London, UK – 10 January 2012 – The Board of The International ISBN Agency (IIA) congratulates BISG on the publication of its Policy Statement: “Best Practices for Identifying Digital Products” as a positive contribution to the recommendations for assignment and management of appropriate identifiers to digital publications. In particular, the Board are very pleased to see the degree of coherence and consistency with the IIA’s own Guidelines for the Assignment of ISBNs to e-books (published November 2010).

Piero Attanasio, the Chairman of The International ISBN Agency said “The product of many months of industry analysis, debate and careful examination of use cases, the BISG Policy Statement reflects enormous progress in the drive towards consistency and clarity in the identification of e-books. North American publishers have been trailblazing in their development of new types of products and channels, but this race to pioneer has also caused some pain and stress to other supply chain participants who have had to react fast in this dynamic arena. BISG has sought to consider the views of all stakeholders in their series of recommendations. While we believe there is still more work to do in this evolving area and some aspects in particular where we would like to see even more detailed guidance in the face of the complexity, we applaud BISG’s fortitude, dedication and commitment in helping to resolve these industry challenges.”

The IIA is prepared to further contribute to the industry guidance, providing additional use cases and examples – including some based on the experience in other countries – that can provide more explanation that would benefit supply chain partners and help them to make the right decisions on a day to day basis. For example, both the ISBN Guidelines and the BISG Policy Statement are clear that different formats require different ISBNs to identify them, as it is clearly stated in the ISBN Standard. However, in daily practice, it may be difficult to distinguish when there are indeed multiple products. In particular, the impact of different types of Digital Rights Management software and of different usage rights settings on the assignment of ISBN needs very detailed examination.

The IIA appreciate the approach of the BISG Policy Statement to distinguish between the case of different “products”, which always merit separate ISBNs, and the case when different DRMs or different usage rights are wrapped with the product at the moment a transaction occurs between the vendor and the consumer. The distinction may not always be obvious. It is important to remember that separate ISBNs are necessary to avoid ambiguity arising in the value chain where there are multiple products and multiple parties involved.

Where a publication is available in a supply chain with more than one specific type of DRM, whether offered by the original publisher or by a vendor later in the chain, then each of these are unique products that need to be identified by unique ISBNs.

Example 1: A publisher produces two EPUB versions of the same book, each with different DRMs and then distributes them through the supply chain, through different intermediaries. An ISBN is required for each of the specific DRM versions of the product.

Example 2: A publisher produces a file in EPUB format and releases this to a vendor who applies two different types of DRM to the EPUB and makes the two versions available separately, as two distinct products. An ISBN is required for each of the specific DRM versions of the product (the ISBN may be assigned by the publisher or by the vendor if the publisher does not do so).

Example 3: A vendor offers to the public the possibility to buy an e-book and to customise on demand the type of DRM to be applied. In this case, the DRM is applied at transaction level and there is no need to assign different ISBNs, since there is no ambiguity in the dialogue between the vendor and the buyer.
If a publication is made available with different usage rights (e.g. adjusting the usage settings so that printing is allowed in one, but not in another), each version must be assigned a unique ISBN. In almost all cases usage rights are controlled using settings within the DRM software.

Example 4: A publisher releases a publication – one version of the publication is available with accessibility features such as text to speech (controlled through the DRM software) and one without. Each of the versions must have unique ISBNs in order that the particular attributes are clear to potential buyers and users (especially those looking for accessible publications) and so that the versions are separately identified.

However, also in this case, when the usage rights are defined during the transaction between the vendor and the user, there is no need to assign separate ISBNs. Example 5: A publisher releases a publication in one format with one ISBN and then offers to customers a service to acquire different usage rights on demand. Similarly to example 3 above, separate ISBNs are not required to identify the individual customised transaction.

A number of applications are in the development stages that will rely heavily on unambiguous identification. Though not yet fully operational, they will depend on clear identification of individual products and highly granular metadata for their success. An example of this is a platform dedicated to providing information about accessible versions. In order to meet the precise needs and wants of the user, it is essential that the different publications with their individual accessibility features are very clearly identified and differentiated. With unambiguous identification through separate ISBN, the user will be directed accurately to the most suitable version that meets their exact needs every time. It is
also possible to envisage other types of applications and services that would also depend on this granular approach.

The digital publication landscape is still in development. The IIA will continue to consider carefully how ISBNs should be used appropriately to support the needs of the supply chain to identify different publications clearly and unambiguously. We anticipate that guidelines will need to grow and adapt with the industry as each new use case emerges and we look forward to working with organisations such as BISG on practical implementation advice.

About the International ISBN Agency
The ISBN is one of the world’s most successful supply chain identifiers and is a prerequisite in the book trade. The international standard for the identification of publications by ISBN was first introduced over 40 years ago and has since been adopted in more than 200 countries. The International ISBN Agency is the registration authority for the ISBN system and manages the system globally through a network of national or regional ISBN agencies who assign ISBNs to publishers. The main functions of the International ISBN Agency are to promote, coordinate and supervise the world-wide use of the ISBN system.