The Publishing Biz

The Publishing Biz September 14, 2010

OK, a friend wrote not all that long ago and told me he had recently purchased a book by a well-known author. It was  a commentary. The publication date was 2010 and it said “First edition.” Only problem is this: it was originally published more than a decade earlier but was re-issued in a new series and now, since it was a new series, it was “first edition” … well, hogwash on that. It was really a re-publication, and surely it sold more copies because it said “first edition.”

Not long ago I read a book by a friend whose book had been published in another country first. The book had a different title in the USA and nowhere on the copyright page did the publisher tell us something like this: “Previously published in Country with the title [fill in the blank]. Same book, new country.” A friend of mine had bought both books because he thought it was a different book. He said he checked the copyright page on Amazon and it didn’t say it was a new book.

Who has a story about this?

Sure, we all get it that publishers have to make money and most of us contribute sums of money to said publishers. But isn’t there a moral issue at work here?

So here’s my suggestion: On the copyright page, in very clear and readable English, inform the reader of the relation of this edition to any previously published edition.

If the previous edition is only lightly edited, say a new Preface or Introduction, say that. Don’t slip by with “Revised Edition” when it really isn’t revised. It’s only touched up briefly. Tell us what has actually happened so far as that is possible. If it is a thorough revision, say so; if it adds one chapter, say that.

Publishers, don’t you think that is fair? We, your readers, agree.

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  • DAK

    I HATE buying a new “revised” or “second” edition only to find out it only has, as you say, a new introduction, has been reformatted, or has a few new blurbs of support. I could have purchased a used “old” edition and gotten the same content AND saved money. Grrrrrr!!!

  • Scot, I absolutely agree. To provide the information you suggest is simply reasonable and fair to the buyer/reader. this is simply truth in advertising.

    Occasionally, we face an issue of whether a book should be labeled “second edition” or “revised edition.” In marginal cases, we’ve gone so far as to post what the revisions are on our Web site, so that buyers don’t need to buy a “revised edition” if the changes have been relatively minor (though what I’m referring to here is more than the correction of mere typos; in one case, the author added an appendix of some 24 or so pages; thus labeled it a “revised edition” but simultaneously posted those 24 pages to the Web site). Jim Eisenbraun, Publisher, Eisenbrauns

  • Scot, I agree. Publishers need to be upfront so that we the buyer knows what they’re getting. The point about the commentary is especially egregious!


  • Hey Scot,

    Glad to see you raising this. There are other ethical issues I would love to see addressed which leads me to…

    As one who has been approached to “ghost-write,” I would love Jesus Creed to tackle that one! I also have friends who have been asked and I know there are Christian leaders who utilize them. Like today’s post, I wouldn’t mind a writer helping someone out if attribution is clearly given, but that rarely happens or otherwise it would not be called “ghost-writing.”


  • If it is unethical for me to dust off a previous paper or essay and rename it for a another course then I would think this should translate to an extent. While the thoughts and work are still mine I am mis-representing the scholarship involved.

    All they need to say is this is a reproduction of x published in xxxx. (And make it visible on places like Amazon as well prior to purchase.)

    Wikipedia might not be a true scholar’s resource but the ability to distinctly see the changes a revision entails helps estimate the veracity and worth of what’s at hand. With versioning and change tracking built into most word processors it isn’t impossible for a publisher to disclose that quantitative data, and may even be a good marketing point if the revisions are substantial.

  • Dan Reid

    Is “first edition” a statement of optimism? As if there actually will be a second edition? Or is it like that bad old joke, “I want you to meet my first wife/husband”?

    Anyway, I like to make my second editions worthwhile enhancements of the first. In other words, I want to give you a reason to buy that second edition! Not just include a bunch of corrections (those will be included in subsequent printings but not editions). (Note that European academic publishers take a different approach to this though.)

  • Could it be that first and second editions are related to the copyright laws? My self-published memoir is about to go into the 4th printing. I would like to tweek a few things, but can’t because it is in the Library of Congress, copyrighted as is. It would cost more money for me to make a second edition with the few corrections I would like.

    You do bring up good points, however, and I think that, unless we are Scot McKnight, it is hard to get published these days and certainly we do need truth in advertising. Then I have heard that it is harder to get an agent than a publisher.

    Another ethical issue is professors passing out copies of major portions of books so that the writer doesn’t get royalties.

  • I’ve had this problem with a number of N.T. Wright’s “popular” level books. He *seems* to have an enormous amounts of books available, but some of them have vaguely similar titles and I’m never quite sure if it’s a UK edition of something I already have, or a book I haven’t read.

    Similarly, his “For Everyone” series of commentaries is as yet incomplete. In meantime, it appears to have been picked up by IVP and has been slightly rebranded, so I’m not sure it’s a revised product or simply a rebranding.


    (Sorry–I know you didn’t ask for anecdotes.)

  • I’ve seen “revised” or even “third” editions that are based on the exact same original plates (or whatever they’re called), i.e., not one change was made to the actual text. John Hick’s recent “edition” of Evil and the God of Love comes to mind. New preface by Hick and intro by M. Adams. Everything else the same.

  • Phillip

    I would say run a small banner across the cover that says something like “previously published as…” or at least put it in the product description. When purchasing online, it’s hard to look at the copyrigtt page unless there is a “look inside” feature available.

  • Dan Reid


    Wright’s For Everyone series has not been picked up by IVP. I think you are referring to a series of Bible study guides that are based on the For Everyone series.

  • David Baker

    Great to see some (very ethical) publishers involved in the conversation as well. Regarding name changes between original foreign (to the US) editions republished elsewhere, FF Bruce’s ‘New Testament Developments of Old Testament Themes’ was originally published in the UK as ‘This is That’, but the US publisher knew that we Americans would most likely not understand the biblical allusion. Up until very recently, with the burgeoning of online ordering from around the world, I wouldn’t think this kind of renaming of the same product has been that great an issue, but it should be taken into consideration in this new, global marketplace.

  • Thanks, Dan (#11)– that’s helpful.

    I’m still waiting for Revelation for Everyone as well as James-Jude for Everyone (however many volumes that will be) and IVP’s product had me confused. (Plus I thought that there had been issues with either the UK publisher of the series.)

  • Sterling

    Zondervan did this last year with a book by John Ortberg. The original hardcover was entitled, “Faith and Doubt.” The new trade paperback was entitled, “Know Doubt.” I bought the paperback thinking it was a new book by one of my favorite authors, but instead it was a repackaged already published work. No where on the cover of the book or at did it say that it was a reissue. I am furious about publishing companies doing this, and I am boycotting Zondervan right now because of it. I believe publishers who do this are being unethical and it is an insult to their customers.