Pandoc 1.12.4 released – Production people take note!

On May 7th, John MacFarlane released Pandoc v1.12.4 – a significant update that includes many enhancements across the wide range of its reader and writer modules. For publishers, the key enhancement is the integration of a writer module for Adobe’s ICML. This allows Pandoc to effectively export to Adobe InDesign.

Pandoc is a free, multi-purpose document conversion toolkit with an extensible design and some very sophisticated features. It presents itself most straightforwardly as a markdown engine: it reads text files prepared in markdown format and converts them to HTML. But Pandoc can do much, much more than that. It reads and parses no less than 10 different structured formats, and can then output to about 35 formats. It does so by parsing to a neat internal format, then re-generating outputs as needed.

Its useful outputs include HTML and HTML5, EPUB and EPUB3, ODT and DOCX, LaTeX, DocBook XML, and several HTML-based slideslow formats. As of v1.12.4, it can also output ICML, which is the open file format for Adobe’s InCopy software, which is directly usable in Adobe InDesign. If you look at that list, you’ll see that Pandoc can form the basis of a single-source publishing workflow: a single editorial file can instantly go to print/PDF, ebook, and web outputs.

We’ve been experimenting with this at SFU. This spring in the MPub Tech Project course, our “Flying Narwhal” group developed a prototype content- and workflow-management strategy based on Pandoc, targeting web magazines, tablet editions, and print editions. Earlier in the year, I delivered a set of workshops for EBound Canada demonstrating Pandoc’s use in EPUB production. This is a tool that can do it all. Did I mention it’s free software?

Beyond file conversion, Pandoc has numerous well-thought out features for managing document metadata, citations and bibliographies, footnotes (possibly the nicest footnoting system ever), math and equation support, images, and page templates. See the Pandoc user guide for details.

If you’re producing books, stories, journals, articles that are primarily text-driven, and you’re managing multiple tools and processes to produce digital and print editions, you really need to take a good look at Pandoc. It makes most document preparation, conversion, and production tasks trivially easy, so you can spend your time on writing, design, and reach instead.