When Apple released iBooks 3 a few months ago (see “Apple Releases iBooks 3.0 and iBooks Author 2.0,” 24 October 2012), one of the new features Apple said it included was free book updates when a book purchased from the iBookstore is updated with new content. At the time we weren’t quite sure how it would work (and, in fact, the iBookstore back end wasn’t updated to match for a few weeks after iBooks 3 appeared), but we have now seen the process in action.
When a purchased book in your iBooks library on your iOS device has an update, a badge appears on the Store button in the app’s bookshelf.
Tap that button and you are, as usual, transported to the iBookstore to the page in the store that you last viewed. However, at the bottom of the screen, another badge showing the number of available updates appears atop the Purchased button.
Tap that button and you are shown your complete list of purchased books (which includes any free books from the iBookstore as well). At the top of that screen a new button appears: Updates.
Finally, tap that Updates button and you see a list of books that have updates available with a brief description of what each update includes. Tap the Update button by the book you want to update, or, if there is more than one book to update, tap the Update All button, and iBooks downloads the update(s) to your iOS device.
Simple enough, and not unlike the app update process on an iOS device. However, there definitely are more taps involved than one would like. Plus, a couple of other rough edges in the process have yet to be smoothed out.
First, you can get updates to books only from within the iBooks app itself. Unlike app updates, which you can obtain either directly on your iOS device or from within iTunes, Apple doesn’t offer an iTunes option for updating books, even though you can buy books from the iBookstore in iTunes.
Second, and most importantly for us at Take Control Books, the vast majority of books in the iBookstore are not eligible to be updated in this manner. Adam Engst, who submits Take Control books to Apple and so has been doomed to the Tantalean hell of working with the iBookstore, reports that the only kinds of books that can be updated are books created by iBooks Author and books that use the EPUB3 format. Since the vast majority of books in the iBookstore are in the EPUB2 format, they are not able to be updated using the iBooks update mechanism. This restriction, by the way, includes Take Control’s EPUBs, which are exported from Apple’s Pages — yes, Apple’s own EPUB exporter only produces EPUB2.
Book updating is a welcome feature for ebooks, but it is a shame that its current implementation is so limited right now. As things stand, if we at Take Control update one of our titles with new information, we can submit the update to the iBookstore, but the only way readers can get it is to redownload the title manually, and there’s no way we can notify them, either directly (since they’re Apple’s customers, not ours) or via iBooks itself (because of how Apple focused on EPUB3). Luckily, Take Control readers can always get such free updates — and email notifications of them — directly from the Take Control site, which is one of the reasons we encourage people to buy directly from us. (Note that Take Control readers who purchase from the iBookstore can manually register their books with our site so that they will be notified of updates: see the Take Control registration information page.)