Friday, September 10, 2010

How Do We Identify Digital Content?

We now have ebook identifiers in the for of ISBNs which works fine for the work itself and we can have a separate ISBN for each rendition. We have a ISTC identifier which may help to group renditions to a work but has still bee adopted and or fully embraced within the trade. We don’t have an identifier for chapters or part works and although the ISBN may work it would appear to some to be a sledgehammer to crack a nut, especially if these were not effectively linked to the work. There are other issues or opportunities to link ISBNs to licencing, permission or access rights and ownership. After all we know that there is no Rights registry and the speed that the Google Book Settlement is going this review we be probably done and dusted before any decision is made.

Some ten years ago a group tried to force the DOI (Digital Object Identifier) onto the trade as a means of identifying ebooks. This somewhat naïve approach was thankfully shot down and effectively buried but is a reminder to all that the practical approach needs to be sought and it has to benefit all not just the few.

Finally we must remember that there is now a wealth of books coming into the digital arena that never had an ISBN are public domain or orphans. Some orphans may have an ISBN today which has long reverted in the physical world. Any solution should cover not just today’s books but also yesterdays.

Earlier this year BISG's Identification Committee began a review of the International ISBN Agency recommendations for the identification of e-books and digital content. They have now announced that they have contracted with Michael Cairns to ‘conduct an objective, research-based study that describes, defines and makes recommendations for the identification of e-books in the U.S. supply chain’.

We feel that their choice of Michael, who steeped in the trade and also ex head of Bowker, is a wise choice. The challenge now is to get the common understanding of the issues, an open debate of the options and a cross industry buy in to practical solutions that can be applied not just in the US but globally within the trade.

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