Early-access books: a double-edged sword

Many technical publishers offer some kind of “early access” to unfinished versions of books. Manning has MEAP, for example, and there’s even LeanPub which is centered on this idea. I’m not a fan of buying these, in most circumstances. Why not?

I know that O’Reilly has tried to figure out how to address this, too, and I sent an email to my editor along the lines of this blog post.

I know this is a very one-sided opinion. I had a lengthy email exchange with LeanPub, for example. I know they, and a lot of others including likely readers of this blog, see things very differently than I do.

Still, I don’t think anyone has a great solution to the combination of problems created by static books written about a changing world. But early-access to unfinished books has always seemed to me like compounding the problems, not resolving them.

1 Rant: The classic counter-example for editions is math and calculus textbooks, which can charitably be described as a boondoggle. Calculus hasn’t changed much for generations, either in theory or practice. Yet new editions of two leading textbooks are churned out every couple of years. They offer slightly prettier graphics or newer instructions for a newer edition of the TI-something calculator – cosmetic differences. But mostly, they offer new homework sets, so students can’t buy and use the older editions, nor can they resell them for more than a small fraction of the purchase price. Oh, and because the homework is always changing, bugs in the homework problems are ever-present. It’s a complete ripoff. Fortunately, technical writers generally behave better than this. OK, rant over.