Frequently Asked Questions
My Book says it's a first edition, so it must be a first edition, right?
Not exactly. There is a gap between what the book says it is in a publishing sense and what the book actually is in a collectible sense; and that gap is created by[ Marketing. Keep in mind that a publisher's number one goal is to get you to buy the book. They want to give you the impression that a book is the best ? not a second best, or a third best. So it is not advantageous for a publisher to split hairs and tell you that although a book is a first edition, it is actually a second or third printing; and consequently over the past 35 years publishers have accentuated the phrase "first edition", while making printing information a little less obvious. What this all means is you cannot assume your book is a first edition in the collectible sense just because it says "First Edition". You must factor in other variables.
To be technical, a first edition is a book as it appeared when it was first released to the public. A book is then called a second edition when the author changes the original work in a significant way. Text books typically have multiple editions because the authors progressively update the content. Within editions there are sequences of printings where the text remains the same (aside from fixing typographical errors), and these are called the first printing, second printing, third printing, etc. As we said before most collectors are interested in only the first printing of the first edition by the original publisher - everything else is second-best. So you need to make sure you have the first printing of the very first edition of a book if you want to make sure your book has a shot of increasing in value over time.
Another dynamic that tends to complicate things is that the term "first edition" has evolved into an ad hoc shorthand where many collectors, dealers, and some publishers have loaded it to mean the first printing of the first edition. This simplification would be useful if it was universally adopted, and if later printings were completely irrelevant, but unfortunately neither of these things are true. Plenty of people continue to use the term first edition in its technical sense and say it is a "first edition, second printing" or "first edition, third printing" for a variety of reasons. Collectors and dealers might do this to play up the value of a later printing book (there are some second printing books that have significant value.) Some publishers will do this so they can print (and sell) more "first editions". In this instance, publishers will usually follow a "first edition" statement with some sort of code to indicate the exact printing.
The point is that by itself, the term "first edition" is meaningless as an absolute identifier. You have to take into account how a particular publisher uses that term. For example, publishers such as Knopf and Random House will only use the term "First Edition" if the book is a first printing of the first edition. However other publishers such as Scholastic will use "First Edition" on all printings of their books. That's why people will say that they have a first edition of Harry Potter, when under further examination they actually have a 43th printing of the first edition that was printed many years later.
Finally, even if you are absolutely convinced that you have a first edition in the collectible sense, you also need to make sure that the first edition is from the original publisher and not a reprint publisher. Reprint publishers come in two varieties: The first are reprint houses such as Grosset & Dunlap or Blakison that publish under their own name. These are easily identified because reprint houses state their name on the title page or the spine. The second variety is the omni-present book club editions. These cause plenty of confusion because book club editions are issued using the same name as the original publisher. Book club editions are basically facsimiles of the true first edition, and they are largely worthless (see more information about this below). Fortunately the majority of book club editions will have at least one detail that distinguishes them from the true first edition. Unfortunately, these distinguishing details tend to be different from one book title to the next. Sometimes a book club edition will have a different cover, and sometimes the copyright pages might have differences. Usually (but not in all cases) a book club edition will have no price on the dust jacket. As you might have concluded by now, it is best to evaluate each book on a title-by-title basis and make sure your book has all of the first edition points. The mission of FEdPo.com is to help you do just that. We describe and show photos of exactly what to look for hundreds of collectible books.
My book says "First Edition" with a number sequence that ends with a 2 rather than a 1. So I have a second printing, right?
Seems like a logical conclusion given the discussion above. Usually you would be correct to conclude that "9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2" means that it is a second printing. But if the publisher is Random House, you have to look closer. With Random House, "9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2" followed with "First Edition" means that it is the first printing. A second printing has "9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2" without the words "First Edition". After that, it follows like the other publishers and "9 8 7 6 5 4 3" is a third printing, "9 8 7 6 5 4" is a forth printing, etc. So with Random House books published since 1974, you need the "9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2" numbers AND the words "First Edition" for it to be a collectible book.
But wait, just when we thought we had Random House figured out, they went and changed their way of doing things. They recently published Olive Kitteridge with a full number line "9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1". This just proves the point again that there are no rules.