What is the meaning of a certain bit of a book's copyright page?
April 16, 2006 11:14 AM   Subscribe

Publishing Filter - what does a particular part of a book's copyright page mean?

The copyright pages of books generally list details of the publisher, details of the author's copyright, when the book was first published, font details, ISBN number, and various other bits of information. Some (but not all) also have a random number/numbers: in Penguin books, for instance, a number is included underneath the date of publication. An example:

[publisher details]
First published in 2004
6453 <-

Copyright (c) A.N.Other, 2004

[typesetting details etc]
[ISBN number]

What does this number (6453 above) mean or represent? (In general, rather than this made-up example). I am in the UK, in case that makes any difference.
posted by greycap to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
that's been asked here before, i'm sure, because i have no idea how else i would know this: it's re-printings that haven't been done yet. the tradition coming from when these things were printed from metal plates - each time a reprinting was done, the next number was filed away.
posted by andrew cooke at 11:27 AM on April 16, 2006

I think this usually refers to the printing. A figure is added each time the edition is reprinted.
posted by unSane at 11:27 AM on April 16, 2006

It's a number line. It's a way of determining what printing of a book you are looking at, and especially if you are looking at a first edition. Different publishers use the number line differently, making it a bit more complicated.

"Many publishers do not explicitly identify the first printing of their first editions (with a number line or with a copyright page statement like "First Edition" or "First Printing" or "First Impression"), but they do state later printings. So FEs from these publishers can be identified if no additional printings are listed on the copyright page. " [r.c.b. faq]

A little more information on how to read them is here.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:28 AM on April 16, 2006

Thank you all - incredibly quick response, as ever!
posted by greycap at 11:51 AM on April 16, 2006

From penises to publishers, Jessamyn knows all.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:00 PM on April 16, 2006

It's worth noting that the number line takes the form it does because back when metal type and plates were the norm, the original plates were reused for subsequent printings. Of course, the copyright page also needed to change to reflect this, but changing a "First Edition" to a "Second Edition" or something similar would require new type.

The number line was created as a more economical way of handling the situation. Instead of having to recast the plate or typeset the plate again (I can't remember which), you could simply scrape the number off to indicate a new edition. Presumably this reason for the number line is now mostly moot (though I think you could perform the same process with the metal plates or the films used in modern printing techniques) but the tradition persists.
posted by chrominance at 7:53 PM on April 16, 2006

it's important to note that a printing is different than an edition. the number line refers to printings only and has nothing to do with edition number.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 7:32 AM on April 17, 2006

« Older Fortunate son   |   Fishing, crabbing, clamming spots at the head of... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.