e-book Editions

What do you think is the difference in the two e-editions of this book?


The idea of editions is, of course, nothing new to the p-book world. A print book can have new editions for a variety of reasons: revised content, switching of covers from hard to soft, additional runs to rush more books to the stores, reprint to bring the book back into circulation for a new audience . . . etc. All, however, are tied to new print copies. A new print edition means new physical books. What does a new edition mean for e-books?

One of the biggest touted advantages of e-books is that authors can update the content of their e-books much more frequently than they can with p-books. Small revisions that don’t merit a new printing can be pushed through the Internet as almost-costless streams of zeros and ones to keep the authors’ works up to date. Alas, this constant updating hasn’t really materialized*. As Neil Netanel wrote in the preface to his book, “unfortunately for readers, but perhaps thankfully for tired authors, there comes a time when texts published . . . are put to bed and can no longer reflect ongoing developments”. While Netanel was talking about the hardcover, print edition of his book, authors of e-books get tired too and are just as thankful that they can, but don’t have to continually update their books to reflect ongoing developments once the e-files are published.

For e-books then, new editions make the most sense when they reflect new content or track new editions in print forms. In fact, this is what explains the two e-editions for Zombie Economics: How Dead Ideas Still Walk among Us, the book listed above. While the prices and covers are identical between the two editions, the undated version was published on September 2010 to coincide with the hardcover, while the May 2012 version tracks the paperback. (Interestingly, the e-editions lag behind their print counterparts just slightly in publication dates, but in terms of content, each e-edition replicates the p-perfectly.)

That leaves us with e-books that are born digital without a print version attached to their umbilical cords. Can these books have different editions? Can new editions for these books only come into existence with substantial new content, say, much more than with  just the cosmetic dressing of a new foreword? After all, it’s probably much harder for publishers to distinguish a new e-book edition than it is for them to do it for a p-book, where a flashy new cover can easily be slapped on, the books bought store space for, and in these ways, generally draw potential readers’ eyes to. What do you think?


*: When I use the term books, I’m limiting myself to mean monographs. Thus, e-books, or monographs usually meant to be read in their entirety, aren’t updated frequently, although reference resources (e. g. encyclopedias), databases, and other electronic resources certainly are.

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