Best Practices for Ebook Front Matter: Copyright Page, Part 2

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

Best Practices for Ebook Front Matter: Copyright Page, Part 2The front matter of a book communicates a lot of helpful and important information to readers. But publishers and authors often find themselves wondering how to handle that information in their ebook files. In the current installments of my column here on Digital Book World, I am delving into some best practices, ideas and options for these opening and ending parts of your ebook. In my last installment, we started talking about the copyright page. We will continue that discussion below.

Note: As is my standard practice, the markup examples below are all suitable for EPUB 3 files. If you are still creating an EPUB 2 file for some reason, your mileage may vary.

The Colophon

Some books, especially older ones, have a colophon page that includes basic information about the publisher, including a logo, location and other details. This page is often combined with the copyright page in current publishing approaches, so you probably have that information on your copyright page.

The colophon also sometimes includes information about the paper and fonts used in creating the print book. If you have that information in your ebook, be sure it matches the actual details of the ebook itself. For example, saying “Printed on acid-free paper” is not really appropriate. You can change that to “The print edition of this book is printed on acid-free paper” or something similar, or you can just remove it.

Fonts are a common concern in ebooks, and many publishers do not use the same fonts in their ebook files as they do in their print books due to licensing difficulties and support across devices. If your copyright page includes information about the fonts used in the print book, be sure that still applies to the ebook you are creating. (For a great overview of this topic, I highly recommend the Field Guide to Fonts for Ebooks from BISG.)

Cataloging in Publication

The CIP section of the copyright page contains information generated by the Library of Congress about your book. According to the Library of Congress’s website, “The CIP Program limits eligibility to titles that are most likely to be widely acquired by the nation’s libraries. These titles must be forthcoming monographs that include a U.S. place of publication on the title page.” Note that if an ebook is not connected to a print book, then it is ineligible for a CIP section.

If you apply for and receive a CIP section in your book, it may already include the ebook ISBN and the print ISBN. The Library of Congress is, at the time of this writing, rolling out a revised format for the CIP section that will make it easier to read and include more information, like both ISBNs.

However, if that is not the case, or you are converting an older book into an ebook format, you can add the ebook ISBN to the CIP section and denote the version the number is assigned to in parentheses, like this:

Identifiers: ISBN 978-1-56846-233-2 (hardcover : alk. paper) | ISBN 978-1-56660-508-3 (epub)

It is also important to note that the CIP program is not available to “books paid for or subsidized by individual authors.” So if you are a self-published author who would like to register with the Library of Congress and get a CIP section, you will probably need to set up a publishing company first.

Printer’s Key

Have you ever wondered about that weird list of numbers that shows up on many copyright pages?

3 4 5 6 7 8 9 20 19 18 17 16 15

This is called the printer’s key. In the older days of publishing, it allowed the printer to denote what printing and what year the book you were holding came from. In the above example, the book is in its third printing, performed in 2015.

This little section has become obsolete in the new era of print on demand and digital print runs, and in ebooks it has little or no value at all. Instead, I recommend you consider using version numbers for your ebook files.

Version numbers are common in software publishing, but less so in ebooks right now. That is changing, however, and you can benefit greatly from using them. A version number is not that hard to decipher. Take, for example, this one:

Version 1.2.3

If you were going to create a version number for your ebook, you would start out at “1.0.0” (or just “1”). If you need to come back and make a small change to the file, such as to fix a typo, you would increment the last number in the chain, making the new version number “1.0.1”. If you later found out that you needed to change a lot of things in the ebook at once you might update the version number to “1.1.0” to show that a lot of changes were made. If you decided to do a major re-write or make other major changes to the book, then you might change the version number to “2.0.0”.

In the example number above, the “1” shows us that this is the first major release of the ebook. The “2” refers to the fact that several changes were made to the file two different times after it was originally released. The “3” refers to the fact that three separate minor revisions were made after the second group of changes was done.

This version number can be placed on your copyright page. You might also want to add a change log to your website somewhere, or even in the ebook itself, so that readers can know what changes were made in the updated file.

If you are selling your EPUB file in the iBookstore, you can also include this version number in the OPF file’s metadata section, like this:

<meta property=”ibooks:version”>1.2.3</meta>

Be sure to include the correct prefix declaration for iBooks in your package element.

<package xmlns=”” unique-identifier=”uid” version=”3.0″ prefix=”ibooks:”>

In our next installment, we will talk in detail about the Table of Contents. If you have a suggestion for a topic you’d like me to cover—anything related to ebooks or metadata—please post a comment below.

5 thoughts on “Best Practices for Ebook Front Matter: Copyright Page, Part 2

  1. Jan-Henrik Johansson

    I would like to get some advice for foreign authors publishing in English on Amazon and in other languages on different sites globally. The Finnish authority has given me a set of ISBN codes for my ebooks in different languages. I guess I do not need a CIP code? Could I use the version number also for the translations? How do I use the ISBN in right-to-left languages like Arabic? Maybe these topics could be covered too?


    1. Joshua Tallent


      Thanks for the questions and feedback The CIP block is only for books published in the United States, so your books would be ineligible for receiving that. You can use the version numbers in any ebook file, including translations, but they should be incremented when the specific file itself is changed. The ISBN will work fine in an Arabic or other right-to-left ebook. Just include the text where it belongs and the reading system should display it fine.

      Good luck!

  2. Aaron

    I would agree the printer’s key is obsolete, the publishing house I work for has gone to using just the month and year, which I have decided to leave on to be a visual source for those reading as a call back to the print version. Like having an eBook version on the copyright page, there are cases where having a printer’s key or at least the month and year the print version was printed could be helpful to a book that reprints often, maybe not relevant in the case of POD titles (but PODs could still be a specific version of the print book), but I’m mostly thinking of books in a normal production run that might be reprint yearly or more in some cases, so the reader has some reference to which printed version the eBook was made from.

  3. Kilian Metcalf

    Another consideration is the matter of the sample. If the potential reader downloads a sample that a large percentage is front matter, not much space is left to actual sample of the reading. I’ve downloaded samples that had so much front matter (dedications, acknowledgements, charts & graphs, etc.), I never reached the body of the book, others that had only a few pages. Definitely not enough to get a sense of the book. I enjoy having access to all that information, but it is just as valuable at the back of the book IMHO.



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