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KohaCon10: eBooks: Why they break ISBNs

Oct - 25 - 2010
Nicole C. Engard

Stuart Yeates was up first on day two of the conference. Stuart stated by showing us the New Zealand Electronic Text Centre a very awesome looking site that takes digital texts and enhances them with metadata.

Some terms:

  • ePubs is the open standard for eBooks (does anyone know if it can be read on any eBook device?)

  • ISBNs are used for print materials to identify them. ISBNs are specific to print runs and have no direct analogue in the pure-digital model.

In theory ISBNs are specific to each edition of a work – but what constitute a new edition? It’s not fixing a typo or adding authority control. When it comes to ePubs, apparently none of them qualify for ISBNs because they’re all considered to be “digital photocopies” of existing works .. this means you can’t get a new ISBN for your digital edition with enhanced content. This means there is no way to identify when there is a new version of an ePub for download because there is no standard numbering.

Given this what kind of identifier do we need? One criteria is that this identifier be enormously plentiful. In the ISBN world, publishers are reusing ISBNs – making them not really unique identifiers – we don’t want this problem when it comes to our digital content.

One audience question was what would the identifier be then? Stuart recommends some sort of URI, but doesn’t have an concrete answers for us yet.

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2 Responses so far.

  1. # ePubs is the open standard for eBooks (does anyone know if it can be read on any eBook device?)

    On most but not all — the Kindle doesn’t support ePubs. ( has a handy table.) I think this may be because Amazon is selling the Kindle cheap in order to encourage people to buy Kindlebooks, and doesn’t want to let Kindle owners get away and access ebooks from other providers.

  2. Nicole says:

    Cool, thanks for the info!

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