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E-Book Update Nitty-Gritty

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by Joel Friedlander, Book Designer


Joel Friedlander

Do you issue updates on your e-books—making minor corrections, additions, or deletions in the version already published, and then uploading the updated file so that anyone who purchased the book can get the new version free?

There are a lot of good reasons to consider updating an e-book. For instance:

  • If the material in the book is time-sensitive, updating can add critical new information.
  • Updating lets you take account of changes in a rapidly changing environment, including changes in laws and regulations that affect a book’s subject matter.
  • Test-preparation books can be updated to reflect changes in testing protocols or procedures.
  • Textbooks can be updated with current studies or new findings that affect the text.
  • Providing updates continually creates a “living book” that will not easily become obsolete.

Of course, one of the big advantages of e-books is supposed to be the ability to create an updated edition by shifting bytes around without having to worry about a new printing or stacks of obsolete copies. But in practice, can e-books be updated efficiently?

Bear in mind that the process involves dealing with the different formats in which you’ve published your e-book, and with the range of retailers that distribute it. Publishers who upload their own files to e-book retailing sites will have to take on all the work of updating on each of those sites themselves. Publishers who use an e-book distributor will likely have to work only with that distributor to get their updates out.

Recently, I had a good opportunity to see how the e-book update process works with major e-book retailers when my co-author, Betty Kelly Sargent, and I got the first update of The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide ready to launch.

This is the perfect type of book to update, since it consists largely of listings and links, and we all know how often links change and die.

But we weren’t updating just to correct bad links, or to fix typos that were missed the first time around, although those are also perfectly good reasons to update. We were taking advantage of the chance an update provides to keep a directory’s information fresh and relevant for readers. A book is more attractive to buyers when they know that it will stay up to date even if the information originally in it changes.

In the Real World of Retailers

Although we sometimes talk about e-books and their potential in abstract terms, when it comes to the real world all their vaunted flexibility may not amount to much.

Here’s what we found out:

  • Kobo does not offer updated e-book files to previous buyers of your book. Period.
  • BN.com does offer updated files, and here are its instructions:

If you upload a new .epub manuscript file to replace the one currently On Sale as a NOOK Book, or if you update text in the Manuscript Editor and publish a new version of your NOOK Book, a customer who has already purchased and downloaded your NOOK Book will not have your NOOK Book replaced on their devices. If a customer archives and re-downloads your NOOK Book, however, that customer will receive the updated file at no additional charge. NOOK does not reach out to notify customers of changes to any NOOK Book, and NOOK does not share customer information with anyone.

How do I archive NOOK Books on my device?

When you’re done reading a NOOK Book you can move it into your archive by going into ‘My NOOK Library’ and selecting the NOOK Book you’d like to archive, then clicking ‘Move to Archive’.

How often can I download a NOOK Book?

Once you’ve purchased a NOOK Book, you can access and download it as many times as you want.

For more information, see NOOK Frequently Asked Questions [barnesandnoble.com/u/nook].

  • Kindle offers an updating service. Here are the instructions for that:

If you’d like to receive updates to your Kindle books automatically, you can turn on automatic updates* for your books from the Manage Your Content and Devices page. *Note: The Automatic Book Update feature may not yet be available for markets outside of the U.S.

Before you enable the Automatic Book Update feature, make sure to turn on the Annotations Backup for your Kindle device or Kindle reading app to sync your notes, highlights, bookmarks, and furthest page read. The following devices automatically enable the Annotations Backup: Fire HD, Fire HDX, Kindle for Android, Kindle for Windows 8, and Kindle for BlackBerry 10. As a result, you cannot turn off the Annotations Backup.

Follow these steps to enable the Automatic Book Update:

1. Visit the Manage Your Content and Devices page. 2. Select “Automatic Book Update” from the left navigation bar. 3. Click Turn On.

And here is the old way: How to Get the Latest Version of Your Kindle Books [howtogeek.com/tips/how-to-get-the-latest-version-of-your-kindle-books-including-ours].

When updating your file for previous buyers you must notify Amazon of the changes (refer to: Notifying Customers of Book Updates [kdp.amazon.com/help?topicId=A1RGGPBKDR1BPZ]). Amazon asks authors to provide details and specific examples of the quality corrections made to the book with location numbers. Amazon makes new versions of a book available only when it confirms that improvements are in place to correct quality issues in the earlier version that negatively affect the overall reading experience.

  • Smashwords makes updates available. Once a reader purchases a book through Smashwords, the reader will always be able to re-download the book in its newest version.
  • iBooks also makes updates available, and here’s what Apple says about them:

Out with the old edition. In with the new.

Books—especially textbooks—get updated for any number of reasons. Thankfully, the iBooks app supports book updates. That means if a book you purchased is republished with new or additional content, iBooks lets you know. You can download the updated version free, and it automatically replaces the older copy in your library.

A Tactic for Keeping Track

As part of the process of updating the text of the Resource Guide we made a notation on the copyright page that this was “version 1.1,” the label we decided to associate with the updated version.

Amazon photoThis allows readers to verify that they have the latest version, and also allows me as the publisher to verify that each retailer has successfully replaced the old version with the new one.

Here, for example, is a screenshot of the book in the Kindle store, using the “Look Inside” feature.

The Edition Issue

You might wonder whether your updated e-book counts as a new edition. That’s an important question because a new edition usually requires a new ISBN, and giving an updated e-book a new ISBN would defeat the whole purpose of updating it.

It’s accepted trade practice in book publishing to consider an edition “new” if roughly 10 percent or more of its content is new material. In the case of The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide, we added a number of listings, corrected several, and also added two new categories, bringing the total number of categories to 35. Taken together, all this new material did not amount to 10 percent of the original text, so our updates did not trigger the need for a new edition, and our book remained a perfect candidate for e-book updating.

Getting the Word Out

The final step in issuing an e-book update is notifying buyers that the updated edition is available. This can be challenging. Since retailers don’t report on who bought books, most publishers have to rely on using their own mailing lists and on announcing the update through social media, blogs, press releases, newsletters, and public appearances. Also, obviously, you can get the word out in articles such as this one if you provide related information that readers will find useful.

Joel Friedlander is a self-published author, an award-winning book designer, and a well-established blogger as well as co-author of The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide. The founder of the Self-Publishing Roadmap online training course, he offers predesigned book templates for Microsoft Word and Adobe InDesign and other tools for authors at BookDesignTemplates.com. To learn more: thebookdesigner.com.

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