Friday, June 27, 2008

Digital Commonsense

Years ago, in an earlier life around the mid 80s, I was part of the team at UK DIY retailer B&Q given loads of bad press for introducing trading terms which made it mandatory for all suppliers to trade via EDI. We actually only ceased trading with one partner over the issue and ironically a few years later they were back and fully supportive. Changing trading practices is not easy and in the case of the book trade often fraught with challenges in terms of its many to many supply chain. But trading stances have been taken in the past over the original introduction of the ISBN and the expansion of the ISBN to 13 digits.

So it was interesting to read today Personanondata’s blog ‘ISBNs on all formats’ which was kindly alerted today’s Book2book. The article states the obvious but also highlights that the view is not one universally held those in the US. In fact the attached comment to the blog clearly demonstrates the divide. Bleats of; its too hard, there will be too many, it will cost too much and do I need to, can be heard from some quarters, allegedly.

Forget the posturing and politics this is about product identification and is a basic foundation to all inter-company ecommerce and communication. It is as much about upstream as it is downstream and is fundamental to trade. An old friend Tom McGuffog, Director of Planning and Logistics Nestle and ex chairman of the UK Article Numbering Association (the UK EAN standards governing body now know as GS1 UK), once said ‘ uncertainty is the mother of bad trading, only by removing uncertainty can we trade efficiency’. So what if there are; 10, 20, 30, different ISBNs against a work? Each will be a unique rendition, may have different rights associated with them; different commercial models, even have different features and apply to different channels. Surely identification and consistency is a must.

Today many believe that we also desperately need a work identifier and the best practices to adopt it and deploy it. Some believe that it exists today in the form of the ISTC but that it has stalled, lacks a champion and roadmap and now needs to be adapted, adopted, marketed and deployed. Is it an identification silver bullet? No, firstly it is an attribute associated with and ISBN (a secondary reference), but it can go a long way to enabling the consistent grouping of ISBNs under a work, which will help everyone manage more ISBNs and will also help consumers select and choose the right rendition, which after all is what its all about.

Many also believe that we also need an answer to the identification of fragments and chunks. Some have argued previously for the DOI, but if fragments were to be popular do we only see them being sold digitally. The answer is that the DOI is a great resolution system for the online world, but it doesn’t fit neatly into the retail and physical world. The identification of fragments is not a burning issue today, but it will increasingly become one tomorrow and merely allocating more ISBNs to these may not be the answer.

We have many issues in the digital arena, but if we can’t agree and adopt what many believe is both simple and logical today and what has come fully endorsed by the standards bodies the industry has invested in, some would question what hope have we of resolving some of the more sensitive issues.

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