Updating Your Ebook After Publication

POSTED ON May 4, 2015

Joel Friedlander

Written by Joel Friedlander

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Do you issue updates on your ebooks?

What’s an ebook update? It’s when you’ve made minor corrections, additions, or deletions to an ebook that’s already been published, and you then update the file so that anyone who has purchased it can get the new version for free.

There are a lot of good reasons you might want to consider updating an ebook. For instance,

  • If the material in your book is time-sensitive, updating can bring critical new information into the book
  • Updating allows you to accommodate change in a rapidly-changing environment
  • Providing continuous updates creates a “living book” that will not easily become obsolete
  • Authors can respond to changes in laws and regulations that affect their 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

And I’m sure there are a lot of other reasons that would make publishers interested in updating ebooks.

After all, one of the big advantages of ebooks is supposed to be this ability to simply shift bytes around to create an updated edition without having to worry about a warehouse full of books.

But in practice, can this actually be done efficiently? You would need to account for the different formats in which you’ve published your ebook, and how you distribute it to retailers.

  • Authors who upload their own files to ebook retailing sites will have to take on all the work of updating on each of those sites themselves
  • Those who use an ebook distributor will likely only have to work with that distributor to get their update out

The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide Update

We had a good opportunity to look into the current practices of some of the major ebook retailers when we got the first update ready for The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide a couple of months ago.

This is the perfect type of book to update, since it largely contains listings and links, and we all know how often links change—bad links pop up on this blog every week. It’s partly due to the very fluid nature of life online.

But updating isn’t just to correct bad links or typos that were missed the first time around, although those are also perfectly good reasons.

For a directory, an update gives you the chance to keep the information fresh and relevant for your readers. And it makes the book more attractive to buyers, who know that the book will stay up to date even if the information originally in it changes.

Dealing With Retailers

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

Here’s what we found out from our major retailers.

  • Kobo does not offer updated book files. Period.
  • BN.com does, and here are their 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.

  • Kindle offers an updating service, here are their instructions: “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.

    When updating your file for previous buyers you must notify Amazon of the changes (refer to: Notifying Customers of Book Updates). Amazon asks authors to provide details and specific examples of the quality corrections made to the book with location numbers. Amazon only makes new versions of a book available when they confirm that improvements are in place to correct quality issues present in the earlier version that negatively affect the overall reading experience.

  • Smashwords  Updates are available. Once a reader purchases a book, they will always have access to re-download the newest version should they wish to do so.
  • iBooks Updates are available, and here are their instructions.

    “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.”

Verifying Your Updates

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 associated with the updated version.

This 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.


Updates vs Editions

You might wonder whether your update constitutes a new edition, and that’s an important question.

It’s accepted trade practice in book publishing to consider a new edition to require a minimum of approximately 10% of the content is new material.

The reason this is important is that a new edition usually requires a new ISBN, which would defeat the whole idea of updating the book.

In the case of The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide, we added a number of new listings, corrected several, and added 2 new categories, to bring the total to 35. Taken together, this did not amount to 10%, did not trigger the need for a new edition, and is a perfect candidate for ebook updating.

Getting the Word Out

The last part of issuing an ebook update is to notify buyers that the update is available. This can be challenging since retailers don’t report back to us who has bought our book.

So most authors are left with emailing to their subscribers and announcing the update in social media or via a press release or newsletter announcement.

This blog post, in fact, is part of the way I’m trying to let all purchasers know that The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide has been updated and they can get theirs by following the directions above.

Do you have books that would profit from an update? Have you run into any problems getting it done? Let me know in the comments.

Photo: bigstockphoto.com. I want to thank Kate Tilton for her help in putting this article together.

Joel Friedlander

Written by
Joel Friedlander

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