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Beta eBooks

Mark Thomas

I've just picked up a beta copy of iPhone SDK Development from The Pragmatic Programmers. At first glance it looks very good and will help scratch an itch that I have to develop an iPhone app. It's the second 'beta' eBook that I have bought, the first being Programming in Scala from Artima, I've spent a lot of time with this book and am completely sold on the idea of publishers releasing eBooks online early and often. Many of the advantages parallel those for software: For authors/publishers:

  • an early indication of interest in the title, are people willing to buy it?
  • a large number of readers willing to provide free feedback on the existing content
  • opportunities to build a community around a title and to allow the community to influence its development
  • by the time the book makes it to print, it will be polished and fill a demonstrated need for a title

For readers:

  • early access to useful material
  • discounted purchase prices
  • quality levels similar to a published title
  • the opportunity to ask for areas that you would like to be covered to be included

For technical books I think it is the right approach, but there is still some room for improvement. The biggest frustration I have is not being able to understand what has changed between releases. I'd like some sort annotation so that I can decide which areas I should re-read, and maybe some sort of simple voting mechanism to make it easier for me to provide feedback to an author quickly.

For fiction, I'd like to see an author try to carry on the experiment that Steven King started with The Plant. For titles like The Plant, the anticipation of future updates or new chapters adds to the fun of reading the book.