Apple vs Amazon in the fight for updating rights

Published November 1, 2012

One of the appeals of writing books exclusively in a digital format is that if you need to update your book, it should be simple. Whether it be for a mistake, or additional information, or simply a bigger and better second edition, ebooks are perfect for updating. Rather than printing a huge batch of paperback or hard copy books then realising you’ve made an error, it should be easy to fix and avoid that heart-sinking moment of discovery.

Round in circles

It should work that way, but up until this point, it really hasn’t. When I published the 2012 Season Preview earlier this year, there were a few tweaks that needed to be made almost immediately. Nothing major, just a couple of typos and a table that wasn’t looking right. I published the book via Amazon’s Kindle store and Apple’s iBookstore, and both processes were completely hideous.

The first problem came because Apple take so long to approve the book that we were ready to do an update before they had published the Preview to the store. It takes an age to get things approved for the iBookstore, and when it did finally appear, I ended up in a circular email conversation with a friendly but ultimately unhelpful helpdesk representative. It was a frustrating experience that led to the conclusion that the lower number of sales via the iBookstore was not worth the hassle of trying to deal with the admin.

Amazon won the battle, then, but only slightly. It was much easier to submit an update to the book (which had been published almost immediately), and there were only a dozen or so people who managed to get their hands on the first edition. Trying to get an update pushed out to those existing owners wasn’t easy, despite giving all the information across to Amazon as requested. They said it should appear in the Manage my Kindle section for those that want to update - but it didn’t.

So updating should be easy, and it isn’t. Or, at least, it hasn’t been up until now.

Forward motion

Apple’s recent announcement has stirred enthusiasm for the iBookstore again, with the ability to push updates to customers without any hassle at all. It still takes an age to get the book approved in the first place, but once it is there, you can replace it with updated versions as often and as seamlessly as you would like. The updates show up just as any app update would - with an alert to let you know a download is available.

The only question mark over it is what happens to all your bookmarks. The reason Amazon are so circumspect in updating books is that they require express permission from the user to go in and download a new version, wiping all their highlights and notes. Apple say they will migrate the highlights and extras forward where possible, but this is probably one of those “mileage may vary” things.

So, from far behind, from frustrations that saw me call an end to my books on the iBookstore, Apple have jumped ahead again with this new ability to update. The competition for ebook domination is pushing innovation and improvements from both parties, and that can only be a good thing!

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