The rise of ebooks has the potential to change all that. Older book contracts usually had publications rights reverting to the author after the book went out of print— and most books do go out of print. Which means that a lot of authors are free to republish their backlist, and now that ebooks are becoming popular, it's actually economically feasible for them to do that themselves. An interesting post on the e is for book blog makes that point exactly. Author Laura Ruby points out that in editing her out-of-print book Lily's Ghosts, a middle grade ghost story, she was happy with most of the edits her editor had made, but she wanted, based on adult-reader feedback, to change one scene that described how a person died.
Her writers' group advised against the change because the book was “already out there,” but based on how she feels now, as the author, she wants to change that one thing. The comments on her blog post are interesting, and mostly relate to the nature of what is being changed. Some folks seem to feel it's okay to update outdated cultural or technological references, so why not hone a specific scene? Others argue that the book earned reviews and awards and it's not fair to readers to give them something different from what was reviewed.
As Mr. Spock would say, fascinating! If if continue my pregnancy analogy, I would say that digital publishing give authors a way to do genetic engineering and tweak an already existing work's DNA. Personally, I consider that if the author puts a note at the front (and in marketing copy) that slight changes have been made, I think she should change whatever she feels needs to be changed.
What do you think?