Sunday, December 1, 2013

Just Because E-Textbooks CAN be Kept Up-to-Date Doesn't Mean They Actually Are

I hear it all the time. "E-books are great because I know they'll always have the latest information."

Here's the thing about that "latest information" part. It's not true.

Wait, what?

Just because a product has been posted online in a digital format doesn't mean there are people at the publisher's working day and night to keep that pristine content completely up-to-date.

Say a new therapeutic procedure has shown positive results in alleviating migraines. Do you honestly think the publishers, editors, copyeditors, designers, compositors, and everyone else who helps make books suddenly jump into action to make sure the e-book versions of their procedural books contain that information?

Sorry, it just doesn't happen that way.

Those publishers, editors, copyeditors, and everyone else are already working like hungry zombies to publish other products — print, digital, interactive, whatever. Continuous publishing — the kind of publishing we're talking about here, takes an entirely different workflow than other workflows going on within any particular publishing house.

That's not to say it doesn't happen, just that it doesn't happen unless there's a strong financial incentive to make it happen.

Come again?

Every health care publisher identifies certain types of content it wants to keep up-to-date. Drug information, for example, carries with it time sensitivity from a clinical standpoint and revenue sensitivity from a business standpoint. We can charge more when we keep the customer flush with the latest drug information. As a result we develop special workflows to handle those updates and personnel to manage the process.

Dictionary terms, diagnostic tests, and certain other kinds of content fall into a similar category, but most other types of content don't. Even with those kinds of content the publishing of new information isn't so much continuous as it is more frequent; say, every three or four months.

Keep in mind that I'm talking here about textbook and reference book publishing. Journals are in a much better position to maintain time-sensitive content. Take the model of the British Medical Journal. That prestigious publication posts new information daily to its website as an incentive for subscriptions.

So you're saying my e-book may be as outdated as my print book?

Pretty much, yes. Certainly some e-books are updated fairly frequently, and we all try to keep ancillaries (PowerPoints, test banks, and such) updated. But most e-books receive only periodic updates.

There is a bright side, though. As publishers become more adept at preparing e-texts, especially e-texts that don't come originally from a print-on-paper book, we'll implement ways of more easily and quickly updating clinical content on the fly.

We're learning, and we're getting better all the time. So hang in there.

This post last updated on ... oh, never mind.