An ISBN with barcode

An ISBN with barcode has no plans for print, on-demand or otherwise, so the need for ISBNs isn’t obvious. The “book” label itself, in our vision, is a loose-fitting designator, since the length conventions that distinguish articles from books are arbitrary. The more meaningful contrast is between serial works and, for want of a better word, singles—stand-alone projects of whatever size. So an 20,000-word article in History of Media Studies would count as a serial work, while a 10,000-word multi-media essay published on our Manifold platform would fall under the “single” category. Conventions like “book-length” need not apply.

Bowker‘s ISBN page

Bowker‘s ISBN page

Still, we intend to obtain and assign an ISBN—short for International Standard Book Number—for each of our singles. The ISBN, like the DOI, is a unique identifier, though the ISBN identifies both printed and digital books. For better or worse, the number remains a necessity, for listing in library catalogs and online directories, and for metadata retrieval. Unlike the International DOI Foundation (IDF)—a nonprofit—the ISBN is administered by a for-profit firm, Bowker, itself a unit within the ProQuest information conglomerate. So it’s no surprise that the Bowker/ISBN landing page is a gaudy gallery of upsell pitches.

The price-per-ISBN is steeply pitched: One costs $125, while you can obtain a bundle of 10 for $295 ($30 apiece)—or 100 for $575 (less than $6). We will almost certainly buy the package of 10 to start, though of course the per-unit charge on the 100 is enticing. Individual ISBNs can’t be reused, and different editions require their own ISBN. At any volume the prices are usurious.

We haven’t gone through the process yet, but there’s a straightforward procedure to submit ISBN title information” to Bowker (which includes a listing in its Books in Print service). The next step is to associate the ISBN with a DOI—a service provided by the IDF:

Publishers’ internal systems and bibliographic agency databases use ISBN as the key identifier. Introducing additional identifiers adds complexity, cost and potentially confusion; it therefore makes sense to continue using the ISBN as a principle identifier for digital publications, rather than add a new number. By including the ISBN in the DOI syntax in a standard way, a DOI is obtained which is derived from an ISBN. The ISBN International agency and the International DOI Foundation have agreed a way of doing this.

Basically you get a DOI derived from your existing ISBN—an ISBN-A for “actionable ISBN.” We’ll update this post when we’ve completed our first run-through of the ISBN-DOI dance.