walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

ISBNs for ebooks, what?

This is a second attempt at this post; it got way out of hand.

Do ebooks have ISBNs?

Sometimes. On Amazon, ebooks with page numbers may have a Page Number ISBN associated with them which indicates the paper edition of the book that the page numbers match. That's kind of cool -- nice work! In general, however, Amazon appears to use ASINs (awww, my baby has really grown up to be something so cool! Yet I don't feel bad for giving my baby such a funny name. It's _still_ A SIN that so much of Amazon's internal software relied upon 10-letter/number identifiers and any replacement for the original ISBN had to fit into that space. Thank Goddess for base 36, amirite?) for ebooks. It's less obvious what BN is using; perhaps someone else can figure it out.

It's worth pointing out that when the rest of the world went to ISBN-13, Amazon's detail page shows the ISBN-13 and the ISBN-10 associated with a book, but if you look at the ASIN (in the URL), you'll notice it's _always_ 10 letter/numbers. Not 13.

BISG is a sort of standards group for some fraction of the book industry. What do they think about this?

Well, here's a quote from BISG_Policy_1101.pdf:

"An ISBN identifies the registrant as well as the specific title, edition and format of the Book. It is mainly used within the supply chain for ordering, listing, sales tracking and stock control purposes."

Yes, Virginia, ISBN is some bizarre predecessor of useful things like PLUs or SKUs and _there's a standards group trying to make book retailers everywhere use it_. Even for ebooks. This _might_ be reasonable in, say, Canada, where you can get ISBNs for free, but in the United States, you have to buy them. From Bowker.

In any event, I think BISG is Not Happy with Amazon, and neither is this blogger:


who Nate over at The Digital Reader pointed to in The Morning Coffee for the day, and which distracted me into digging out where the assumption that BISG had anything to do with ISBNs came from, much less ISBNs for ebooks.

I would also like to point to this from the policy statement, example 1.1:

"Example 1.1
The file format in which a particular Digital Book is available is changed.
In practice: A publisher assigns a unique ISBN to a non-device specific Digital Book in EPUB format. In addition to being made available to Consumers without further modification, the EPUB is provided to, and altered significantly by, a third-party in order to create a new file format that renders on a specific device or software program.
The third-party has created a separate, device-specific Digital Book different from the publisher’s Digital Book (the EPUB); this newly created Digital Book should be assigned a unique ISBN (or proprietary identifier)."

That looks suspiciously to me like a tunnel for Amazon to drive ASINs through. "It's just a proprietary identifier."

I feel like BISG screwed up by embedding usage rights in the ISBN, but I wasn't privy to the debate so I don't know. By embedding usage rights but assuming DRM is separate, it would seem to preclude a digital receipt solution being implemented across DRM systems (but Pottermore may be proof to the contrary).

This seems obviously wrong:

"The experience and expectations of a Consumer patronizing an online retailer to buy a Digital Book or visiting an online library to borrow a Digital Book are no different than a Consumer patronizing a physical bookstore or library."

Standards documents often suck, but this seems unusually poorly thought out. Want to read it in all its dozen-ish page glory?


There was bloggy commentary when it was released:


Among others. I'm still reading the January 2011 Summary Findings document. It's really a laugh a minute.
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