Recently I received an email from a friend, in reference to these “Limit Test” blog posts, where he asked me what I thought about the idea of editions and POD (print-on-demand) and ebooks. Are they the unlimited edition? Or does the idea of the edition no longer apply?

Those are interesting questions. The main thread of these posts has been about physical book-objects and their production, but this is an interesting idea that is worth pausing and considering. Does new technology provide an avenue for rethinking the edition?

POD books are set up so that once designed, they sit on a server somewhere, always available, and when someone orders one, a copy is printed, bound, and sent to the buyer. The advantages of this are obvious. But is that an unlimited edition? Is it really any different from a book mass-produced in an “unlimited edition” that goes through multiple printings, theoretically as many as it can until no one ever wants to buy a copy again? Is POD different because you can produce a single copy at a time, instead of thousands? Or is that just a question of scale? POD could also be used to produce unique books….

And then ebooks. Does the fact that they are not physical objects, but digital objects, exactly and endlessly repeatable, mean that the concept of the edition does not apply? One could, in theory, produce a limited edition ebook. There could be one master file from which x number of copies would be made, and all of those copies could have code inserted that would prevent them from being copied again. Or something to that effect. Someone will try this at some point, if they haven’t already. (And then there’s William Gibson’s Agrippa (a book of the dead).)

But what about an ebook in its (now) normal, infinitely downloadable state? Edition or not? One answer: it’s not a real thing, so the idea of the edition does not apply. That answer doesn’t quite work, because if an ebook could be made in a limited edition, then the idea does apply, whether it’s used or not.

Another answer: it’s the same as POD, the same as a mass-produced book that undergoes multiple printings. It is an edition, the closest thing that we’ve developed to the “unlimited edition.”

Maybe “unlimited edition” isn’t the right term. What about “not-limited edition” or “open edition?” As discussed in earlier post “unlimited” and “not-limited” editions are paradoxical terms. So maybe we need to throw them out all together—maybe there is no limit, no edition. An ebook that is not editioned is not limited. Producing multiple copies is not synonymous with “editioning”—which inherently implies a limit.

We can produce an object in multiple without “editioning” it?! What a relief! Thank you, ebooks!

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