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There are some LaTeX packages which conflict with each other. When assembling a book from different chapters provided by different contributors, it might be not too easy to resolve these conflicts. In such cases, a possible workaround is to compile the chapters in isolation, adjusting page and chapter offsets, and then to concatenate at the PDF level.

Obviously, chapter cross-references, a global index, glossary, list of pictures, table of contents, bibliography, ... need extra work, which could be automated to a certain extent. Given such an automation, the merging then might be much easier than trying to merge at the TeX level. The only thing that would require manual (?) labor is to add hyperlinked chapter cross-references, a non-issue for a printed book.

Would this be a feasible workflow for a publisher? Is anyone aware of an implementation, perhaps as "intellectual property" of a publisher? Would there be other drawbacks?

The following questions are similar, but not the same: Compile separate document chapters into book w/o duplicate references? How do I create a book with separately produced chapters?

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This sounds like a train wreck. If it's not too late, a better approach would be to tell your contributors that their contributions have to work with some standard class file. Isn't this what academic journals do? –  Ben Crowell Apr 22 '13 at 21:50
@BenCrowell : Academic journals do that to ensure that all articles look the same. But if two articles require conflicting packages, it shouldn't cause any issue, they assemble the .pdf, not the .tex. But they don't have the bibliography/glossary/etc problems the OP mentions. –  T. Verron Apr 22 '13 at 21:54

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a publisher would be very happy, if one chapter has to compile with latex, another with pdflatex and at least one with xelatex. If only a printed version should be published, this can be done with some pdfhacks. However, if a PDF should also be published, I think at least some guidelines should be defined.

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