For some time, O’Reilly Media has offered its community an option to buy “Rough Cuts”, initial or early editions of works in progress. Early adopters are promised continuing access to any updates at no additional charge.
From what I can tell, it’s not a big program for O’Reilly, but it is really useful for complex or evolving projects.
For example, the research we have been doing on the impact of P2P distribution on paid content sales was first published in May as a Rough Cut. The data set has grown in a variety of ways since the first submission, and we have been working on an update.
Everyone who bought a copy of the initial draft is eligible for a free copy of the update, a practice that encourages both purchase and hopefully engagement as the research unfolds. It’s a good example of how a publisher can reduce barriers to entry when selling evolving content.
In that way, Rough Cuts is an extension of a 1940 product, the Hammond Self-Revising World Atlas. Edited and printed as war broke out in Europe, the atlas entered a U.S. market at a time when no one knew what future maps might look like.
Clearly, uncertainty is not the friend of commerce, at least when it comes to buying atlases. So Hammond included a coupon in each copy of the Self-Revising World Atlas that buyers could exchange for an updated version after the war ended and national boundaries were once again established.
The folks marketing the Self-Revising World Atlas were not shy: there is a call-out box on the cover that describes the coupon offer in full. Seven decades ago, publishers like Hammond knew a lesson that we sometimes forget today: reducing risk and making it easy to understand and buy content can help drive sales.