Beyond the ISBN

<p>We usher in the new year amid the toughest economic climate most of us have witnessed.</p>
<p>In order to simply survive, let alone thrive, we all need to grow the market by selling more books (or selling books for more!) without reducing our margins. It's reasonable to assume that any method which is legal and ethical and enables this is probably a good thing. If we accept this premise, then adopting strategies that not only increase our sales but also those of our competitors makes sense, providing that they strengthen the market and reinforce the customer base.</p>
<p>Google's self-professed mission &quot;to organise the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful&quot; reflects consumers' growing demand for access to more content in an increasingly format-agnostic way. For publishers this provides an enormous opportunity to advance discoverability and drive income. But the question is, &quot;discoverability of precisely what?&quot; What is the book trade really selling? At the moment we are all concerned with specific manifestations of a book&mdash;individual editions or formats, rather than the content of the book. While there is no doubt that the jacket design and overall presentation of a book is hugely important, the rise of internet sales, despite the consumer being unable to fully experience the look and feel of the book before buying it, clearly underlines content as the most significant feature.</p>
<p>While the book industry has been well served by the ISBN for identifying manifestations of books, the newish International Standard Text Code (ISTC) is designed to serve publishers by identifying the content. The ISTC system works by providing publishers with a unique number for each &quot;textual work&quot; described to a central system; with the use of fuzzy matching tools, the system will either provide a new ISTC number (for a new work) or the ISTC already allocated to that work (perhaps an out of copyright work already registered by another publisher).</p>
<p>This ISTC is then added to the ISBN-based product record and to the bibliographic databases. This means users of a database (which would include retailers' customers) can then find all manifestations of a particular &quot;work&quot;. In the early stages of its development the ISTC will also enable linking of editions, identification of &quot;overlapping&quot; products for which there is a sole territorial right, and importantly enable increased levels of sales analysis&mdash;by work, instead of just individual ISBN.</p>
<p>Nielsen Book has been appointed as one of the first ISTC registration agencies and is keen to work with publishers to register their entire backlists of &quot;works&quot;, free, starting immediately. Visit www.istc.nielsenbook.co.uk and www.istc-international.org for more information.<br />
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