In the case of newspapers, the digital edition is a copy of a version that is unique among many possible editions. It may have a damaged page or may be missing some material available in another edition, such as advertisements. … Unlike print, digital remediations of historical texts are accessible to multiple readers, but users are disadvantaged by not having more than one copy of an issue to examine. (Laurel Brake “London Letter: Researching the Historical Press, Now and Here”, 248)
By one definition of a newspaper ‘edition’, all newspapers have them. The copy you hold in your hands, or access online, is a specific edition, made the more significant because many researchers now interact with exactly the same one; as Laurel Brake describes above, digitised newspapers become something new–a digital edition–in the digitisation process, because that single copy is preserved. The digital edition may be missing pages, or have set through, or have advertisements removed. In these terms, ‘edition’ provides you with important information regarding the object you’re interacting with, and highlights that it’s distinct from other issues of the same newspaper. As a digital object, it becomes representative. There’s also, in this case, some blurring with the term ‘issue’ that can be difficult to disentangle, and leads to some edition metadata fields being filled simply with issue numbers.
By another definition, not all newspapers have editions. An edition can refer to something much more specific, to do with geography (town papers versus country papers), to do with size, to distinguish between multiple issues produced on the same day (morning versus evening editions), or to refer to issues published on different days, which might have different editors (notably the Sunday edition).
The Australian Star, 16 January 1888: 1 (First Edition). Trove.
Although classifying editions might seem like a relatively straightforward point, the issues above muddy the waters significantly, and the decisions made as to what constitutes an ‘edition’ are often rendered invisible by the structure of digitised newspaper collections. Providers rarely digitise multiple editions; for example, the British Library’s Legal Deposit legislation in 1869 stipulated that a single issue is supplied per title, and this has generally been implemented by depositing the last edition of a newspaper for a specific day, if multiple editions exist (although in some cases these other editions may also be held by the library). In some collections of digitised newspapers, a Sunday variant of a newspaper is recorded as a separate title, breaking the link between the publications. This often makes sense: sometimes the publication has broken away from its parent title. But how do you record that break? When did it happen? And does the new publication still count as a Sunday ‘edition’, or is it now just a weekly paper?
Within the metadata samples in the Atlas, this variation is clear. Our edition metadata map includes numbered editions (“1” or “ed-1”); it also includes “Dag” (daily edition); “Freundschaftsausgabe” (Friendship edition); “Special Edition”; and “Electronic ed.”. Because not all newspapers have these first categories of edition (numeric, indicating frequency, or indicating a one-off publication), the field is rare across collections. The final category, electronic edition, might seem redundant: if it’s indicating that this newspaper is digitised, perhaps our engagement with it through a database or XML file should be enough to remind us of that. Nonetheless, it serves an important function in reminding us of the role of “digital remediation” in engaging with digitised newspaper collections.
Brake, Laurel. “London Letter: Researching the Historical Press, Now and Here.” Victorian Periodicals Review, vol. 48 no. 2, 2015, p. 245-253. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/vpr.2015.0028.