Friday, August 03, 2007

So how do you identify a digital fragment?

Nielson informs us that the number of titles published in 2006 in the UK has grown from 110,925 to 115,000 and globally in the English language from 256,500 to 258,350. In addition the number of publishers has risen to 2801 from 2739.

In years past we would all raise our hands, scream and say ‘can the market ever consume that many books?’ However, today the world is changing and we should welcome the news. The questions now are what is a title and how are ISBNs being used within the digital world? To-date, the allocation of ISBNs has been the barometer commonly used to measure the volume of published works but it becomes increasingly murky in the digital world.

As every individual rendition of a title requires its own ISBN the digital world potentially doubles the potential number of ISBNs. There will be separate ones for MS Reader, Adobe, OeB, Mobibook, Sony etc. They will be many different ISBNs against the same title (hardback, paperback, audio CD, large print, ebooks etc).

We welcome the long overdue introduction of the ITSC (International Standard Text Code) which will be the system for the identification of textual groups of works. The ISTC will be a unique, internationally recognized and permanent identifier for each textual work to which it is assigned. It will uniquely distinguish one textual work from another across national boundaries and language barriers, regardless of the various editions and/or formats in which a textual work is published. The ISTC starts to address the aggregation of works and is long overdue but still poorly communicated to the industry.

At the other end of the spectrum, the digital world introduces fragmentation, be it chapters, pages, or paragraphs. These can now be sold individually, or combined with others to form a new work. Today many have started to issue ISBNs against these fragments and although this is not desirable, fragments need to be identifiable and track able in the digital world. Permission rights may be assigned to fragments and importantly transactions need to be aligned to them.

So we have a potential explosion of ISBNs which all will require their own metadata, rights, commercials and a need to be resolved. We also have an explosion of contextual information in an increasing number of media formats and constructs. Some may immediately point to the DOI as the solution but others that its open ended construct and resolution would not be conducive to the wider commercial sectors.

What is clear is that we may find standards coming not from within, but out with, the industry to fill the gap. That is unless the standards bodies can act swiftly, agree, communicate a solution and move the agenda forward.