by Todd Carpenter (Managing Director, NISO, One North Charles Street, Suite 1905, Baltimore, MD 21201; Phone: 301-654-2512; Fax: 410-685-5278)
The International Standard Book Number, most commonly known by its acronym ISBN, has been among the most successful and widely-adopted publishing standards since it was launched in the UK during the 1960s. There are more than 140 national ISBN bodies, and the ISBN has been used to identify more than six million items of varying sorts around the world.
However, like all things impacted by the expansion of digital information, the ISBN system is increasingly being strained by the proliferation of electronic books. The problem would seem on its face to be a relatively simple one: how and when do you uniquely identify an eBook? But because of the transformative nature of digital information, the production cycle, supply chain, and final outputs can be quite different for eBooks than in traditional print publishing.
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