The great ISBN quandry (#isbnhour)

Last week I spent an hour chatting to other ebook users on twitter under the hashtag #isbnhour.  The question revolved around what the best policy for assigning ISBNs. Should you have an ISBN for each device?  ISBNs have taken up a lot of my time in the past month.  Our catalogue here has not been clear and so I’ve devoted many hours to looking for duplicate ebooks on the system and making sure that each book only has one epub ISBN and one pdf ISBN, and then matching those ISBNs up to the print book. It’s a thankless task, but once it’s done, my life will be much easier.

Our policy at ACB is that we assign an ISBN per tradeable format.  Tradeable formats, thus far, include ePub, PDF and XML, in the same way that a print book has a different ISBN for the hardback and paperback editions.  The drawback is that you end up with one book having three different electronic ISBNs, however I think it’s madness to allocate an ISBN per device because you will end up with far more than three!  So we supply Sony and Amazon and Kobo and Ebooks.com (and all the others) with one ePub labelled with one eISBN, which can be linked in the metadata to the print ISBN. They are then free to assign their own reference number (such as Amazon’s ASIN), however their report back to us includes our eISBN so we can track our sales.

Of course, Google are going to throw a spanner in the works later this year (? – possibly, who knows exactly when…).  They have told us that we have to assign books supplied to them an ISBN just for them (a ‘Google ISBN’ as we refer to it). If we don’t, they will. So our epubs will end up having two ISBNs. One for everyone else, and one for Google. Thanks Google.

Library aggregators who take PDFs get the same book with a different ISBN. I can’t see it making sense any other way. The two formats are not the same, so they deserve to be distinguished.  Again, some aggregators then choose to assign their own reference number, but this is of little consequence to my tracking. As long as I know what has been distributed. To be honest, I can match on title just as easily as I can match on ISBN (in the tracking spreadsheet that I have created for my own purposes, not for any official reporting).  The only issue I have with libraries is where titles have been licensed without having any electronic ISBN, instead they’re out their, online, under their print ISBN. There are few, but there are some.

I have it easy, I can commission an ISBN where there is one missing. I have the backing of an established publishers. Out there in the world for those publishing on their own, its not so easy.

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~ by kymethra on June 9, 2010.

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