PW Asks: Will the 'First Printing' Become a 20th-Century Relic?

Publishers have long used 'First Printing' numbers to espouse the importance of an upcoming book. It used to be that a publisher would announce the number of books printed in the first print run (50,000 or 100,000 and up). With the onset of digital books, that number is getting a little fuzzy, as is the term "print."

In an article published this morning, Publishers Weekly discusses the reality of 'First Print' numbers in an ever increasing digital world, observing that first printings are disappearing from advance copy covers, and that, outside of the publishing house, the numbers are getting harder to come by.
Echoing what many publishers said, Dick Heffernan, president of hardcover sales at Penguin, said his company has adopted a policy of combining an author's print sales history with the e-book sales history instead of offering first printing numbers, saying, "Both the print and electronic formats are factored in together."

While publishers may be coming up with different ways to tweak the math they use to reach their first printings, many are becoming more uncomfortable sharing the information. First printings are disappearing from galley covers and catalogues, and publishers are becoming increasingly resistant to share the figures with reporters. 
As eBooks continue to gain in sales, these numbers will have less meaning for those of us who actually collect the printed books. And while the number of first printings can affect the value of the book, as many collectors have realized, it is only a small factor in a book's overall valuation.

With sales of printed books being stripped by their digital cohorts, it is only a matter of time before the actual number of printed books is greatly reduced. This can only add to their collectibility.

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