Second Editions versus the Publishing Business

I find myself with an extremely publishing-wonky moral dilemma, and want my readers’ opinions. My apologies for the length of this post.

Tech and academic publishers will frequently release a new and updated edition of a book simply to goose sales of the book. In college I bought three different versions of the same calculus book because they changed constants in the exercises. Calculus hadn’t changed, but the publisher gouged my wallet because they could. I had better use for that money, like getting desperately needed dental care.

Today I have my college degree, a bridge, and an assortment of fillings that rivals Jaws from 70s Bond flicks.

Second editions for the sake of second editions have a special place in my heart. A place with lots of flames, pitchforks, and high-power belt sanders applied to really delicate locations.

Second editions can be worthwhile and necessary, though.

I recently released a second edition of SSH Mastery. Unlike calculus, tech changes. The first edition contained actively incorrect information that would hurt people and dozens of minor flaws. It needed a polish. I’ve openly declared, repeatedly, that if you bought the first edition and kept up on changes in SSH, you don’t need to buy the second edition. Absolute FreeBSD is getting a new edition, eleven years after the previous edition. That’s too long, but life happens.

Similarly, TCP/IP Illustrated got a second edition. It needed one.

I’m finding myself in a moral quandry, though. One driven by publishing business.

My Tilted Windmill Press print books are available exclusively through Amazon’s CreateSpace print-on-demand program. This has been a potential problem for quite a while. I’m not a fan of monopoly or monopsony in my business dealings. The other major print on demand provider, IngramSpark, requires a publisher provide ISBNs. I deferred this purchase for several years, because ISBN pricing for US citizens is absurd.

Last December, I finally purchased a block of one thousand ISBNs so that I could use non-CreateSpace printers.

Ed Mastery and the new SSH Mastery were released on both CreateSpace and IngramSpark. FreeBSD Mastery: ZFS and FreeBSD Mastery: Advanced ZFS were re-issued under my own ISBNs and channeled through both printing services.

After a few months of sales data, I’m confident in saying that adding IngramSpark has increased book sales. I’m selling print books in Asia and Australia, which I’ve never done before. I expect to recoup my investment in ISBNs entirely in 2018, which is far ahead of my predictions. Cool.

Why did those sales increase? I’m considering this experimental evidence that CreateSpace’s non-Amazon distribution is not as good as one would hope. This is utterly unsurprising, as Amazon has repeatedly shown that they’re not interested in playing nicely with competitors.

The problem comes with changes in CreateSpace. Amazon is merging CS into their pure Amazon program, Kindle Desktop Publishing. Creditable industry scuttlebutt says that non-Amazon distribution will only get worse. It’s time to re-release all of the Tilted Windmill Press titles under new ISBNs. For most of the books, this only requires I take the time to assign ISBNs and make a couple minor changes in the

Some titles are troublesome, though. Specifically Networking for System Administrators, Tarsnap Mastery, Sudo Mastery, and DNSSEC Mastery.

I outsourced the design of these books. I used old ebook layout methods. The smart thing for me to do is insource all of them, redo the print layouts and covers, re-convert them to ebook, and reissue under new ISBNs.

But… all of these books contain nits.

DNSSEC Mastery covers DLV, which is no longer a thing, and the recommend algorithms have changed. Sudo development isn’t exactly breakneck, but there’s a couple new features that merit a nod in Sudo Mastery. Tarsnap Mastery specifically declares that there is no Tarsnap GUI. In the best tradition of tech publishing, the GUI came out right after I released the book. Networking for System Administrators, though… surely network principles are timeless? There’s stuff I would alter, add, and update. There’s always more to say about networking.

As long as I’m doing these reissues, shouldn’t I take a little time and update the text? It wouldn’t take terribly long, right?

Those updates would make the books second editions, though.

DNSSEC Mastery specifically says that DLV is going away, and to check for the current recommended algorithms. The Tarsnap GUI–well, frankly, who cares about that kind of error? “Oh, a GUI came out after the book was released? Cool, cool.” New sudo features? Sure, that’s life.

When I write my tech books, I do my best to future-proof them.

But if I don’t release second editions, then I’m reissuing books with known fixable warts.

I could put on the back cover: If you’ve read the first edition, and kept up with changes, you don’t need this second edition. My gut not only calls that lame, it does so in a loud taunting voice.

And I always try to play straight with my readers. Y’all bought me that bridge and those fillings.

So, what would you rather see? What makes sense to you?

12 Replies to “Second Editions versus the Publishing Business”

  1. Hey, Michael! [wave]

    I’m not a major consumer of tech books these days, but my thought is that a lot of the folks buying your newer books, whether they’re called second editions or not, are likely to be people who’ve just started learning this stuff, or at least started learning it since the first editions came out. For folks on that level, it’s a pain buy a book and then realize you need to read other books, or go digging through tech forums or whatever, to get the whole picture.

    And even for old-timers, I used to work for a tech company that let technical drawings go up to five revs without having to incorporate changes. I remember much muttering and cursing among folks who were trying to work with said drawings, with the main print and five ECOs spread across their workspace, doing their best to eyeball the changes between the ECOs and the drawings. Especially when, as happened occasionally [cough] the Rev B change order made a change that the Rev E change order walked back, and then Rev F did something new, etc. That was the image that popped into my head when you talked about the known changes to the various topics of your books.

    It’d be easier for everyone, newbies and oldtimers alike, to have all the relevant and up-to-date info in one place. More work for you, definitely, but I don’t think this is anywhere in the same hemisphere as the college textbooks where “Second Edition” means “writer/publisher has its hand in your pocket for no good reason.” Which I do remember dealing with. :/


  2. I agree with Angie. Releasing a new version that makes a book as up-to-date as possible within a constantly changing field is not the same as gouging a student with an unnecessary new edition. A practice I also despised . . . In a former life, I was an English prof and I hated it when a publisher brought out a 12th or 13th edition of an anthology with a few swapped out poems or stories, which meant the students couldn’t use previous editions and I’d have to transfer all my notes to yet another volume. What you’re talking about is very different. I don’t read much tech material (if by “much” you understand I mean “any”) but I would think your readers would expect and appreciate updates to your books. My two cents: second editions of your books are justified.

  3. Second Edition all the things!
    Seriously, I don’t own most of your books yet, but when I buy a tech book, I expect that it is current.
    I would be less than thrilled to buy a 2018 edition that was out of date in 2014. In fact, by *not* updating to a second edition, the books become less useful over time…except perhaps the timeless ed mastery that will never go out of style.

  4. Combined with comments from social media, the consensus seems to be for second editions. Frankly, I’m just glad there IS a consensus. 😉

    I’m still taking comments, of course. Not deciding anything yet…

  5. I just purchesed the print versions of SSH Mastery 2nd edition and Httpd & Relayd Mastery. I had already purchased the ebook version of httpd* through Windmill. The printed books are worth it for the cover art alone.If you announced 3rd editions I get those to.I would definately, without hesitation by a 3rd edition of Absolute OpenBSD!. I have many of your fiction books and have enjoyed them also.Keep up the good work.

  6. Frankly I’m amazed at how future-proof you’ve been able to make the books I’ve acquired. Thank you for that. I also recognize that new editions are a metric ton of work — and I would support the effort by acquiring updated eBooks. Not a lot of support in that, but you might be able to acquire a second scoop of gelato on occasion.

  7. I’d say second editions too. And your honesty and concerns are appreciated.

  8. I too agree with Angie.
    I am a new customer of yours and Angie described me to a tee.
    I really want to learn FreeBSD and would be much happier with accurate data in the books I purchase.
    Been a Windows admin for longer that I care to admit, but frankly I want to be rid of Microsoft, hence my desire to learn FreeBSD.

    Accurate, current books please!

  9. I also vote for 2nd editions. But I really appreciate a forward (freely downloadable before purchase) that details to some level what changes were made between the editions. That way the buyer can decide for herself if the changes warrant a new purchase, perhaps in a different format than the original purchase (e.g. I have SSH Mastery 1st ed. in paperback, 2nd ed. in ebook format).

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