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26 April 2018

Coding for publishers

23 June 2016


Our free Coding for Publishers workshop on Thursday 23 June 2016 was a great way for publishers to find out about and try coding. It took place at Codebase's new event space in Edinburgh. Publishers got an introduction to Rails, during which they built a Rails app from scratch.


About the session (download the PDF: Coding for Publishers)

Taught by the team who developed the Futurebook award-winning, this hands-on course gave publishers the opportunity to create their own web application for storing and displaying book metadata. They were guided step-by-step, learning important concepts and techniques through demonstration and practice. By the end of the course they knew how to structure and write their own Ruby on Rails app, and how to publish it to the web.

The session contents

  • Getting started
  • Structuring our app
  • About the web application
  • About the design
  • Create our first model
  • Make this our home page
  • Making it look good
  • Adding some styling
  • Adding more features
  • Adding uploads
  • Making it useful
  • The show page
  • Creating an advance info sheet
  • Adding products to our works
  • Other forms of the same data: APIs
  • Further Exercises


The case for learning to code

Emma Barnes and her Bibliocloud colleagues will be running the session. Emma is MD of independent publishing house Snowbooks, and CEO of the Bibliocloud publishing management system for publishing. She is also a passionate advocate for publishers learning to code saying that:

 'It's us in the industry who need to be able to code. You don't know how many more books you can sell, how many more readers you can engage, how much more justice you can do to your authors' writing, until you have the technical knowledge to create the new tools and new applications that no-one's thought of yet.'

Here are some of the reasons that Emma has put forward for publishers needing to learn to code:

  • Our industry is built of data: descriptive metadata; sales data from a huge range of sources; reader data; online campaign data; the words we publish and the way they're structured into larger sets of content.
  • If we don't learn to use all the technical tools that exist, then outsiders will build things themselves and what they're building, whilst interesting, is just a shade off the mark, because they don't know publishing like we do.
  • Becoming adept at code-writing is good for business, good for your teams, and good for the long-term health of our industry.
  • Even if you don't want to become expert, learning the fundamentals would be enough for you to have a decent conversation with a developer. You'll have a better idea what's technically possible, you'll be able to tell if the developer is responding sensibly to your specs, and you'll know enough to be able to look at his or her proposal and cost estimate and see if it's reasonable.
  • Wouldn't you rather spend time learning enough to automate a job the once, so you never have to do it again? Once you've glimpsed what code can do, it's really hard to go back.
  • This is an opportunity to draw a line against the relentless outsourcing of skills.
  • As an industry, we're really running the risk of limiting our scope to being middle-men. With code, we have a chance to take back control.
  • Coding is a proper, cerebral activity that doesn't necessarily suit a 9-to-5 office location. It requires intense, prolonged sessions of quiet thought. If you've any desire to improve your company's flexible working capabilities at the same time as generating new revenue streams and increasing your creative output, get your staff to learn to code.


Getting started

  • If you would like to try coding there are lots of free courses including a free Rails course at
  • Or you can buy a book - The Rails Tutorial by Michael Hartl - and spend a day a week on it for six months. By the end of six months, you'll have written your own version of Twitter.
  • Codebar has free tutorials on its website.
  • Coursera and Udemy have reasonably priced or free courses (including Ruby) and is a subscription service. All three have HTML and CSS courses.
  • For more about coding in publishing, see Emma's articles on
  • And for some of examples of creative uses of coding, see the Creative Edinburgh website.