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U.S. ISBN Monopoly Denies Threat From Digital Self-Publishing

Unknown Lamer posted about a year ago | from the jeff-bezos-controls-the-supply-chain dept.

Books 127

Ian Lamont writes "The Economist writes that self-publishing threatens the existence of the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) regimen, which is used to track and distribute printed books. Self-publishing of e-books has experienced triple-digit growth in recent years, and the most popular self-publishing platforms such as Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing don't require ISBNs (Amazon assigns its own reference number to these titles). But Bowker, the sole distributor of ISBNs in the United States, sees an opportunity in self-publishing. The packages for independent authors are very expensive — Bowker charges $125 for a single ISBN, and $250 for ten. It also upsells other expensive services to new and naive authors, including $25 barcodes and a social widget that costs $120 for the first year. Laura Dawson, the product manager for identifiers at Bowker, insists that ISBNs are relevant and won't be replaced anytime soon: 'Given how hard it is to migrate database platforms and change standards, I wouldn't expect to replace the ISBN, simply because it is also an EAN, which is an ISO standard that forms the backbone of global trade of both physical and digital items. There are a lot of middlemen, even in self-publishing. They require standards in order to communicate with one another.'" It seems like a lot of programs/services just use ASINs (despite being controlled by a single private entity), probably indicating some deficiency with the current centralized registration regime. Back in 2005, Jimmy Wales suggested we needed something (culturally) similar to wikipedia for product identifiers. The O'Reilly interview indicates that the folks issuing ISBNs think DOIs are DOA too.

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127 comments

so many acronyms (2)

yincrash (854885) | about a year ago | (#43126457)

IOWANINOLS

Re:so many acronyms (1)

clanrat (707500) | about a year ago | (#43131717)

I would mod parent up if I had points. Undefined initialisms and acronyms inhibit communications.

Spare Me (1)

xstonedogx (814876) | about a year ago | (#43126481)

They are used to dealing with big publishers. It is no surprise to me that they can offer those big publishers huge discounts on volume pricing, because this is the type of thing that doing once has roughly the same cost as doing in huge bulk.

So no, I'm sorry, I don't swallow the whole "very expensive" line or the "12,500%" markup bullshit in TFA. It's not markup. It's the cost. And you can get huge discounts if you buy in bulk. Just like about everything you buy at Costco.

Re:Spare Me (1)

jimicus (737525) | about a year ago | (#43126545)

TBH, that part of TFA struck me as a chap who's written some basic "Learn X in 30 minutes" books, decided to go down the self-publishing route (whether he's hoping to make a business out of it or it's just a self-funding hobby I'm not sure) and is bitter about learning a lesson that cost $250.

Considering it's very easy to make mistakes that cost ten or even a hundred times that in a small business, I reckon $250 is a bargain. It'd cost an awful lot more than $250 to hire a consultant to tell you that.

Re:Spare Me (2)

sjames (1099) | about a year ago | (#43126799)

Cost? What are they using to generate the numbers, a hand cranked analytical engine?

I = International (1)

1u3hr (530656) | about a year ago | (#43126489)

Bowker may be a monopoly in the US, I don't know. . Every country has its own series. In Hong Kong the government (part of the public library system) issues ISBNs on demand, free I charge authors $20 to supply a HK ISBN if they don't want to get one themself. Amazon numbers work and are free, but of course you can only use them if you sell exclusively through Amazon. So it may not be such a great saving.

Re:I = International (5, Informative)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about a year ago | (#43126517)

According to TFA, the ISBN is international; but for whatever historical reason 1 entity per country(no word on what happened to countries that have ceased to exist or come to exist since 1959, though those probably aren't hotbeds of writing and publishing...) was made the local monopoly distributor for that country.

Re:I = International (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43126667)

How is 1 entity per country not international?

Re:I = International (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about a year ago | (#43127125)

How is 1 entity per country not international?

It is international. My comment was purely addressing the issue of why your experience in actually getting one may differ markedly by jurisdiction. They are 'international' in the sense that ISBNs are supposed to be globally unique and the data tied to them should be available across the board; but the market/allocation mechanism is a series of nation-specific monopolies with their own distinct policies.

Re:I = International (3, Informative)

Matthias Wiesmann (221411) | about a year ago | (#43129577)

It is not really once code per country, ISBN started with a code per language zone, and switched to countries when they realised it could not scale, so codes 978-0 and 978-1 are for english (this includes the mysterious lands of united kingdom and australia), code 978-2 is for french, and so does 979-10, 978-3 is for german, the followin 978- prefixes are assigned to various countries. Note that the code is not assigned to the language of the book, but the dominant language of the country / publisher. So a swiss publisher can have a 978-2 book in english.

If prices of ISBN codes were really a problem, people could just publish in France, where ISBNs are free. Anyways nowadays ISBN are just a particular class of GTIN/EAN so I suspect one could just buy an EAN (UPC) code.

Re:I = International (1)

malkavian (9512) | about a year ago | (#43131807)

Wish I could mod that informative.. Learned more about ISBN codes in that post than I have in the preceeding 40 years! :)

Re:I = International (3, Informative)

uffe_nordholm (1187961) | about a year ago | (#43126653)

More or less the same applies here in Sweden: I applied for a few ISBNs, and was given two with no fuss. The total cost to me was I had to write two emails, and read some instructions. No money was involved in the transaction. I don't see why this should change should I need more ISBNs in the future.

Re:I = International (1)

arglebargle_xiv (2212710) | about a year ago | (#43129051)

More or less the same applies here in Sweden: I applied for a few ISBNs, and was given two with no fuss. The total cost to me was I had to write two emails, and read some instructions. No money was involved in the transaction.

Same in New Zealand. If you want an ISBN you go to the National Library web site, fill in their form [natlib.govt.nz] , and that's it. No money involved.

Re:I = International (2)

Luckyo (1726890) | about a year ago | (#43127745)

Essentially this is a fairly standard "everything should be private and for profit" attitude prevalent in US.

In most of the rest of the world, ISBNs are distributed cheap or even free to authors, typically at a cost of requesting them and maybe paying some small processing fee.

Re:I = International (1)

Curunir_wolf (588405) | about a year ago | (#43127811)

Essentially this is a fairly standard "everything should be private and for profit" attitude prevalent in US.

If the government is granting the monopoly, it's not "private" at all - it's a public-private-partnership (which is the new term for it - they used to call it fascism).

I didn't understand any of this (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43126491)

And I'm an ebook author!

Re:I didn't understand any of this (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43126625)

Printing content to a PDF to send it to your friends who cannot open your LibreOffice documents does not make you an eBook author

Re:I didn't understand any of this (0)

Dexter Herbivore (1322345) | about a year ago | (#43127207)

While assuming that's the case here is probably harsh, the fact that (s)he started a sentence with a preposition bodes ill.

Re:I didn't understand any of this (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43127303)

While my assuming that you know what you're talking about is probably unwise, the fact that you identified a conjunction as a preposition bodes ill.

Re:I didn't understand any of this (1)

Sir or Madman (2818071) | about a year ago | (#43127525)

While my assuming that you know what you're talking about is probably unwise, the fact that you two are dickering over overly prescriptive usage and what is actually not an error bodes ill.

Source text for next poster(s):

While my assuming that you know what you're talking about is probably unwise, the fact that you ___________________________ bodes ill.

Re:I didn't understand any of this (1)

ynp7 (1786468) | about a year ago | (#43128093)

While my assuming that you know what you're talking about is probably unwise, the fact that you while my assuming bodes ill.

Re:I didn't understand any of this (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43127469)

While assuming that's the case here is probably harsh, the fact that (s)he started a sentence with a preposition bodes ill.

Well, you started yours with a pre-supposition, how does that bode for you?

Amazon has it covered, making ISBN less relevant (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43126495)

With point to multi-point sourcing from someone as large as Amazon, why pay money for the ISBN number? You can get "found" easily enough.

Re:Amazon has it covered, making ISBN less relevan (4, Informative)

_Shad0w_ (127912) | about a year ago | (#43127273)

Because ISBN numbers are also a unique identifier; they fulfil bibliographic and cataloguing functions. With an ISBN number you not only know what book is being referenced, but also which edition of that book, and what format that book was in (a book published as an eBook and as a paper book will have different ISBN number for both).

Amazon won't kill ISBNs, but the WWW might (1)

Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) | about a year ago | (#43127335)

Because ISBN numbers are also a unique identifier; they fulfil bibliographic and cataloguing functions.

But who needs old school bibliographic and cataloguing functions for self-published books when we have URLs for citation, search engines and social networks to find new material, and any number of services that authors can use to collect payment in return for supplying an electronic copy directly?

ISBNs are basically irrelevant to electronic self-publishers in the era of the World Wide Web, because you can supply a PDF or similar document as easily as an HTML page.

Re:Amazon won't kill ISBNs, but the WWW might (1)

Jeremy Erwin (2054) | about a year ago | (#43127679)

URLs change.

Re:Amazon won't kill ISBNs, but the WWW might (1)

Rozzin (9910) | about a year ago | (#43127751)

Re:Amazon won't kill ISBNs, but the WWW might (1)

Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) | about a year ago | (#43129395)

And books go out of print. An ISBN no more guarantees that you can find a copy of the book once published with that ID than a URL guarantees that the web site where the PDF e-book was sold will still be there. But permalink-type URLs don't change by magic any more than ISBNs do, so I'm not sure I see a huge problem here.

ISBN serves a purpose (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43126513)

It's a standard unique identifier recognized across the publishing business. While an ISBN doesn't mean much about the quality of the book (it could be total garbage, or worse) at least it ensures that people will have to fork over cash to get one - so you won't get millions of new spam ISBNs each day for example. And if identifiers were free, you'd probably have to use some scheme like GUID (randomly generated 128-bit identifiers) which are not human friendly, as anyone knows who has ever tried to clean out their Windows registry.

Amazon's scheme is vendor-specific, and so would O'Reilly's if Tim came up with one.

Re:ISBN serves a purpose (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43126843)

Your theory fails when you consider trash like Fifty Shades selling billions, and yet it's written by someone with the same literary skills as a pre-teen.

The Importance of ISBNs (4, Informative)

christurkel (520220) | about a year ago | (#43126523)

By putting an ISBN on your work, it is available in every wholesalers and retailer's database. Your book can be ordered anywhere by anyone. Amazon's identifier is for Amazon only.

Authors don't have to pay that much for an ISBN when they self publish. Lulu.com for instance charges $40 for a "global distribution package" which includes an ISBN.

Re:The Importance of ISBNs (1)

fermion (181285) | about a year ago | (#43126727)

You know Amazon sells something like 1 out every 3 books. It is like Walmart, big enough that things change just for it. Remember when music was being censored so Walmart would sell it?

If I wrote a book that I was going to market so it would end up on some best seller list, and therefore in a brick and mortar store, the cost of ISBN would be insignificant. If I were publishing a book that might end up in a library, then the cost would be justified. If I were publishing a book every couple months, then the 10 pack would useful.

But really, $125 is at least $125 books. That money could be used for advertising on google that would drive people to Google where almost every person in the developed world can order my book.

i am not saying the ISBN is not useful, just that times are changing and some thing are not so valuable and do not demand so high a price. Firms that ignore this are not long for this world.

Having the customer enter some data into a web page and pushing that data to international data does not cost $125. There is nothing else these people do. Registering a domain name only costs $10.

Re:The Importance of ISBNs (4, Insightful)

dgatwood (11270) | about a year ago | (#43127665)

ISBNs aren't worth $125, and they never were. They're priced that high to discourage people from buying them in such small quantities, because doing so is almost always a mistake, and results in lots of extra overhead because of the added segmentation of the address space.

The reason it is a mistake can be summarized by describing how I'll be using ISBNs for each of the three books I'm about to publish:

  • One ISBN for the hardcover print edition.
  • One ISBN for the paperback print edition.
  • One ISBN for the EPUB digital edition.
  • One ISBN for the Amazon (MOBI/KF8) digital edition (optional).
  • One ISBN for the PDF digital edition (sometimes optional, depending on merchant).

So each book in my trilogy could eat up to half of a block of ten by itself. Most folks should not be buying in blocks smaller than 10, and if you're serious about writing more than one or two books, in blocks of 100.

Re:The Importance of ISBNs (2)

Zenin (266666) | about a year ago | (#43127779)

By putting an ISBN on your work, it is available in every wholesalers and retailer's database. Your book can be ordered anywhere by anyone.

Except it can't.

While the ISBN helps simplify distribution, it does nothing to guarantee it. There are thousands upon thousands of "books in print", all with valid ISBN numbers, for which it can be effectively impossible for generic book sellers to obtain for you.

This is particularly true for niche academic books published by tiny niche publishers. Once upon a time I worked for Computer Literacy Bookshops [wikipedia.org] who largely thrived on their very unique network of publishing contacts that allowed them to obtain practically any academic text available.

Yet despite their fantastic relationship building, even CLB had a hell of a difficult time obtaining many obscure titles. For example, there are many texts...with ISBNs...that were only ever intended to be sold to a particular customer (typically a school or trade guild/union). Getting them to sell to anyone else can be impossible. There were a lot that would sell to their 1 intended client...and CLB...but absolutely no one else.

The Internet and Self-Publishing has changed a lot of that game, but not all of it by a long shot, especially among scholars of more esoteric subjects.

"Very expensive"? (4, Insightful)

PCM2 (4486) | about a year ago | (#43126537)

$125 for one ISBN is only "very expensive" when you consider that ten ISBNs is $250. There are plenty of people who are willing to sell you an extra ISBN for cheap.

That said, $125 for an ISBN is only "very expensive" in a country where the average person spends less than $125 for a bag of groceries. Which ain't this one.

On a broader level, one of most baffling things to me has been how little people are willing to invest in their own futures. They'll spend $1,500 on an HDTV, but spend $125 for an ISBN -- when publishing their novel is presumably one of their lifelong dreams -- hell no! I can't afford it! It's so much money! I've listened to long harangues from musicians about how unjust the music industry is, and it turns out all they need is $2,500 to put out an album that's already been written AND recorded. I just can't understand it -- if it's that important to you, if this is what you really want to do with your life, why wouldn't you just put $2,500 on your credit card and damn the consequences? Honestly, I've made my living as a writer for well over a decade now, so I know what it's like to make no money at all ... but $2,500 is such an inconsequential amount of funds to spend on your own dreams that I just can't comprehend anybody complaining about it. In this society, $2,500 is the kind of money you don't even need to ask somebody for ... just fill out a form, they'll send you a card, and you can get a $2,500 loan -- or more -- without ever looking a human in the eye. So ... we're bitching about $250 now? No wait... we're apparently bitching about $125?

Re:"Very expensive"? (5, Informative)

0123456 (636235) | about a year ago | (#43126581)

It's very expensive when you consider that ISBNs are free in many countries. Canada, for example, just requires you to register as a publisher, and then you can get as many ISBNs as you can use from a web site.

Re:"Very expensive"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43127253)

But it is also extremely cheap when compared to, say, licenses for devkits to make games. (or fees you need to pay IF your game is successful, such as 50k units moved or something like that)

$125 is like $10 a week for a year.
Anyone who is writing small-scale or higher publications should be more than capable of affording that.
Smaller than that is most likely local publications or those in poverty. The latter is where one problem lies.
But as you mentioned, there are free routes to get an ISBN given some research.

Re:"Very expensive"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43127497)

"$125 is like $10 a week for a year."

Hmmm ... math is not your strong suit, is it? $125 is like $10 a week for ONE FOURTH of a year.

Re:"Very expensive"? (1)

Jeremy Erwin (2054) | about a year ago | (#43127659)

He doesn't have very good credit, so he puts it on his "starter" credit card and pays the minimum-- some times.

Re:"Very expensive"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43126585)

It's very expensive for what it is: a couple minutes of effort by the producer. And it's only that expensive since the issuer has a monopoly.

Re:"Very expensive"? (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about a year ago | (#43126593)

it turns out all they need is $2,500 to put out an album that's already been written AND recorded.

Wow, where can you do that? What distribution channels does that give you access to?

Re:"Very expensive"? (5, Insightful)

PCM2 (4486) | about a year ago | (#43126701)

Wow, where can you do that? What distribution channels does that give you access to?

For a lot of types of music, there is no mass market. The "distribution channels" are MySpace, Facebook, and Amazon. The role of the record label is minimal.

I had one friend who managed to score a distribution deal with a pretty big indy distributor. It meant you could walk into any Virgin Megastore on Earth and buy his CD. But did you? No ... you didn't. Those CDs sat there for a few months and were rotated out for something else. Distribution channels aren't everything ... and this isn't the music industry of even a few years ago.

That said, realize that all a record label really is is a bank with a lot of connections. Everything a major record label "spends" on you ... for recording, mixing, mastering, distribution, promotion ... is really just a loan. Nothing is a gift. You get paid, but not before they've made back every penny they spent on you. Putting out an album with record label backing is 100% analogous to starting a company with VC funding.

Re:"Very expensive"? (1)

burisch_research (1095299) | about a year ago | (#43126749)

Very insightful. Someone with mod points, mod this guy up? /aside El Reg rocks :)

Re:"Very expensive"? (1)

Dexter Herbivore (1322345) | about a year ago | (#43127225)

The biggest cost (and earn, for the publisher at least) is the promotional costs. You can do what you like to publish and distribute, but if no-one knows your album exists it's almost futile.

Re:"Very expensive"? (1)

Lemming42 (931274) | about a year ago | (#43128923)

Putting out an album with record label backing is 100% analogous to starting a company with VC funding.

Close, but from what I understand it's actually worse than VC funding.

With record deals, book deals, and videogame deals you actually pay your debt (advances) out of your cut instead of off the top. That means if you get a 25% cut and owe $100,000 you won't see a dollar until the gross surpasses $400,000.

Re:"Very expensive"? (3, Interesting)

CalRobert (2451626) | about a year ago | (#43126627)

Your broader point really strikes a chord - I find my friends have a hard time understanding why I would spend $500 on taking a class at a community college (after about 6 of them my career improved immeasurably thanks to the skills earned) or $1000 getting a visa to work in a different country (which is cheap, really), yet they seem fine with spending boatloads of cash on a fancier car, or eating out all the time. To each their own, and if that's what they want to do then good for them, but I don't get their surprise.

Re:"Very expensive"? (1)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | about a year ago | (#43126691)

$125 for one, $25 each for the next step up, that should tell you all you need to know. It's rent seeking.

You're wrong; starving artists can't afford that. (1)

MSRedfox (1043112) | about a year ago | (#43126779)

These days, sure that kind of money seems like nothing. But back when I was young, I dealt with the whole starving artist thing. Money was super tight, living paycheck to paycheck. $125 for a bag of groceries? More like $20-40 for the week. And $2500 to record an album, that was more than my car cost then. A simple cheap car repair was able to devastate my budget. You're working on the basis that self-published authors have decent jobs. So yes, $125 is something to bitch about. That's a lot of money when you're scraping by and trying to get your first bits of work out there. Especially when you know that early in your self-publishing career, it's very likely it might not even sell enough to recoup that, even if the work is good.

Re:You're wrong; starving artists can't afford tha (2)

1u3hr (530656) | about a year ago | (#43126915)

So yes, $125 is something to bitch about. That's a lot of money when you're scraping by and trying to get your first bits of work out there. Especially when you know that early in your self-publishing career, it's very likely it might not even sell enough to recoup that, even if the work is good.

Realistically, if you have no other income than self publishing, you are dead broke and you should get a job flipping burgers and write on your time off. I know a lot of authors, literally hundreds, since I work in publishing. Only a handful make a living out of it. Most of those started as journalists. Not one could pay the rent from self publishing. And here, ISBNs are free, and printing is very cheap. It's marketing that's hard, and self publishing means you have a hundred times as much competition.

Re:You're wrong; starving artists can't afford tha (1)

0123456 (636235) | about a year ago | (#43127061)

Realistically, if you have no other income than self publishing, you are dead broke and you should get a job flipping burgers and write on your time off.

I know a couple of dozen people making their living from self-publishing, none of them the 'best-sellers' you see stories about on the web. That's a small fraction of the number of people who've self-published, but they're doing much better than a new trade-published writer with a $5,000 advance... or the hordes of wannabe trade-published writers sending out their books for years hoping that someone will eventually give them that $5,000 advance.

Re: assumptions, anyone? (1)

almechist (1366403) | about a year ago | (#43126807)

I've listened to long harangues from musicians about how unjust the music industry is, and it turns out all they need is $2,500 to put out an album that's already been written AND recorded. I just can't understand it -- if it's that important to you, if this is what you really want to do with your life, why wouldn't you just put $2,500 on your credit card and damn the consequences?

Boy, that's some assumption you're making there. Are you really so out of touch that you just assume every musician must have a credit card, let alone one with $2500 or more credit left on it? I wish you the best with your writing career, but you need to familiarize (or perhaps re-familiarize) yourself with the term "starving artist". It doesn't matter that you were once broke yourself, the fact remains that for a whole lot of musicians, especially those just starting out in the biz, or who come from low-income neighborhoods, yes, that kind of money is indeed going to be totally out of the question. If they do happen to have a credit card, it's already maxed out, believe me. Following your dreams is just not all that easy in modern-day America, not if you're one of the 99%.

Re:"Very expensive"? (1)

sjames (1099) | about a year ago | (#43126837)

It amazes ME how much some people are willing to pay for a 'service' that costs practically nothing to perform. Generally these things only happen where there is a monopoly (rent seeking).

For the low low price of $1000, I will issue you your official breathing license! Why would you even hesitate? Isn't your life worth $1000? Just put it on the ol' credit card and quit complaining!

Re:"Very expensive"? (1)

KramberryKoncerto (2552046) | about a year ago | (#43126861)

$125 is close to the median household income in the US. In other words, it's enough to sustain an average family for one day, covering taxes, food, mortgage, petrol, other non-essential stuff, and then some change to the bank. All for a silly number (more precisely a record over an international database) that won't take much more than a phone call, and in some cases just by clicking a few buttons online - it probably doesn't even directly cost them cash, as many governments use tax money to help sustain the system.

Then it's not the only cost to publish a book. You'd probably need to pay up front for marketing, distribution; other middle-men such as retail would at least take a cut from the final sales. It's like a store taking $1 per day just for the privilege to let a book to sit on a shelf in an obscure position. Looks cheap but it makes many paper-back books less than worthless to the author in a few days. If an author pays $125 for such triviality like an ISBN and it's "cheap", then I guess bankruptcy is also cheap. So it's got to be expensive.

The only way they could charge even $25 per number is because they have some kind of absolute power of granting ISBNs, and take advantage of the information asymmetry against "naive authors". The ridiculous $125 price tag, on the other hand, is probably more of a way to make $25 look cheap, as a common marketing technique.

Re:"Very expensive"? (1)

KramberryKoncerto (2552046) | about a year ago | (#43126901)

Correction:

$125 is close to the median household income in the US

median household income per day

Re:"Very expensive"? (1)

dgatwood (11270) | about a year ago | (#43127003)

That said, $125 for an ISBN is only "very expensive" in a country where the average person spends less than $125 for a bag of groceries. Which ain't this one.

Shrugs. For me, the question is: block of 100 or block of 1,000. My first project, a trilogy of three novels, will require at least nine ISBNs, or 12 if I assign an ISBN to the Kindle edition (which is optional), so a block of 10 would be stupid unless I plan to never create any future works. A block of 100 would probably take care of any future projects that I would want to do, but a block of 1,000 would be sufficient beyond all doubt, and costs less than twice as much as a block of 100.

On the flip side, if everyone thought as I did, the ISBN system would break pretty quickly through exhaustion of the Bookland EAN space. Whether this is a good or a bad thing is left as a question for debate.

Re:"Very expensive"? (1)

gnasher719 (869701) | about a year ago | (#43127899)

$125 for one ISBN is only "very expensive" when you consider that ten ISBNs is $250. There are plenty of people who are willing to sell you an extra ISBN for cheap.

I had a look at UK prices, and the price structure is not quite what the article suggests.

In the UK, you can buy blocks of 10, 100, or 1000. The first purchase is more expensive. You basically pay £50 to become part of their system, plus £70 for 10 ISBNs, so £120 for the first purchase, £70 for the next etc. 100 ISBNs cost about £220 (plus £50 if that is your first purchase), 1000 ISBNs cost about £700. I suppose the US pricing structure will be similar. All in all I'd call it a small annoyance if you want to publish your own book, but no big deal really.

Re:"Very expensive"? (1)

GrumpySteen (1250194) | about a year ago | (#43128423)

That said, $125 for an ISBN is only "very expensive" in a country where the average person spends less than $125 for a bag of groceries. Which ain't this one.

Either you're using 40 gallon garbage bags for your shopping or you're buying a lot of overpriced shit. There's no way in hell you can cram $125 worth of normal groceries into a single bag.

What a stupid example (0)

Frankie70 (803801) | about a year ago | (#43128603)

They'll spend $1,500 on an HDTV, but spend $125 for an ISBN -- when publishing their novel is presumably one of their lifelong dreams -- hell no! I can't afford it!

What is the making cost of the ISBN? i.e. cost of raw materials, cost of transporting it to the customer etc?

What if they charged 10000$ for an ISBN. Then you would say people buy a car for 15000$ but aren't willing to spend 10000$ for an ISBN.

Re:"Very expensive"? (1)

skywire (469351) | about a year ago | (#43128665)

Well, aren't we fortunate to have Your Omniscience around to inform us that $125 is the right price for a monopolist to charge for an ISBN.

Re:"Very expensive"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43129387)

I quite agree - if I was writing my own novel, I wouldn't blink at spending that amount of money. If an 'author' cannot afford this amount of money, please go away and stop cluttering up catalogues.

The only people I think this affects are those that release ebooks that are really just chapters. I wish those people would get the hint that maybe they shouldn't do that.

Re:"Very expensive"? (1)

WWWWolf (2428) | about a year ago | (#43129883)

On a broader level, one of most baffling things to me has been how little people are willing to invest in their own futures. They'll spend $1,500 on an HDTV, but spend $125 for an ISBN -- when publishing their novel is presumably one of their lifelong dreams -- hell no! I can't afford it! It's so much money!

Yog's Law: The money flows toward the writer. If it doesn't, then you're pretty obviously doing it wrong. Just how many people in other lines of work are paying to do their work? Silly me, I thought that people are usually paid to do their job.

The publishing industry has existed for a long time and has found a way to enable people to pay the authors, without any of the parties along the way screwing themselves over. The reason why publishers pay for ISBNs is that they're the risk-takers, and this arrangement works for all parties involved in normal publishing.

It's silly to assume that this arrangement would be most benefical for all parties in self-publishing scenario. It's silly to assume that ISBN authorities would be somehow entitled to do this same thing with self-publishing authors. And it's silly to assume that authors should be taking the exact same risks as commercial publishers do right now. The right solution would be to offer new mutually benefical arrangements and new approaches. In short, if publishing something requires an ISBN and self-publishers need it for minimal or no cost, offer them at that price. Otherwise, it's just an artificial barrier and it's plain as day that someone's screwing over someone.

GUID? (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year ago | (#43126543)

Why can't publications have something like GUID?

Re:GUID? (2)

phantomfive (622387) | about a year ago | (#43126589)

That's kind of what an ISBN is, right?

Re:GUID? (1)

burisch_research (1095299) | about a year ago | (#43126757)

No. GUIDs are free. There's the rub.

Re:GUID? (2)

maswan (106561) | about a year ago | (#43126905)

So are ISBNs, in many parts of the world. I guess the US has left it to the free market to decide how much the should cost.

Re:GUID? (1)

show me altoids (1183399) | about a year ago | (#43127211)

How can you say it's the free market when there is only one provider in the US and they have a monopoly?

Re:GUID? (1)

SourceFrog (627014) | about a year ago | (#43127629)

That's what kids today call a "free market".

expensive (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about a year ago | (#43126579)

The packages for independent authors are very expensive — Bowker charges $125 for a single ISBN,

This isn't expensive, do you know how much it costs to have an artist draw a cover? For an author, the biggest expense is publisher fees. If you're lucky, they'll only take around 40% of each book you sell. So if you're planning on selling more than 20 copies of your books, then an ISBN number isn't the biggest expense already.

And that's only if you want to be picky about your ISBN. If you don't care who is listed as the publisher, CreateSpace will give you an ISBN for free.

Re:expensive (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43126637)

Compared to the cost of soup, especially when made by a chef, a pinch of salt is inconsequential. Lets delegate all salt production to a monopoly and let it charge $100 per lb, and it will still be very cheap compared to a soup made by chef.

Stupid (1)

Frankie70 (803801) | about a year ago | (#43128617)

This isn't expensive, do you know how much it costs to have an artist draw a cover?

No, it is expensive. Something doesn't become not expensive because other non-comparable stuff is more expensive.

You are comparing the cost of something which costs nothing to make, nothing to transport with something which involves time spent by a skilled artist.

Centralized registration is always bad. (1)

John Hasler (414242) | about a year ago | (#43126595)

And unnecessary. Get rid of it.

In the U.S. you have the freedom... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43126597)

In the U.S. you have the freedom to control the global market.
Capitalism is great, isn't it?

Fucking FREEDUMBs.

Problems, and a solution (5, Funny)

93 Escort Wagon (326346) | about a year ago | (#43126641)

With the explosion in books and book-like devices, the current ISBN scheme is insufficient. We'll soon be facing a world-wide ISBN shortage, especially in the rapidly expanding Asian publishing markets. I am promoting a new long-term solution called ISBNv6, which will provide a 128-bit-long space for book identifiers.

Re:Problems, and a solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43127133)

Don't give them any ideas, they only just fully shifted from using dual ISBN-10 and -13 to just ISBN-13.

Though if they foresaw such a big need to change from 10, maybe they should've moved to something with a bit more breathing room. Hell, just add the ability to use a few letters other than X and go with hexadecimal instead.

Re:Problems, and a solution (1)

nametaken (610866) | about a year ago | (#43127625)

Well played.

We should get around to using that by the time the Enterprise D is first leaving dry dock, yeah?

Re:Problems, and a solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43128097)

We're gunna charge you this..
Next year gunna charge more as we have no ideas, other than charging more.. same same

ISBN's are NOT working.
Just try buying a book from India, where they are 1/20th the price.
There is a very deep and deliberate attempt to distort 'one global price for all' and it extends further than books - like drugs and cosmetics as well. As for the 'price' in any public-private deal/ monopoly, there should be a clause in there about global benchmarking, and taking away that monopoly/right when certain 'lines' are crossed.

Aren't GUIDs free? (1)

istartedi (132515) | about a year ago | (#43126647)

Aren't GUIDs free, and ubiquitous on Microsoft platforms, what... 20 years ago?

Re:Aren't GUIDs free? (0)

burisch_research (1095299) | about a year ago | (#43126785)

For all intensive purposes,

Ok, I've been seeing you post this for quite some time, and it's never failed to annoy me. Granted, at some point I did think this really was correct and/or valid. But it's not.

The correct phrase is, "For all INTENTS AND PURPOSES" ...

This makes a lot more sense, no?

Please change your .sig. It bothers me. :)

Re:Aren't GUIDs free? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43126853)

he's 'prolly' trying to annoy you.

jr

Re:Aren't GUIDs free? (1)

show me altoids (1183399) | about a year ago | (#43127241)

Well, this char*f="char*f=%c%s%c;main(){printf(f,34,f,34);}";main(){printf(f,34,f,34);} crap isn't even a word. Please destroy it immediately. Yes, it is quite obviously a joke.

Re:Aren't GUIDs free? (1)

Mr. Slippery (47854) | about a year ago | (#43127749)

Off-topic, but...I've been assuming that sig is a joke, since it also misuses "begs the question" [wikipedia.org] .

cryptographic hash (4, Interesting)

marvinglenn (195135) | about a year ago | (#43126655)

Especially for digital books, but to be used on the digital information that a regular book is printed from... a cryptographic hash of the book is the book identifier. Decentralized, unlikely to have a number collision, and the added bonus of a mechanism to make sure that the book you received is the book you wanted. The only thing that needs to be centralized is the decision of which hash to use, how to hash the data, and how to represent the hash as to the user.

Re:cryptographic hash (3, Interesting)

burisch_research (1095299) | about a year ago | (#43126795)

Books go through many revisions. The link may be referring to an outdated version; and while it's possible you might WANT that old version, chances are that you want the most recent one. This destroys the hash argument, I'm afraid.

Re:cryptographic hash (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43127867)

Nope. The hash will change with different editions.
Unless they do something retarded, like republish the same book without even updating the year of publication.

Re:cryptographic hash (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | about a year ago | (#43129103)

With paper books, does each revision share the same ISBN? That seems like it would be really bad for inventory control.

stupid (1)

Frankie70 (803801) | about a year ago | (#43128627)

Hashes collide.
There are far simpler solutions which actually don't have such problems.

I understand its purpose but... (4, Insightful)

jtownatpunk.net (245670) | about a year ago | (#43126687)

Laura Dawson, the product manager for identifiers at Bowker, insists that ISBNs are relevant and won't be replaced anytime soon

When you have to insist that your product is relevant, that's a bad sign.

Hash the content (1)

jfisherwa (323744) | about a year ago | (#43126721)

Make an MD5 hash of the book's contents.

Publisher, I am (1)

burisch_research (1095299) | about a year ago | (#43126805)

Well not really. I work for a company that's part of a large group, and one of the group's subsidiaries is a massive publisher of legal books. My question is: is it worthwhile to get these books onto DOI, host them online, and then somehow drive sales through this? In the DOI documentation, while I've not searched extensively, it seems there's no built-in mechanism for purchases.

Is this worthwhile to pursue?

Ripoff City (1)

pubwvj (1045960) | about a year ago | (#43126913)

I was in publishing for a long time. The whole ISBN system is a major ripoff designed to fatten their wallets. It is much like, but much worse, than the domain name scam. There is no justification for the $10/year cost of domain names and no justification for the $125 to $25 cost of ISBN numbers. That is, no justification other than that they have a monopoly and can charge dang well what they please. Time to crush these monopolies.

Re:Ripoff City (4, Insightful)

itsdapead (734413) | about a year ago | (#43127297)

There is no justification for the $10/year cost of domain names

Good domain names are a limited resource (sure there are a gazillion possible combinations but nobody wants to be kz67uip95zqtn.com or johnsmithfrompowercablenebraskabutnottheonthatlivesonwashingtonstreet.org). Until we live in some post-scarcity socialist nirvana where our disputes can be mediated by infinitely wise AIs then they will have a value. (...and even then, look at how long the names get in Banks's Culture books!)

If domain names were free, or lasted forever for a small fee, then the cybersquatters would be busy running scripts to systematically register every likely combination of English words , and you'd all have to buy back your domains from them for whatever they wanted to charge. The domain name market is Wild West enough at the moment, thanks very much.

At least a monopoly has some sort of accountability.

Re:Ripoff City (1)

garyebickford (222422) | about a year ago | (#43127907)

kz67uip95zqtn.com

Dang, now I'm going to have to find a new name for my website! :P

Re:Ripoff City (1)

ediron2 (246908) | about a year ago | (#43129239)

CS101: Using live data as a primary key is bad database design in part because of the risk of two records wanting the same key.

Yet DNS does this. Artificial scarcity (and any alternative of gloom and doom) is a byproduct of an intrinsically flawed design. Call me crazy, but names, companies, etc all manage to cope despite redundancies by us resorting to more keys than just the name.

Inertia means DNS names being unique is a 'problem' unlikely to be 'fixed'. But don't trumpet $1.4B (ballpark -- 140M domains, $10 apiece) being charged users as a necessary evil because of domain squatters.

Years ago (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43127265)

I worked for the European branch of a US-based publisher. Head office decided that to save a few bucks they would re-use ISBNs rather than buy more. I tried really hard to explain why, given that our entire inventory, sales, royalty and accounting systems used the ISBN as the primary/foreign key on all book-related tables, this was a bad idea. They went ahead anyway.

The choice of key wasn't mine and was too deeply embedded to change, at least it would cost a *lot* more than new ISBNs for new titles.

$11.79 for a single ISBN in The Netherlands. (2)

CdXiminez (807199) | about a year ago | (#43127731)

$125 for a single ISBN is very expensive. In The Netherlands a single ISBN is €9.07 ($11.79).
https://portal.boekhuis.nl/isbn/informatie/tarieven [boekhuis.nl]

Re:$11.79 for a single ISBN in The Netherlands. (2)

Frankie70 (803801) | about a year ago | (#43128941)

You are talking about mass produced ISBNs. Each American ISBN is hand made by a very skilled Artisan who puts in a lot of love and effort into it.

Re:$11.79 for a single ISBN in The Netherlands. (1)

DKlineburg (1074921) | about a year ago | (#43129365)

Sorry, that is the past. They are bought from overseas for cheap now. Each number has a tiny "made in china" stamp on the side when turned in a 3d direction. They just want you to believe it is Artisan, that is a hype word right now.

Re:$11.79 for a single ISBN in The Netherlands. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43129851)

It's free here in Norway.

Get ISBNs free from Library of Congress (1)

flyingfsck (986395) | about a year ago | (#43131045)

Laak ah sed. Yo ain't need no pay nobody foh ISBNs bro.

ISBN's are free in Canada (1)

gig (78408) | about a year ago | (#43132041)

My Canadian friend got her own ISBN prefix for free, so she can publish as many books as she wants, all with matching ISBN prefix. But me, I have to pay a hundred bucks per book, and my ISBN's won't match. Typical US privatization bullshit highway robbery, just like the private cell networks and private medical care. These are not private sector pursuits, they are infrastructure that enables more and better private sector pursuits.

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