The weekend of my 8th birthday (1977), my mom took my sister, one of my sister’s friends, and me to see Star Wars at a drive-in theater.
It was the coolest thing I’d ever seen — particularly the cantina scene, where we meet Han Solo. In that scene, Han chats with Greedo, a bounty hunter who thinks he has Han trapped. Han shoots Greedo instead of being hauled in. Don’t believe me, watch the video above.
When the Star Wars movies were re-released, director George Lucas changed things. In later editions, Greedo shoots first:
I’ve heard many an argument from Star Wars fans about this change, and I know that to go there is a slide into the Sarlac Pit of geekdom. I don’t want to talk about who shot first (because we all know Han did!) — I want to talk about e-books.
What Does Han Shooting First Have to Do with E-Books?
For the majority of time stories have been published, content didn’t change. Books were printed, and many of them may as well have been printed on stone. If an author wanted to go back and change something, they were usually out of luck. Generally, only popular books meriting reprints were altered, and the books that saw changes were usually non-fiction, with updated or additional information used as a selling point.
With E-Books, That’s Changed
With an e-book, if I write a story about a bounty hunter trying to haul a smuggler to a giant slug-of-a-gangster for payment, and I have the smuggler shoot the bounty hunter in the first edition and decide to change my mind, I can now update the story almost instantly. All it takes is changing the scene, exporting my file, and alerting Amazon and Barnes and Noble about the change so they can push the new edition to people who’ve bought my e-book.
I can now make Greedo shoot first with even less effort than it takes George Lucas and a team of artists and editors!
A Strength of E-Books
I have a free short story people can read right here. It’s a story I’ve always liked, but the ending was always kind of abrupt — I was never completely satisfied with it. Then one day as I was driving some back roads and thinking, the ending I wanted all along hit me. (It was also on a back road that this blog idea hit me — driving in the country is good for ideas). I updated the file and created a new PDF.
If I want to change Hell Comes with Wood Paneled Doors, I can, and people would get the updated file. If I want to add an afterword that’s the book equivalent of bonus features on a DVD, I can do it. For non-fiction e-books that contain information that changes frequently, e-books allow the person or publisher releasing the book to keep things current.
That’s not always the case with printed books.
Printed Books vs. E-Books
Imagine I’m a publisher with a print edition and an e-book edition of the same story or information out there. Unless I’ve sold many printed books, I’m not going to reprint. Even if I do reprint, content often doesn’t change because it costs money to make changes with a printed book. But with the e-book, I can change things every week. (Not that I suggest changing things frequently — it’s probably a good way to annoy readers.)
If I’ve released a book that contains lists of links to websites or other information that changes frequently, my e-book stays current while the printed book becomes dated. While I’m not sure if that’s a strength or an annoyance (it could be either), the ability to update a digital book much easier than a printed copy definitely has its appeal.
Even if the printed book sells well, chances are the information or story isn’t going to change, even in a reprint. But with the digital version — even if there aren’t hordes of readers — I can easily make Greedo shoot first.