I get an email every now and then from Amazon, saying that such and such book I have on my kindle has had a major update, and would I like to download a copy. Inevitably they are self-published books, which after having been in the wild for a good while, have undergone professional editing, and the new improved version is available.
Thing is, I never do. Download the update that is. In fact it flat out puts me off the authors books.
I've not really thought about it before or tried to analyse the reasons behind that instinctive reaction.
But then I was reading a thread on the kboards forum about "do you really need an editor", and it's a long thread, during which I confess to having fallen slightly in love with author Russell Blake (or at least his position on the matter).
Anyway, what really set this off is that a book I recently reviewed and gave a pretty decent 3.5 to, has been republished with a complete rewrite of the ending. And I'm torn, because I really liked the book, it was a 4 star, maybe more, until the last couple of chapters, which quite frankly sucked hard. So I'm tempted to go grab the new copy, and see if the ending has improved, and maybe continue the series.
On the other hand: why the hell am I paying to be a beta reader, or to be a trial guinea pig? Didn't I deserve a proper book the first time? One with a good ending (if it was good the first time around, why was it rewritten?).
I can think of a very few cases where this has happened in trade publishing, and both the ones I can think of, were in fact reinstating content that had been excised by editors. One rather successfully (American Gods, Neil Gaiman - although this was the text published already in the UK, and in effect undid a botched job of "americanising" a book about America) and the other a subject of perennial complaint with a great many readers preferring the shorter original version, although it's very hard to come by now (The Stand, Stephen King). I'm sure there's more, but we, the reader, have an expectation that a published book is a complete product, and this is a very rare case indeed. Also, both these cases are very clearly marked on the covers as being different to the original text.
Just because books going digital makes it possible, doesn't necessarily mean it's sensible or desirable. And what about people who bought the POD paperback of the book in it's original form? Are they going to get sent a new free copy with the new ending? I highly doubt it, and that irks me somehow - people who paid double or more the price for a paper copy, are somehow second class citizens?
When I refer to the book in the future, will I now have to refer to novels the way one does textbooks, with the edition number, or risk that I'm arguing a plot point with someone who read an entirely different plot than I did? It's bad enough in academic contexts where textbooks can have half their content re-written between editions but there it makes sense. I don't want to have to deal with that in leisure reading, or to maintain a citations database to use for reviews.
But right now, the book I read, is not the book you would read if you bought it this minute, and if I had bought the POD version, I wouldn't even know that we were potentially discussing entirely different books.
And slightly tangentially, why are publishers so confused about "proofreading" vs "developmental editing" (without even touching line-editing)? Why are self-publishers so unaware they have two businesses to run, they are a writer, but they are also a publisher, and they need to put the publisher hat on when thinking about these things? I can understand that authors may not know the difference, but publishers should, right?
So I have decided, my review stands. I won't be downloading the new version, and I won't be re-reviewing it, or probably continuing with the series. I'll mark it as applying to book version 1.0.
I have more than enough other books to read, without going back and re-reading one and trying to play spot the difference. (ETA: Yes I re-read, for exactly the reasons Moonlight Reader points out in the comments, but I'm not going to re-read something that already disappointed me in some way, just because it got shinied up.)
That kboards thread: http://www.kboards.com/index.php/topic,182710.0.html
Russel Blake's post in case you dont' want to wade through all that: http://www.kboards.com/index.php/topic,182710.msg2576248.html#msg2576248 (there's another earlier in the thread too that's also very good)