BISG held a webcast January 11 designed to help clarify meaning and expectations regarding the BISG Policy Statement published December 7 on best practices for identifying digital products. The webcast featured Angela Bole, deputy executive director for BISG, and Phil Madans, director of publishing standards and practices at Hachette.

After a brief background on ISBN’s last few years (including the revision of the ISBN standard’s language), Madans laid out publisher responsibility, which is that they assign, maintain, and disseminate accurate metadata for all digital books released into the supply chain, as well as third party responsibility, which is to update the original metadata and disseminate accurate metadata, to ensure the link to the publisher-provided ISBN is maintained.

In the case of digital books, Madans said, a publisher determines the entity that will assign the ISBN either by assigning the ISBN themselves or assigning a unique ISBN only to each unique digital book that the publisher makes available, and assigning additional identifiers as needed. There is a shift toward the latter path in publishing, Madans noted, which is more beneficial if a publisher wants to track information at a macro level, as opposed to the former path, which would be preferable to a publisher wants to track information (ordering, listing, and sales) at a more granular level.

Madas then gave a number of practical, real-world examples. For instance, if a digital book is interoperable across multiple devices, and the only possible alteration to it is the possible application of DRM software, a new ISBN isn’t recommended, even if a vendor is using multiple delivery options.

The main takeaway was that if the product isn’t changing, you don’t need a new ISBN. For a situation involving a digital book being sold in an enhanced and a non-enhanced version, however, an assignment of a unique ISBN is recommended. Similarly, if a digital book is available on a retailer’s website as a rental purchase and a rental-to-purchase upgrade, a new ISBN is recommended. For both of these examples, new ISBNs are recommended because the product itself is changing.

Another example: if a digital book is sold to a consumer with the lend option, a new ISBN isn’t recommended, because the lend option is controlled by the platform or vendor, and lending isn’t a transaction, it’s a feature of the platform that isn’t supported by all third parties. Again, the product itself isn’t changing, so a new ISBN isn’t recommended.

ISBNs, Madas stressed, are product-based, not platform based. He and Bole, however, also stated that companies should use the BISG Policy Statement as a guideline, not a mandate and that input is welcomed.

To read more about the BISG Policy Statement, please visit