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I was thrilled to see the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) press release yesterday on the “Best Practices for Identifying Digital Products.” This new policy statement clarifies best practices and outlines responsibilities in the assignment of ISBNs to digital products in order to reduce both confusion in the market place, and the possibility of errors.

The policy outlines general rules for ISBN assignment and includes several real-life situations that help to provide guidance on how to apply those rules based on specific use cases. The six general rules are:

  • Any number identified as an ISBN must be a valid ISBN obtained from an officially sanctioned ISBN registration agency such as R.R. Bowker, the United States ISBN Agency, or Library and Archives Canada, the Canadian ISBN Agency.
  • ISBNs for Digital Books should be labeled “ISBN”, not “eISBN.” There is no such standard as an “eISBN”, nor is this the proper way to differentiate Digital Book formats.
  • Digital Books should never be identified with a number that is in the same format as an ISBN or labeled “ISBN” unless that number is a legitimate ISBN issued by an official ISBN registration agency, such as R.R. Bowker in the US.
  • Digital Books should not be assigned the same ISBN as any Physical Book.
  • Digital Books of the same title but different file format (i.e., EPUB, PDF, etc.) and/or different usage rights should not be assigned or display the same ISBN:
    • Assigning and/or displaying the same ISBN can confuse Consumers and/or result in the delivery of an incorrect product.
    • Assigning and/or displaying the same ISBN can affect the proper cataloging of the title by libraries and registration agencies.
  • Ideally, identical Digital Books (i.e. an EPUB being sold on various vendor sites) should not carry different ISBNs. There must be a differentiating factor (or factors) in the Digital Book’s content, file format, usage rights or metadata to justify the assignment of a unique ISBN.

You can read the press release online or download the policy guide from BISG.

For advice on how to add ISBNs for digital content into your workflow, please contact me at [email protected].