Mythbusting the ISBN

This post, from Laura Dawson, originally appeared on the LJNDawson blog on 11/4/09.

It’s probably not healthy to keep thinking about this. It certainly makes me a lousy conversationalist. Because in all the ruminating and talking and (if you must know) mad nattering to myself (luckily, I spend LARGE portions of my day alone), I keep coming back to the ISBN.

Bear with me. (I have already investigated, and there is no rehab facility that deals in identifier addiction problems, so that’s out.)

Last month, the AAP’s Digital Initiatives Working Group and BISAC’s Identifiers Committee conducted a survey among members to determine what publishers’ views actually are on the ISBN. Publishers have been told what to think, repeatedly – and we know how much publishers like being told what to think – so we thought we’d turn the conversation around and ask them what they thought. The results are not yet finalized, and when they are I will talk about them.

But I worry. Because as we expand book distribution from merely a paper-with-occasional-ebook business to an all-kinds-of-paper-and-lots-of-different-ebooks-plus-vooks-plus-promotional-packages-plus-print-on-demand-plus-subscriptions-to-book-content-plus-downloadable-audio – well, you can see where this is going, and it’s messy.

And I have been in more than one meeting where I have heard these exact words (and I am not making this up), “If only we had some kind of system to deal with this, some way of identifying content…”


So, first, some mythbusting.

ISBNs are expensive.

Actually, no they are not! The new My Identifiers site will offer new pricing in January. A single ISBN will cost an author or publisher $125. Ten ISBNs are $250, or $25 per ISBN. A hundred ISBNs are $575. This is cheap!

An ISBN is just a bar code for a book, and if my books are digital, I don’t need ISBNs.

Not so! In using an ISBN for a digital book (or any book), a publisher creates an automatic web page for that book, which is populated by the bibliographic data in Books in Print (and can be edited or added to by the publisher). Bowker hosts that web page, and the hosting price is included in the purchase of the ISBN. Publishers can choose which booksellers will sell their titles on that page – or direct traffic specifically to the publisher itself.
The price of the ISBNs also includes a widget for each title, to put on your own website or to share – you can choose to display as much or as little of each book as you want.


Read the rest of the post on the LJNDawson blog.