Open Source

How open source is transforming the publishing industry

Jack Wallen is one of the many in the midst of a revolution. Find out how Linux and other open source software titles are empowering independent authors and filling an important niche in the publishing industry.

Many of you already know I am not only a writer of a technical nature, but a writer of fiction. In fact, the second in my I Zombie trilogy will hit the shelves next month. I have been working hard to produce a catalog of ebooks and paperbacks for the last three years. During that time I have discovered something that seems to be slipping through the cracks of the majority of computer-type pundits — open source is one of the major players in the new world publishing order.

That's right — open source is the unheralded darling of the ebook publishing. How? Let's take a look:

  • The Amazon cloud is run by Red Hat Enterprise Linux.
  • The Kindle uses the Linux kernel.
  • Smashwords is run on Linux.
  • Twitter is run on Linux (a major PR tool for indie authors).
  • Wordpress is the number one blogging tool of indie authors.
  • A large number of my fellow indie authors use open source tools such as LibreOffice (to write), Calibre (to convert), and The GIMP (to create covers).

Here's the thing — most indie authors are doing all of this completely out of pocket. They don't have the backing of major publishing houses, so everything is on an extremely tight budget. That means many writers aren't purchasing MS Office, Photoshop, Quark, and other costly proprietary solutions. And although the vast majority of indie authors really have no idea they are furthering the open source cause — the fact remains they are. What they really care about is that the tools they use work and work well. Open source software (such as LibreOffice, The GIMP, Firefox, and Calibre) do the job and do the job well.

I am not the typical pundit. To be honest, I don't even call myself a journalist (they are a very special breed and will be happy to tell you that very fact ;-) ). So I do not have that romanticized notion that the death of the brick and mortar book store will bring about the downfall of society. In fact, I believe that the rise of the ebook is something long overdue. Not only does it empower the author, it also opens up the floodgates for open source software to really find a niche that proprietary software will struggle in. Remember, we're not talking businesses that Microsoft and Adobe can offer bulk discounts to — we're talking individuals who depend upon every penny in order to make ends meet. These users aren't going to turn to expensive software when there is a cheap (or free) alternative available.

The publishing industry has hit a serious wall and that wall is currently immovable. Why have they hit this wall? Because they have been incredibly slow (or completely reluctant) to adapt. But like the indie author, open source software is far more adaptable than it's proprietary counterpart. Because of this, open source can embrace this niche quickly (as it is still gaining tremendous momentum) and become the champion of the new world order of publishing.

This change is inevitable. Because of this, I would love to see someone put together a distribution directed at the independent author, with all of the tools necessary to get their books ready for the consumer. Because of the nature of open source, this is not only possible, it's easy. Thanks to Linux, and a host of other software titles published under variations of the GPL, the publishing industry revolution will not be televised, it will be written about in beautiful prose, and finally presented to the consumer thanks to freely available applications ready to give the writer all the power they need.


Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website

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