Impression or Edition?

If you are like me, you’ve probably examined every page of some books up down and all around. One of the most interesting pages, of course, is that one with all the tiny print on it: the copyright page. Now, there is a lot to examine on that page, but in particular, I’m going to focus on the portion–usually toward the bottom–that talks about edition and impression. What is the difference, and why does it matter?

There seems to be some debate on the issue (why, I don’t know). However, in general, the difference has to do with content and layout. An edition is one particular version of a book. And by version, I mean everything from how exactly it is written and organized to the font used and the layout.  We are most familiar with editions when talking about textbooks, which tend to have new editions out every couple of years, so the author and/or publisher can force you to buy a brand new book with a few edits made and page numbers changed where a previous edition would probably work just as well and for half the price. However, any kind of book can have multiple editions. This can be because the interior content was significantly changed, but not necessarily. You could keep the interior content exactly the same, but if you release that content in multiple formats (e.g. hardcover, softcover, e-book, etc.) or languages, each of them technically counts as a separate edition.

Impression number is generally assigned to every book of a single edition that is printed in a single run. For example, a first edition first impression means that it comes from the very first batch of that book ever produced in that format. With the advent of self-publishing, impression has become somewhat irrelevant, especially in the case of print-on-demand books, where technically each book printed could be counted as a new impression.

So, that’s the difference in a nutshell. But why does it matter? Well, in the first place, if you are a publisher (self or otherwise), it is important to distinguish one edition from another when assigning ISBNs to your books. If you change up your book’s layout, maybe adding or subtracting a few passages, you’ll have to assign a new ISBN and release it as a new edition. If, however, you merely make a few editorial corrections (i.e. spelling, punctuation, etc.) before printing off a new batch of books, you need only call it a new impression: no need for a new ISBN.

However, this difference is far more important from the perspective of book collectors. If someone wants a collection of all first edition hardcovers (I myself am guilty of this), then having a second edition thrown in, or else a similar edition released later by a different publisher, simply will not do! My fellow bookworms out there will know exactly what I mean. If, however, you are merely looking for a readable copy to line your shelf and enjoy now and again–or even just once–then edition number probably won’t be as relevant. In fact, as far as readability goes, you may want to seek out later editions on purpose, as they have presumably had more of the errors stamped out from previous incarnations.

So there you have it: the basic differences between editions and impressions. My sincere apologies for taking so long to post this month. But as I am currently in the process of preparing my own second editions for release in April, I have been quite preoccupied. For those of you who are wondering: no, you need not purchase a new edition of my books if you already have an original published since September of last year. Those are perfectly readable copies. If, however, you have one from before then, or perhaps have never read anything of mine at all, then I invite you to take a look at my shiny new editions when they come out in April. Either way, thanks for your support, and have a blessed day!

Published by J. S. Allen

J. S. Allen is a writer, linguist, historian, and nature-lover from Kansas City, Missouri. He is the author of the young adult series 'Sauragia' and the 'Woodland Tales' anthology for children, as well as several shorter works in various online and local venues. In between writing and publishing, he likes to draw, spend long hours outdoors, and read. His favourite authors include M. I. McAllister, Brian Jacques, and Alexandre Dumas.

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