Should eBooks be updated?

One question asked by many librarians, now that I’m purchasing my reference titles electronically, should publishers be updating those titles and fixing errors prior to (or rather than) releasing a new edition?

How does this impact the print copy? Which copy is the official copy, print or electronic?
Should the eBook title be an exact replica of the print title? Are eBooks meant to be “living” and growing things? If so, how do we archive the older material?

How does this impact pricing? Should subscription based models include updates automatically? What about titles purchased to own (a one time fee)?

What are your thoughts?

4 thoughts on “Should eBooks be updated?”

  1. This is a topic that is very close to my heart. At Gale, we see great value in ownership of content and because of that, the Gale Virtual Reference Library is currently a purchase without updates. However, in this age of everything changing real-time, there definitely is a need to at least entertain the idea of updated eBooks if we ever really want to compete with all the “free” reference that is out there.

    We at Gale are actually working on launching a pilot this Summer, which we are internally calling “Smart Reference.” It’s an extension of the GVRL platform, will take a set of four encyclopedias in health and the social sciences, and we’ll update them frequently. The model currently being tossed around is one of an initial purchase and then an annual fee for updates. If a library decides to cancel the subscription piece, they get to keep all the updates up until that point. We also will allow the patron to see the revisions and revision history. With the New Catholic Encyclopedia, one of the pilot titles, students will be able to see and study all the editorial revisions. This study of revisions is interesting in itself.

    I would love to hear feedback from librarians about this concept.

    Nader Qaimari

  2. The overall question reminds me of one being faced in the software industry — the advantages and disadvantages of “Software as a Service” (commonly abbreviated SAAS). Are we buying the software to run our operations, or are we buying a service that enables us to run our operations?

    In this context, I can think of it as “are we buying content?” versus “are we buying a content updating service?” And the answer probably depends on the type of content under examination.

  3. Updating e-books can be a slippery slope. On one hand, revising content to update info and correct errors is always good. On the other hand, updating can revise a manuscript to the extent that it no longer carries the same message as it did originally. That makes me nervous.

    In terms of reference works, I’m all for revision, with archiving of past material for reference purposes. For most other work, limited revision to clarify a point should be as far as it goes. In all cases, I think keeping a record of the revisions is key.

  4. I like the idea of updating books with the ability to see former revisions (historical/comparison value. I’d still like a one time purchase fee and ownership of the title, however. Annual fees assessed for updated content are justified, but I would expect errors (typos, index, TOC errors) to be fixed regardless. It will be interesting to see how this business model develops and how the library budget is adapted to accommodate a one time purchase with an annual fee.

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