How do books get assigned a place of publication?

This is sort of related to a previous question that I had raised regarding bibliographies, but isn’t quite the same.

I was taught in school that when one writes a bibliography/works cited page/references page/whatever your style guide says to call it, the place of publication for a book is whatever you see in the front of the book. One was not required to look behind that and investigate the book’s own history to evaluate whether or not that book was really published in New York or whether the publisher was lying and trying to hide the fact that the book was actually published out of an office in Newark, NJ because it was all the publisher could afford.

  1. Is there a reasonably formal definition for place of publication, or is it truly at the publisher’s full discretion? E.g. if a publishing company is legally incorporated as a Delaware corporation with paperwork on file in Wilmington, has its general corporate headquarters in NYC, does most of its low-level day-to-day work in signing authors, editing books, laying out pages, etc. at an office in Hartford, CT, the editor that clicked <approve> to send the book to printing was working from home in Trenton, NJ that day, and the book was physically printed by a contractor in Pittsburgh, does the publisher get to choose whether the book should be treated as published in New York, Wilmington, Hartford, Trenton, or Pittsburgh, or is there some sort of algorithm or rule that will determinately determine what city goes in the front?

  2. How is honesty in identifying the place of publication enforced? E.g. if a publisher with no meaningful corporate ties to Hawaii puts out a book on surfing and falsely sticks “Honolulu” in front in order to portray a laid back, casual vacation atmosphere, are they going to get raided by a SWAT team from the Library of Congress Book Squad?

  3. If a publisher is publicly exposed as a liar, are academic writers expected to start citing the true place of publication or does the “what is printed in the book goes” rule still apply?

I would expect that this scenario isn’t terribly common, but it is one of those kind of odd questions that the SD is notorious for thinking about.

The publisher has full discretion. Whatever is put on the title page or copyright page is the official publication information. (What happens if those differ is beyond my pay grade.)

I have no clue whether anybody has ever distorted this. With 100,000,000 books published, probably. I’ve never heard of it or of anybody caring. An interested academic might note the change in an article, but the cite would go to the stated place of publication. Anything else would result in hopeless confusion.

Place of publication ceased to be relevant about 100 years ago. It vaguely shows what scholarly base the book came from, and in older days, whether it was Northern Germans or Southern Englishmen or Eastern USAians producing the work made a difference.

I’ve stopped putting location in my bibliographies. I think it used to be important for ordering a copy, but this is no longer relevant. I just wrote a citation today to a book originally published in 1980 and placed on the internet for free downloading in 2004. It was also significantly edited. I referred only to the online edition and it has no location, really.

I too was always under the impression that the place of publication was only important so that people could obtain a copy of the sources you were citing. So long as you listed the publisher and the city, an inquiring mind could in principle look up the publisher’s address and write to obtain a copy of whatever book you were relying on for your argument.

Generally speaking, surely, the place of publication, for bibliographic purposes, is wherever the head office of the publisher is located. It does not matter where the actual work of producing the book was done. However, things can get confusing when you are dealing with a big conglomerate type publishing firm with multiple imprints and branch companies in different countries.

One thing I have found lately is that figuring out a book’s place of publication from online information, especially if you are not able to view the copyright page (and sometimes even then), can be quite hard. Neither Google books nor Amazon list places of publication (though they are quite good, though not always entirely reliable, about other bibliographic information), and publishes’ web sites often seem to be remarkably cagey about where their head offices, or the head offices of their various imprints, are located.

It may well be the case that place of publication is not really of much positive use to scholars any more, but if you are publishing something with a reference list or bibliography (i.e., virtually any scholarly publishing), you will still generally be required to supply that information, and editorial staff, I find, can get quite uptight about it.

I think so too. Academic citation started in the days when publishing firms were local - you hopped on the train to Philadelphia with your manuscript, went down to the publishing district, found a local company (say, H. R. Johnson and Sons, Publishers), sold or licensed your manuscript, got paid, and the publisher typeset your work upstairs and printed it in the basement. Knowing the location of publication was important then because there was no Google where you could casually search for “H. R. Johnson and Sons” from your office in Memphis and come up with a website, address, and phone number to call to ask about ordering a copy.

Nowadays, we have multinational corporations, telecommuting, outsourcing of basic business functions, and joint ventures and it really is hard to say that the book was “published” in a single physical location. Academic practices are slow to change and you are still expected to put no-longer necessary information down, just because that’s the way I had to do it when I was a student.

The purpose of the place of publication is to differentiate between publishers who might have similar names. Thus California University Press in Pennsylvania is different from University of California Press, located in California. Similarly, there are Union Universities in both NY and KY.

That is still a valid issue in university publishing, though a lesser one in commercial publishing.

Interesting responses.

One way that a dispute could arise as to the “true” place of publication is if a book is published in a politically disputed area such as Israel/Palestine, Northern Cyprus, the Falkland Islands, Kashmir, Taiwan, Swains Island, or Crimea.

In the US, I suppose that most academics are just going to cite whatever is on the title page and get on with their life, unless they are writing about the dispute itself.

How often does this actually happen? For example, do publicly supported universities of the People’s Republic of China “encourage” students and professors to list citations to books published in Taiwan as being published in “Taiwan Province, PRC”?

If it is a city that is well known around the world (at least to academics), there is no need to put the country at all, and people generally don’t. If the city is obscure, or there is more than one well known city of that name Cambridge is the one most likely to arise), then you do need to put the country or (for America) the state.

A lot of American academic publishers, in my experience, seem to be officially based in small towns in New Jersey, for some reason. (Perhaps there are tax reasons not to be in New York, even if that is where you really work from.)

I don’t think war zones usually do much academic publishing, but I assume that, if the issue of a disputed territory ever arose, one would go with wherever the publisher thinks they are. The point, after all (inasmuch as there is one) is for a reader to be able to contact the publisher to obtain a copy.

Personally, I cite books published by Cambridge University Press as from “Cambridge”, and those published by Harvard University Press or MIT Press as from “Cambridge, MA”. No-one has ever complained (although in a recent publication of mine, a copy editor diligently changed all my citations to “MIT Press”, and there were quite a few of them, to “The MIT Press”.)

AFAIK, the vast majority of academic publishers use the town/city that the university resides in as the official place of publication. I know of three universities in New Jersey with presses - Princeton, Rutgers, and Farleigh Dickinson - but New York has a great many more than that, most of them not in NYC. (The list of academic presses in Wikipedia is woefully inadequate - neither of the two in Rochester are mentioned.)

I know that some non-American universities have offices in NYC and perhaps some would have them in northern New Jersey, which is part of the metro area. If so, it’s probably more because of cheaper office space than tax advantages.

I was not talking about university presses; I was talking about commercial publishers of academic books (not textbooks, or not those in particular: monographs, conference proceedings, edited collections of papers, and the like). (Whether all the ones I have in mind still exist as independent firms, or are still based in New Jersey, I do not know. It was a few years back that I noticed this, and I think at least one of them, maybe more, has gone out of business or been absorbed by a larger firm since then.) I realize that there are also a lot of publishers explicitly based in New York City.

And once again, the “where” of a book’s publication used to matter in defining what cultural matrix produced it, and what laws might apply to its copyright etc. Those things barely matter any more.

OK. Same answer, though. Almost certainly for cost reasons other than taxes if it happens to be true.

Good points, and I was thinking more or less along these lines. I was imagining what I would do if I ever had to cite a book published in Nicosia. It might actually be practically important for a reader to know if the book was published in the Republic of Cyprus-controlled area or the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus-controlled area. The TRNC is famously unrecognized by the majority of the world’s governments. In the US, people pretty much don’t care about the controversy. I can imagine taking a class at a university in Greece and being look at askance by the fervently nationalist instructor for citing Random, J. (2005). “A History of Stuff”, Nicosia, TRNC: PublishingCo, instead of citing it as “Nicosia, Foreign Occupied Zone: PublishingCo”.

This isn’t a citing rules controversy; it’s a place names rules controversy. The citing rule applies exactly the same either way.

Yes. There are still books published in Yugoslavia out there, and that’s how they are and should be cited.

One thing I find annoying when putting together a bibliography or references cited list - for which the place of publication of a book is still generally required by editors - is publishers that list two or even more places of publication. For example, I just checked a book on my shelves at random and it says “Cornell University Press - Ithaca and London.” In a case like this I just put down Ithaca, as the location of Cornell University, but that’s not what the book says. Sometimes I’m tempted to put “Cornell University Press, London” to see if anyone queries it.:wink: