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Selecting a Publisher: Finding the Right Editor

Revised Editions of Computer Books

One of the more common customer complaints over the years has to do with the cost of buying a revised edition of a computer book. Readers sometimes note that the changes from one edition to the next are relatively minor. They want to know why they have to pay full price for the next edition when it contains much of the same information as the current edition.

There’s never been a simple solution for this problem. Publishers could take a page out of the software business and offer discounted upgrades to registered users. That’s probably never happened up to now because of:

  • The processing costs involved, especially when weighed against the net price if the customer’s “upgrade” discount is fairly deep,
  • The publisher risks alienating the bookstores and other channel partners by taking the next transaction direct to the customer, cutting out the retailer, and
  • It’s hard to say how many customers would even consider this as a viable option.

Rather than working towards a solution with a printed book, should an electronic upgrade product be considered? If you could get a PDF of the next edition for $5 or $10, vs. the original printed book price of $30 or $40, would you consider this alternative? What if that PDF included revision marks to show what’s new in the revised edition? What if the “upgrade” featured a second PDF file that highlighted only those chapters/elements that have changed? That way you could quickly scan through this smaller file to quickly get up-to-speed on the differences between the two editions. I could see where this might work in some cases, but it’s far from a perfect solution.

On a related note, Syngress has experimented a bit in this area with their “1 Year Upgrade/Buyer Protection Plan”. This is purely an online solution, but one that they’ve been playing up on covers for a few years. I don’t hear much buzz about this and you generally don’t even see customers refer to it in online reviews.

Is this really less of a problem than it’s perceived to be?


Cori Schlegel (kinrowan)

I mentioned this briefly in my post in response to your perfect computer book post. I think a subscription model is a great idea, and doing it in pdf would be perfect. Even if you had to cut the bookstore distribution network a small portion of the proceeds to keep them happy it might be worth it.

But then again, it would depend entirely upon the nature of the book. For some books I would be likely to pay for the upgrades in this fashion, in other cases I would simply not buy the subsequent version - I'd be fairly unlikely to purchase a new edition outright at all.

Aaron Holmes

I, for on, would be willing to pay the lower cost to have an updated PDF version. While I prefer to have books in printed form this would be a viable option, especially if combined with features such as mentioned about.

While we're close to the topic I'll mention this - I despise PDF files with password and/or crippling protection schemes. Not because I want to copy them, distribute them, or in any way cheat the publishers out of a few dollars, but soley because they refure to co-operate with my PDA (which for me is the biggest advantage in having digital versions of my library).

I have actually never heard of the Syngress plan, much less used it.


Michael Miller

Perhaps the better question is, how often do we need to revise computer books these days? Many publishers are still on the yearly new edition cycle that made sense in the early 1990s, when software did upgrade once a year and people actually bought the upgrades. These days, most software probrams upgrade, what, every three years or so? (With the exception of Quicken and anti-virus software, of course.) Over the past few years, I've found many publishers working really hard to justify a reason for a new edition in the middle of an upgrade cycle.

IMHO, new editions should be reserved for when there are significant changes in the software. Which means, of course, that c-book publishers need to wean themselves from a frontlist mentality to a backlist one. And this solves the "incremental revision" issue for consumers; when there's a new edition based on a new software version, that's truly a good reason to buy the book.

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