The unexpected risks of ebooks

Yesterday’s biannual royalty statement contained an unexpected surprise:  it included ebook royalties for Absolute BSD (published in 2002) and the first edition of Cisco Routers for the Desperate (published in 2004).  Both are out of print, and have newer editions.  While the royalties for these books played out over several years, I certainly never expected to see any new sales of either of these books.

It turns out that both of these are available through ebook licensing services, such as

This leaves me with mixed feelings.  There’s no real cost to having ebooks available.  For all I know, someone has a serious, legitimate need for high-quality documentation on FreeBSD 4.  Reliable documentation from that era is hard to find, and you have dig to find answers.  I don’t want to forbid people from buying it.

But I suspect that most people who buy these older ebooks made a mistake.  They really wanted the newer editions.

In my mind, the obvious thing to do is to have the licensing service put up a warning along the lines of “This ebook is obsolete.  You probably want this other book.”  That’s what my publisher’s online bookstore does.  But licensing services are independent companies.  I can’t dictate to them.

I could tell my publisher to rescind all rights to sell these older books, and force to remove them from their catalog, and to heck with people who need documentation for older kit.

What do you think?

One Reply to “The unexpected risks of ebooks”

  1. Is it possible that your books were bought as part of a package deal with a bunch of other books? My father-in-law buys old books by the box at garage/estate sales.

    Is there enough granularity in what the publisher sends you to know if the e-books are in a particular language? It may be that only the first edition of your Cisco book was in the Absurdistani language.

    Do you know if there’s a bait-and-switch happening, where what they think they clicked on was the latest edition (perhaps because someone mashed up info from other sources) but what they got was otherwise?

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