Editions vs. Printings:



5 March 2014

Worthwhile books of a reference nature tend to go through multiple editions and many printings. What's the difference?

An edition is a version of a book that differs from other versions. A book labeled "revised edition" will usually be the first revision, but that first revision might also be labeled a "second edition." Past that point, new revisions typically carry numbers: e.g., third edition, fourth edition, etc. A print book may also be issued electronically as a PDF edition, or an HTML edition, or a Kindle edition. Sometimes revisions may be made to a book but the substance or number of changes doesn't warrant treating it as a new edition—in which case that version might be called the “Second Edition, Revised.” The edition of a book is usually identified on the book's title page.

EE, for example, exists in three print versions (first edition, second edition, and second edition, revised) as well as a digital edition.

A popular book may go through a number of printings without a new edition being created, although minor updates or alterations might have been made with each printing. To identify which printing of a book we are using, we typically turn to the backside of the title page. There, with older books published by established presses, we might find a string of numbers such as "16 15 14 13 12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1." The string indicates that the book is in its 16th printing. With more recent works, we are likely to find a simpler, more-explicit notation "18th Printing."

Because of the alterations that are frequently made from one printing to the next or one edition to the next, the careful researcher, when creating a citation, will note which edition or which printing was consulted.

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