A co-edition is an edition of a book that is sold by a partner to the original publisher, in a different market, most commonly another language too.

Co-edition copies of Drones book

The original ilex (English) edition of The Complete Guide to Drones, with co-editions from Acanto (Spanish) and Larousse (French).

When a publisher creates a book in its home market – let’s say English – it handles all the crucial aspects, from working with the author and designers to printing and distribution to retailers. Depending on their set up there may be more or fewer companies involved, but that is immaterial here.

If everyone spoke the same language, there would be less of a need for co-editions – the original publisher could just ship to the whole world. In practice, though, most publishers are better at selling into their home markets, where they have established brands.

Thanks to the many language barriers in the world, some territorial borders are especially hard for publishers to cross. Publishing in France or Germany is not the same as it is in the UK; there are different books store chains to sell to, different consumer trends and so on.

A co-edition is a solution that allows a publisher to sell a book in their market, and their language, under their brand, without the original publisher (and, by extension, author) losing control of the printing (and, by extension, royalties).

So if a specialist French publisher identifies your book as one they’d like to sell (“add to their list” as they say), they liaise with the Foreign Rights sales team at your publisher and arrange to translate the text.

Co-edition Ready

A sensible publisher will make sure that their design can easily be sold as a co-edition, or is ‘co-editionable‘. In practice, that means minimising the costs for one or more other publishers to “join the printing” so that more books can be created for multiple markets.

These co-edition publishers don’t work with the author like the originating publisher. Instead, they buy a fixed number of copies from the original publisher, and it will still be the original publisher that manages the printing of the co-edition publisher’s books (at least as far as the destination they request).

The technical bit

Illustrated books are usually printed using four colours – Cyan, Magenta and Yellow being the scientifically pure versions of the primary colours you learned to mix at school to make any hue – and black (‘key’ as printers say).

That much you probably knew. What you might not have spotted, until you start to look for it, is that any illustrated book the publisher planned to co-edition will place all of the text in the key black shade. When the digital files are processed into printing plates, the text will all be on the black plates and only these will need changing to change the language of the book.

English and French versions of the internal pages of a book.

English and French versions of the internal pages of a book – as you can see, all the colour is in the same place, and all the words are in English.

Designers are clever folk, of course, and there is much to be done to keep pages looking interesting; for example, shading or knocking ‘white’ out of black backgrounds.

When the files are sent to be translated by the co-edition publisher, they don’t even have access to the high-resolution photography in the book, preserving digital security. This way the co-edition publisher can’t sneakily print their own copies.

Squeezing the margins

Since the original publisher is the one working with the printer, a cunning one will organise print runs so that co-editions are printed as part of the same print run as their edition or, failing that, as many co-editions as possible are printed at once.

Because of economies of scale, if you’re printing, say, 2,000 French and 2,000 Spanish copies at once you can get the printing discount for ordering 4,000 copies and only pay one charge for a plate change – the black plate – because the colour plates can be used for the whole run.

Why it’s good for authors

Co-editions are great for authors because the publishers are selling units – copies – rather than text files. And not just individual units, but units in the same quantities as a print run.

While the co-edition publisher might have a returns agreement with stores in their country (they agree to buy back unsold copies from stores), they won’t have one with your publisher, so if, for example, your publisher sells 2,000 copies to the co-edition customer, you will get a royalty from all 2,000.

Better still, if the co-edition publisher sells all their copies of your book (it “sells through”) they are likely to come back to order more. When they do, they have to do this through your publisher in the same way, so you’ll get another chunk of royalty.

Different rates

It is normal for the royalty rate paid on co-edition sales to be lower than it is for the original language – that’s because there are more costs involved. These are not least translation, but also having a multi-lingual sales team. These are more than made up for by the fact you can’t lose!

What about licencing?

While co-editions are great, there are some situations where the best your publisher can achieve is a one-off sale of the right to publish your book. This is especially common in situations where the book will need to be re-designed to accommodate a different kind of alphabet. Since this is a one-off payment, it is to be hoped you’ll get a higher royalty rate.


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