Proposal to Sell Programming eBooks Like Software

»sept. 5 2012

Since eBooks are digital they should be sold just like software: you buy and download the eBook, then you receive free updates for errata and bug fixes; and thereafter you pay a small fee for subsequent revisions and upgrades to the newer editions of the eBook.

This is especially needed for most programming and technological eBooks because of the frequent, inevitable changes and advancement in technology, particularly web technologies.

Even New Books Have Outdated Content
If you purchase a recently-published book on any web technology today there is a good chance that at least 20 percent, or more, of the subject matter will have been obsolete by the time you read the first chapter. We have an information paradox that results from the unnecessary lengthy process involves in publishing books and the daily, indeed hourly, advancement and changes in technology. This incompatibility between frequent changes in technology and technological books being sold as a finite commodity is a frustration for consumers, and we should push for changes now.

I have read some JavaScript and Object C eBooks recently, and all of them had outdated content even though the books were published just a month before I bought them. This is an unreasonable barter for the consumer. I would be willing to pay a small fee (between $3.00 and $5.00) to receive an updated edition of each of the books I have bought. And I bet the authors would be willing to add the updated content and be compensated for it.

Learn From The Software Industry
For decades, the software industry has profited immensely from charging customers a fee for an updated version of the software. It is impressive that software vendors release updated versions of their software annually and get customers to pay for the upgrades each time. If this has worked successfully for decades in the software industry, it should at least be tried in the publishing industry. And it might prove more profitable than the current system used by publishing industry.

Possible Gamesmanship
Surely some authors will try to game the system and purposely leave out some subject matter that they can add in a later edition for an upgrade fee. But this is not likely to impact the overall quality of the books because of the stiff competition amongst competing books in each subject today. And most often the books with more coverage and better instruction are the ones that sell best. Therefore, authors will still be compelled to provide as much coverage as possible in first edition of the books.

What Can You Do

Tweet, Email, or Call your favorite authors and urge them to pressure their publishers to change the outdated system they have in place for publishing books. The big upside is that this is a win win proposition for both the author and publisher and the consumers.

Update
I learned after I published this blog post that my favorite JavaScript author Nicholas Zakas has just started a similar program for his recent book
Principles of Object-Oriented Programming in JavaScript. You can read about why he chose to sell his latest book this way.

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