How Do You Upgrade An eBook?

As I've mentioned before, Jasper Fforde is one of my favourite authors. His latest book "One of Our Thursdays is Missing" is a brilliant work of fiction - but contains a rather worrying flaw.

Well, I say a "worrying flaw" - I mean an error. All books contain errata - I think that's a given - but outside of academia, Jasper Fforde is the only author I know who offers upgrades to his books.

Here's a sample from the original Thursday Next "patch"

5: Using a fine black pen make the following corrections:

6: Go to page 32 and replace 'Stella' with 'Steller's - this is the correct spelling. The large slow-moving-manatee-type-mermaid-legend creature was named by Georg Wilhelm Steller, the German naturalist.

What's The Error?

The book contains a number of charming illustrations - the final illustration is meant to be (NO SPOILERS) about a wiped out clown army. Instead, it's a repeat of an earlier illustration of (NO SPOILERS) mimes encircling a car.
Screenshot of incorrect image in One of Our Thursdays is Missing

At the time of writing, there's no upgrade listed for the latest book - although there are a range of fabulous special features. I've dropped Mr Fforde an email alerting him to this devastating turn of events.

Yes, yes, it's fairly minor in the grand scheme of things.

Expecting More

Of course, one could argue that traditional books don't get upgrades - so why should this be a problem for ebooks?

  • I can take my physical book back to the shop and get a replacement. Or even send it back to the publisher. With eBooks, this is virtually impossible - not least because of the DRM issues involved in revoking a book.
  • If a book contains a serious error, I can print out an errata sheet. The DRM on eBooks prevents me from altering their contents.
  • We should expect more. This is a new medium - we should expect more than simply plain text in a DRM layer.

Yes, it all comes down to DRM - or, as Jasper Fforde puts it...

The DRM was the Dark Reading Matter – the unseeable part of the BookWorld.


DRM’s existence remained theoretical, at best.

I don't know if I'm reading too much in to Fforde's work - but he doesn't strike me as the sort of author to use an acronym without a thorough understanding of what it means. I have no shame in saying that I removed the DRM on the ePub I purchased in order to read it on my Kindle (which does not support Adobe's DRM scheme).

I don't know how I expect an eBook upgrade to work - with or without DRM. I don't want an author, book seller, or publisher to randomly change the book I'm reading - that's a little too similar to Amazon deleting 1984 from its Kindles.

I know I don't want to buy an entirely new copy - just because some punctuation has been fixed.

Should I be able to download a diff and let my eReader decide which version of a book I want to see?

Should I be able to get an update free? Should it cost?

So many questions and so few answers. If you've got any thoughts on the matter - please let me know.

5 thoughts on “How Do You Upgrade An eBook?

  1. says:

    I would expect the same process as for an app upgrade. I get a notification that says "The author has released an updated version of this book - do you want to update?" and I have to say 'yes' before it does anything.

    Bonus points for a revert feature in case I regret the decision.

  2. says:

    I'm not sure how different this is from the existing situation - where if a hardback version of a book contains errors, they get fixed in the paperback, or errors get fixed (sometimes) in a subsequent reprint? In other words, you only get the fixed version if you buy the book again.

    Of course with ebooks things could - and should - be better, but this strikes me as more of a missed opportunity to take a step forward rather than an actual step backwards.

    1. says:

      "I’m not sure how different this is from the existing situation"

      You can't scribble in the margins of an ebook? 🙂

  3. Just received this from Waterstones

    We have been in contact with our suppliers about this and they are currently investigating the error on the eBook with their collection team, once they have more information or when the problem has been fixed we will contact you to let you know.

    Thank you for your patience and please accept our apologies for any disappointment or inconvenience caused.

    Kind regards,

    Gregor McGill
    Waterstones Customer Service

    They have also refunded the cost of the book.

    Interestingly, I can still download the eBook via Adobe Digital Editions. Wonder what happens when / if there is an update?

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