasted as link from YouTube into the Pressbooks visual editor, and now it’s embedded in the webbook and can be watched by any reader who accesses the book.
A few other interactive elements include H5P:
Or even interactive timelines:
For more information on what kinds of media can be embedded in a webbook chapter, check out Embedded Media & Interactive Content.
It’s important to note that since the webbook format is the only version of your book that can support these interactive elements, readers will see something a little different in the exported formats of the book. Videos, audio, and other interactive elements will display in the PDF and ebook versions of the text as a short paragraph that describes that interactive content is missing. They’ll also be given a link so that they can navigate to view the interactive content on the web once they have the opportunity.
The Pressbooks webbook is intended to be distributed as a free version of your book. We don’t offer any tools to monetize access to the webbook, so if you do choose to make parts of or the entirety of your webbook public, understand that you’re publishing that content as a free resource.
The primary use of the webbook is in education. Schools, universities, institutions, and non-profit organizations often use Pressbooks to create openly licensed versions of their textbooks or learning materials. These resources are often referred to as open educational resources, or OER. OER can then be used in classrooms as an alternative to traditionally published textbooks. Openly licensed content, or content that a creator has granted general permission for others to copy and/or change, can also be cloned onto another Pressbooks network, depending on the permissions of the license. This allows webbooks to easily be duplicated and changed on Pressbooks.
Webbooks do not have to be openly licensed; all content on Pressbooks defaults to the All Rights Reserved license until intentionally changed. If you publish your webbook under an All Rights Reserved license, it can still be read for free just like most copyrighted blogs and websites. However, the license will prevent your book from being copied onto another network via the Pressbooks cloning tool. Some authors choose to make one or two chapters of their book public on Pressbooks as a sample, then link to the full version of the book on distribution services like Kindle or Kobo.
If you’d like to see an example of an open educational resource on Pressbooks, check out Português Para Principiantes, a textbook designed to teach beginning Portuguese, created by members of the Department of Spanish & Portuguese at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Unlike your export formats, access to the webbook is controlled by two different layers of privacy: Global Privacy and Chapter-level Privacy. For more in-depth information on privacy in Pressbooks, check out the Privacy Settings chapter.
Global Privacy controls whether your webbook is accessible to the public as a whole. If the Global Privacy setting is on private then visitors to your book’s URL will not be able to read any of the content or even access the homepage. If they attempt to, they’ll see something like:
All books have the Global Privacy setting set to private by default. You must intentionally make your book public for it to be accessible to readers. You can find the Global Privacy setting and change it to public by going to
- The top of the Organize page, or
- Settings > Sharing & Privacy from the left sidebar menu
Chapter-level webbook privacy settings only matter if your webbook has been set to Public. If you have chosen to set the webbook to public, the chapter-level privacy setting called Show in Web allows you to select which of the posts in your book displays in your public webbook.
All chapters will Show in Web by default when they’re created. You can limit access to specific chapters in your public webbook in two ways:
- By deselecting the Show in Web checkbox for a specific chapter from the Organize page, or
- By deselecting the Show in Web checkbox from the chapter editor in the Status & Visibility panel
Note that if you’re changing a setting in the Status & Visibility panel, the chapter must be saved afterward.
If a chapter is set to show in web, it is also possible to lock it with a password. Check out this in more in the Privacy Settings chapter of our guide.