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The problem of eBooks Business Model

The expectation of readers of eBooks is different to the readers of paper books. They are completely different technologies and its users have different expectations. The expectation also depends on the type of content of the book/eBook.

Currently there are some publishers and authors who struggle to see the difference, they keep publishing eBooks as if they were only books. In some cases, example for technical content eBooks (example: eBooks about a programming language), this should be unacceptable.

Different expectations for different models


Reading novels on a paper book feels a lot better than reading on a eBook. You feel the paper, you can carry anywhere, and also the reader is usually pride and wants to show what novel is currently reading.

Novels also do not get updated, it is rare (or inexistent) the case in which a novel has a new version. Usually only a few words gets changed from one print to another, the content is the same.

When a reader buys a novel as eBook, its expectation is usually to read on a Kindle device, or his iPad, or any other digital media. His expectation is that the content is readable on his device, and that the content is the same as the printed book.

Technical books

When a reader buys a technical book, because he wants to learn a new technology, he expects that the book is accurate and the examples contained on it work. It is understandable, that a typo may have gotten through and go to an errata on a web site.

When a publisher/author charges extra for the digital version, the expectation is the same as if it was a novel book, plus that the eBook will be updated with the new prints. If the reader downloads the latest version, it should be reading a version in which the errata is already corrected.

The technology business model of books/eBooks

Technology is always evolving, and changes to software, programming languages are inevitable. Some changes are also not backwards compatible. As an author, it is great opportunity to get a technology from the begin and publish a book about it.

If the initial book is successful, and lot of changes occurred to the software/programming language, it is an opportunity again to make money! You can release a new version of the book with updates! Specially if you wrote a very good previous version, lots of people will buy the new version.

For a reader, it may be interesting to buy the new version if many things changed, but otherwise it will just stick with the old one.

eBooks as opportunity

For authors, an eBook should be an opportunity to keep the readers updated with any small change that may come. This is a way to keep them reading the content which was initially sold in a more accurate way.

When a book contains examples which are to be run on a computer, they must be working! If a small change on the language software breaks an eBook, the author has an opportunity to make a small correction and release it in the latest version of the eBook. This practice is better than keeping an errata or a “companion”.

Just buy the next edition

This is what you would usually hear as a reader, but in days that subscription model is what we hear, and that re-generating an eBook should take the same amount of time that writing an errata, you should have the most accurate content available.

We should actually pay for new content. For example, a new version is released which requires major rework for the author, we should pay for it. Maybe not the full price, but it is even understandable.

My bad experience

When you buy an eBook about Cocoa Programming for Mac OS X, you expect the examples to work. You do not expect to read the eBook, watch the examples not to compile, and read a companion.

The people from Big Nerd Ranch actually have the best books for Cocoa and iOS, and they are very professional to release the companion guide.

Unfortunately, my expectation nowadays is not a companion, but a new eBook version which contain the changes from the companion.

I bought the previous edition of this book , and decided to buy the current version because of the change from Objectice C to Swift. I wouldn’t have bought if I knew I would have to read a book in which the examples do not compile!

It does not compile not because of the authors are careless, but I think it is related to be published by informit. I have not yet seen an eBook from this publisher to be updated. I suspect this bad practice comes from the publisher which has an outdated business model.

Don’t get me wrong, informit publishes great books from awesome authors, but this practice of not updating is not correct!

My good experiences

The expectations I have mentioned in this post comes from the books and eBooks I buy from the Pragmatic Programmers site.

Their good practices are:

  • Update eBooks instead of errata.
  • Small updates even on code examples, creates a new version of the eBook, and this is usually free.
  • New versions of eBooks, usually come as an upgrade of the previous version, sometimes with discounts.
  • The reader receives updates about the eBooks he owns.

There are other authors and publishers which also follow these practices. This is what I expect as a technology guy who reads technical stuff.


The content of a book determines the expectation of the eBook version. Some publishers still works in a Business model which is no longer the ideal for the reader point of view for technical eBooks.

Maybe as readers we should demand more from the publishers and cheer the publishers and authors who play nice.