AAP Releases E-book Standards
Paul Hilts -- 12/4/00

The Association of American Publishers and Andersen Consulting released the results of their joint Open Ebook Standards Project last Monday at AAP's New York headquarters. The project committee, comprising experts from seven sponsoring publishers (HarperCollins, Holtzbrinck, Houghton Mifflin, McGraw-Hill, Pearson Education, Random House and Thomson Learning) recommended standards in identification numbering systems and descriptive metadata that would apply to all publishers producing works in any electronic format. The third working group, Digital Rights Management, found that recommending standards was not feasible at this time, but issued a report with publishers' requirements for DRM, so that technology companies could shape their products to do what publishers actually want. The report also suggested that publisher requirements might make a useful framework for evaluating vendors' DRM products.

The roadblock to DRM standards now is interoperability, according to Pearson's Larry Klein, head of the DRM working group. The report notes that "multiple, competing and incompatible" reading devices and encryption/protection schemes make it impossible to set standards today. Klein indicated, though, that he is hopeful that if publishers work with DRM companies on interoperability, that some standards can be named in the next year.

The metadata recommendations mostly relate to accepting the ONIX system already being adopted by publishers, distributors and retailers in the U.S. and Europe. The report also describes several new fields of e-book-specific information (such as an e-book's location) that it would like to see added to the ONIX system in a future update.

The numbering work group recommends an identification system based on the International DOI Foundation's system. The DOI is particularly suited, the report noted, for selling parts of works, and it operates well with the existing ISBN system, which will ease adoption of the plan. Although compliance with the recommendations is entirely voluntary, almost all parties were eager to implement some sort of standard.

Nattering About Numbering
An unexpected conflict surfaced when the question arose about retailers' ability to handle the multiplicity of e-book products using only a single ISBN number.

Numbering group head Bob Bolick of McGraw-Hill noted, "Several publishers have said they want unique identifiers for each format, but we don't recommend it." The report acknowledges both single and multiple ISBNs as possible solutions, but recommends one DOI and one ISBN reference for each work, with the list of different formats nested in the ONIX metadata record.

However, in an open letter to publishers that appeared in the November 27 PW, Michael Cairns, Bowker v-p and director, U.S. ISBN Agency, and Martin Whitaker of J. Whitaker & Sons Ltd., chairman of the International ISBN Agency, maintained, "In our industry, virtually every system which reflects title level information and thereby supports product development, inventory, marketing, sales and financial analysis relies on the ISBN. Unilateral change in the manner in which the ISBN is used will seriously disrupt these relationships. In order to track costs, royalties, title availability, prices, support customer service and all the other tasks taken for granted in the current publisher supply chain, every e-book format will require a unique identifier."

Bowker's Andrew Grabois told PW that distributors and retailers want format-specific ISBNs because there are different royalty rates attached to the formats. "Tracking different royalties with only one ISBN would be chaos," he said.

Efforts are underway within the Book Industry Study Group, Grabois pointed out, for distributors and retailers to propose similar standards that would meet their needs, which could then be matched with AAP's proposals to provide standards that would be useful industry-wide.