Publisher & Printer Codes

Updated: Apr 5, 2020

Ever wondered what that pesky row of numbers on the copyright page of your favourite book is for? You know the ones, they look something like this...

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

What do these numbers mean, usually?

Whilst this is used by different publishers in different ways, usually this number is the publisher's code or printer's key, and it represents the print run. For example, if the number states '3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10', this means the version you're currently reading is the third printing because the row begins with 3.

Occasionally, you may just see a single number, or you'll see some letters in there which identify the publisher (such as CCB for Curious Cat Books). Here is a longer example: 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 CCB 94 which would suggest a second printing by Curious Cat Books in the year 1994.

Does a row that begins in 1 always indicate a first edition?

Well, that depends on your idea of what a 'first edition' actually is.

Sometimes a first edition will be re-printed without any real significant changes, meaning it doesn't class as a new edition as such. This being the case, you may see something like the below:

First Edition

2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

This represents the second printing of the first edition. If the row began with 1 and it stated first edition, this would suggest the first printing of the first edition.

However, depending on the publishing house, you also need to be aware that the above may also suggest a first printing of a first edition, where the 1 has simply been replaced with the words 'First Edition'. It can get super confusing, because it would appear to be a second printing of the first edition to some - in these circumstances, the publisher would likely remove the words 'first edition' to avoid any confusion.

Some publishing houses release different editions of the same book depending on the country they are being sold in, and will change the covers to suit their target audiences. This is why you may occasionally see First Edition US or First Edition UK (for example).

You may notice that independently published books (self-published) do not include these numbers and may, instead, simply state 'First Edition' or nothing at all.

What counts as a new edition?

If a book is being re-released or re-printed with significant changes such as extra material, a new cover or is in a different language, it's classed as a new edition. The same goes for releasing a book in hardback, paperback and e-book - all three would be individual editions of the same book and would therefore require their own ISBNs.

And that's it.

Check out the numbers in your favourite books and note down the editions and prints you currently own.

Rachael Hardcastle is an Amazon international #1 bestselling author from Bradford, UK. She is the founder of Curious Cat Books (est. 2017), but is also a trained copy-editor and a publishing coach with a diploma in Successful Self Publishing and a university-level Business qualification.

She has been writing for over 10 years—first published at the age of 18—is the author of five successful novels and co-author to her first children's book, Bluetooth & the World Wide Web (2019).

Rachael keeps a regular monthly journal on her website and, alongside the authors signed to her company, shares their events and adventures with her readers. 

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