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Copyright Notice vs. Publication Date

As far as librarians are concerned, publication date is the important date. It used to be that most books carried a publication date at or near the bottom of the title page.

A copyright date is used in cataloging only when no publication date is on the book.

Publishers have been post-dating publication dates and copyright dates for as long as they've been putting them in books. Today in common parlance, even among some librarians, the terms publication date and copyright date may be used interchangeably. In fact, there are reasons why the two may differ. Material may have been completed and copyrighted in one year, but not published until the next for any number of reasons including seasonal sales strategies, printing delays, you name it. If there's a significant discrepancy between publication date and copyright date, it's noted in the cataloging.

As market forces (among other influences) lead more publishers to try to lengthen the shelf life of their books by fudging on the publishing/copyright date, the appearance of "new" year copyrights moves earlier and earlier. When I started at QBI in 1992, August was usually the month we started seeing copyrights dates for the next year. Now June is not uncommon, and who's to say when May will see the onset of fantasy dates.

Occasionally this comes up as a point of complaint on librarians' (especially catalogers') email discussion lists, but the prevailing attitude is that in 5-10 years a fudge factor of 6 months to a year won't matter in the scheme of literary output. What month do the new automobile model years start anyway?

Some publishers try to make books look newer by "updating" their LCCNs. They may take a 2001 LCCN, say 2001987654 and change it to 2002987654.

This is counterproductive for two reasons. The first is that if the Library of Congress got all the way in the chronological cycle of LCCNs to 2001987654 in 2001, they will very likely get to 2002987654 in 2002 meaning that the publisher's "updated" LCCN will clash with the real 2002987654 which will be issued in 2002 to a different book by a different author. Anybody can find this out by searching LCCNs on the Library of Congress website.

The other reason this is counterproductive is that, for the most part, only librarians give a hoot about the LCCN in the first place. Books with LCCNs of a different year than the year in which they appear occur frequently and do not imply that the book is old.

A book that took a lot of planning and research may be 2-3 years in the making and, therefore, may have a 2001 LCCN with a 2002, 2003 or 2004 publication/copyright date. This doesn't mean that the material is old to anyone but an uninformed sales guru. In fact an interpretation could be made that if someone fudges the LCCN, there may be other shoddy work and corner-cutting--in the writing, research, etc.--associated with the publication.

Bottom line: publication date and copyright date are often agreed-upon lies. There is no magic formula to increase sales or increase shelflife by altering LCCNs or manipulating publication and copyright dates. And if you lie about publication dates or copyright dates it'll mainly irritate catalogers and other librarians, but not as much as tinkering with LCCNs or the CIP block will.

Mike Tribby, Senior Cataloger
Quality Books Inc.

James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive
Oregon, WI 53575-1129
phone: 1-608-835-7937

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