One of the biggest challenges of technical publishing is that sinking feeling you get a few moments, days, weeks, or months after you first see a book in print: it’s obsolete. No matter how much hard work you put into a book, you can only do so much future-proofing. Sometimes obsolescence comes slowly, but often, especially for popular topics, books have a depressingly short shelf life. Readers want to be able to use the latest and greatest, and blame books quickly when something no longer works.
We’ve been working for a while on a new way of ensuring that our content will continue to have a life after it’s been set down in print. Last week, we released Learning Rails: Live Edition, the pilot for what we hope will become a common way to ensure that our customers can get current content from us, even if it’s not yet time for a new edition.
The Live Edition is presently available as an Ebook (PDF, Mobi, and ePub) bundle, and the updated content will also be available through Safari Books Online and eventually print on demand. Customers who buy a Live Edition will get all the updates to the book up until the next new print edition of the book, when the cycle will start again. (For Learning Rails, customers will get all the updates for the upcoming 3.x version of Rails.)
Live Editions follow a different process. Instead of a long wait for a slow new edition, the model is “release early and often.” Authors can quickly respond to reader feedback and errata immediately, rather than filing it away for a reprint or a new edition.
Right now, Live Editions are built as an extension of our normal DocBook publishing process. Authors do have to make their updates in markup, rather than Word or OpenOffice. This may be unfamiliar to some authors, but gives them the power to do things like add or remove index entries as the book changes, and gives them a quick path to seeing PDFs in final form.
We plan to create more Live Editions in the near future, starting with topics where change is constant and having the latest information is the critical feature.