Book publishing. And everything else.

Archive for the month “January, 2013”

A Helpful Glossary of Identifiers in the Information Supply Chain

ISBN – International Standard Book Number. This identifies a separately tradable product in the book supply chain.

ISTC – International Standard Text Code. This identifies a piece of text. It does not identify tradable products.

ISNI – International Standard Name Identifier. This identifies a name – of a person or an organization.

SAN – Standard Address Number. This identifies a specific address of an organization in (or served by) the publishing industry.

DOI – Digital Object Identifier. By which is meant “digital identifier of objects”. This identifies a place on the web where a thing can be found. It is like a web-based SAN.

ISRC – International Standard Recording Code. This identifies sound recordings, and music video recordings. It is similar in many ways to the ISBN.

ISSN – International Standard Serial Number. This identifies serial publications – journals and magazines, primarily.

ISMN – International Standard Music Number. This identifies printed music products in the same way an ISBN identifies book products.

ISAN – International Standard Audiovisual Number. This identifies audiovisual products in the same way an ISBN identifies book products.

ISWC – International Standard Musical Work Code. This identifies musical works. It is similar to the ISTC in that it doesn’t identify tradable products.

ISCI – International Standard Collection Identifier. This identifies library collections.



In a busy house, weekends are largely about Getting Ready For the Week. The interminable laundry. The changing of the bunny cage. Dog-grooming. And, lately, cooking and putting up food.

When I was married, the food was my responsibility. Eventually I worked out a system whereby I made five meals on a Saturday night, and put them up in plastic containers. I posted a spreadsheet on the refrigerator – this main course, with this vegetable (or two), and this starch. It worked, mostly, unless I left “salad” open to interpretation.

Bernardo is a fantastic cook. For a while we theorized that he would cook during the week, and I would do it on the weekends; but our weekends are so jammed with chores, kid-ferrying, and sudden decisions to go skiing or to the beach. This weekend we instituted a new plan – I would do stews and casseroles and things (my forte anyway) and freeze them for weeknight consumption. And Bernardo would do the weekend cooking – which may or may not require prep, but he is better at that sort of thing than I am. As of Sunday night, it’s working – over the weekend I made a veal curry and a chili, and for lunches I made a curried celeriac soup. Bernardo already has some baked ziti in the freezer, as well as some sauce for ravioli, so I think that takes us through Friday.

I am coming down with a cold today, so after a long nap I simply puttered. (Laundry is good for that – reorganizing closets and drawers, fussing over clothing.) Bernardo moved some of the furniture in the bedroom so my vanity is under a good strong light. And I recovered the bench, which was this awful zebra print. Now it’s pretty.



As Bernardo made dinner (a delicious sausage bolognese with whole-wheat pasta), we talked about What’s Next. Venetian plaster for the living room walls, and a new carpet. New wallpaper for the stairway, and new carpet. Painting the sunroom and the kitchen (yellow and peach, respectively).

All of which is much easier than what we have just finished doing – landscaping the backyard, putting in the shed and the pool and the patio, installing French drains and a new basement floor. Things are coming along.

Buzz buzz buzz

Today was one of those days – where I was immersed, engaged, deeply involved in moving projects forward.

And then it was 5:00, and time to work out; and then it was snowing, and time to drive home. And then I hit the Newark Bay Bridge.

I have a love-hate relationship with that bridge. It’s under construction/improvement, and that causes complications. But the view – the VIEW! – from that bridge is incredible. Regal. You can see all of New York Harbor – the Statue of Liberty, the Freedom Tower, the Empire State Building. With the brightly-lit cargo cranes to the right, and Manhattan to the left, it’s a jaw-droppingly majestic sight.

Tonight, however, there was no view.

The snow made for very poor visibility. There were a couple of jerks stopping their cars without signaling, weaving between cars. Stopped at the far foot of the bridge were two OTHER jerks, with hazard lights on, and a cop car behind them. This was the bottleneck.

It took me 90 minutes to get across a bridge that normally takes 10 minutes. So I had plenty of time to meditate.

And that’s the thing about being immersed – at some point you have to come out. Because you have a family, a home, pets, children – dinner to be made, floors to be swept. The commute home helps a lot with that sort of channel-changing; but sometimes you get a little extra. If you are intent on moving forward and getting everything done the way you have always, it can be frustrating. But if you’ve had an extremely challenging day, sometimes a 2.5 hour commute can be a good thing.

I didn’t meditate on anything in particular. That sort of time is not meant for productivity, but refreshment. When I got home, Bernardo was sorry that I’d spent so much time in traffic. But I didn’t mind. I was shedding my work skin, and it would have taken a little longer anyway. At least this way, when I got home, I had left the job behind me for the weekend.

What Darth Vader is Really For



Rick Smith, who (a) manages the MyIdentifiers and other platforms at Bowker (b) works next to me (c) is the other person in my foxhole…put this on the wall between our desks.

Because of this sign at my desk:



Check your kittens.


Brian O’Leary had a fantastic post yesterday about book piracy and the ongoing insistence that it’s a categorically bad thing. The fact is, no one has any idea whether or not it’s a bad thing because only one publishing company in the history of publishing or companies has ever agreed to empirically test that assertion.

One is not a statistical sample.

Brian’s post was based on coverage of a session at DBW last week. One of the comments to that coverage came from Marion Gropen, a consultant to authors looking to “profit from your publishing.” Gropen says,

And the discussion about whether or not it hurts sales is utterly not the point. You can’t take anything else I own even if you think it would be in my best interest. The issue is control, not results.

I think Gropen has hit upon something absolutely critical when she says, “The issue is control.”

Traditionally, modern publishing has been tightly controlled for most of its existence. Publishers contracted with authors (with the help of agents), packaged manuscripts into books, and distributed those books to many disparate retailers. Publishers rarely interacted with their ultimate audience – they were strictly B2B.

The web has disrupted this significantly. The means of production and distribution are now in the hands of…anybody who cares to learn how they work. Tim Berners-Lee, on the stand a year ago in a patent trial in Texas, had the following exchange with Jennifer Doan, an attorney representing defendants Yahoo and Amazon:

After describing how Berners-Lee worked at CERN in Switzerland back in the 1980s, Doan moved on to the web. When Berners-Lee invented the web, did he apply for a patent on it, Doan asked.

“No,” said Berners-Lee.

“Why not?” asked Doan.

“The internet was already around. I was taking hypertext, and it was around a long time too. I was taking stuff we knew how to do…. All I was doing was putting together bits that had been around for years in a particular combination to meet the needs that I have.”

Doan: “And who owns the web?”

Berners-Lee: “We do.”

We do. Just as Berners-Lee tweeted (on a Next cube, the machine on which he invented the Web) during the opening ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics, “This is for everyone.”

Which is an absolutely terrifying thought if you are a traditional publisher. If anyone can say anything about anything, everyone will. What’s “authoritative” or “curated” loses its place. And distribution of content can happen at ANY point in the publishing process – the bulk of illegal distribution to P2P sites seems to happen in the manuscript or production phase of publishing. In other words, the leak is coming from inside the house.

If traditional publishers can’t even control that much, they will never be able to control the larger issues of P2P sharing and even content creation. The web is, because of its textual nature, probably the single most disruptive force on traditional publishing. Already the voice of the critic has dissipated into the audience itself.

And the concept of “control” as we’ve always known it is shifting dramatically.

Adventures in Product Management

The thing I like best about product management is that it requires you to be a generalist. And I really like knowing something about everything.

But today it was brought home to me that managing product development in this day and age is very different than it was even six years ago.

In this instance, we’re scoping towards a moving target. An emerging standard, which hasn’t yet been adopted by anyone, the efficacy of which is dependent on how much data is in the system. The more data that pours in, the better (and faster) the results are. Which makes sense, but it is very hard to program logic around this, particularly transactional logic.

With standards, too, you are mostly working in a non-commercial environment. Revenue upside is difficult to predict.

I’m pretty comfortable with uncertainty, personally, but of course business doesn’t operate that way. I find myself in the position not of reassuring the team – that would be pointless, since there’s no reassurance to be had – but of helping everybody understand that we’re all feeling our way together. That requirements may well change on the fly, as we find out more.

Disrupting comfort zones is hard work; and we’re only going to have more of that as time goes on.

A thought on identifiers and books

In mid-March of 2006, NISO convened a roundtable of experts and thought leaders in digital resources, at the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland. The goal of this meeting was to establish some consensus around the use of identifiers for text, video, music, and other media in the digital realm. In breakout discussions, three characteristics of an identifier were ultimately defined: granularity, semantic opacity, and persistence.

The granularity of an identifier refers to precisely what it identifies. An ISBN, for example, identifies a stand-alone, trade-able publication (a book or a chapter). It does not identify an illustration, a diagram, a bibliography. The publication is the extent of the ISBN’s granularity. Other identifiers (such as the DOI) can identify components of publications.

Semantic opacity refers to the degree to which the identifier is a “dumb number” – a random string of numbers that carries no intelligence. The ISBN is only partly a dumb number – it begins with 978 or 979, which indicate that the thing being identified is in the book supply chain; it then has a publisher prefix. The string following the publisher prefix is semantically opaque, and the ISBN ends in a check-digit that validates the number.

Persistence refers to how long the relationship between the identifier and the object will last. Identifiers on shipping containers, for example, do not need to be persistent after the container has been unloaded and its contents dispersed. Identifiers on books need to be persistent for a much longer period of time, as information about a book can be created long after the book itself has gone out of distribution.

Essentially, all an identifier does is say, “This thing is not that thing.” It doesn’t say what the thing is, or offer any insight about any of the thing’s characteristics. An identifier expresses uniqueness. And that’s all it expresses.

Resolution Rundown

Every month or so, I want to check in on my resolutions.

The Work: Well, I’ve missed a total of three days of blog posts. So…not great.

The Soul: We have been attending church regularly and I have done absolutely nothing about music. So…halfway. Or half-assed.

The Home: I am all over it. Sweeping up, on top of the laundry, getting stroppy about having magazines lying around. I think I’m doing all right here.

The City: Nope. Haven’t touched this one yet.

The Body: This has been working. It’s amazing how productive just logging things – consumption, exercise – can be.


Chocolate Lab

I broke my writing-every-day resolution a second time – by getting violently ill in Brussels on Saturday, and thus spending the one day I had to roam around the city actually lying flat-out knackered in my bed, only peeking up to rid myself of bodily fluids or to check Twitter. I was too ill to even watch re-runs of Sherlock. I am never too ill to watch re-runs of Sherlock (“I could cut myself on those cheekbones.” Oh, yes, please.)

The hotel kindly sent me up four pieces of dry toast and two liters of ice-cold mineral water, not-so-kindly charging me nineteen Euro for the delivery. But the toast was very helpful, and I was still clutching two pieces of it like talismans as I boarded the plane on Sunday morning to come back home. (“No, I do not want to check my toast. I need my toast.“) We promptly sat on the tarmac for two hours while Belgium figured out how to deal with snow, and I finished sleeping – which was unfortunate because there was an eight-hour flight ahead.

During which I watched re-runs of Sherlock, so I was obviously feeling better. I also started and finished Going Clear, which was fascinating and very reminiscent of the Readers Digest and Newsweek articles about cults that I devoured in the 1970s. I arrived home with a bag of chocolates in hand, and Bernardo made us an early dinner, because it was obvious I was going to crash at around 8:30.

Which I did.

I was awakened, however, early this morning to the sounds of Bernardo scolding Mollydog. Then he came and got me. “Molly ate the chocolate.”

Yes, the only redeeming thing (besides the good work that got done) about this trip was laid to waste all over the living room floor…and the kitchen floor…and the basement floor…and in various puddles in the backyard as the morning went on. A ninety-pound black Labrador hopped up on caffeine and sugar is not something anyone should have to endure, least of all the Labrador.

Molly is fortunate that she is such a big dog, and that the chocolate was milk chocolate – her toxin level was not that high, relatively. We fed her rice and lots of water and she got herself back together in a few hours.

Somewhere in all of this, Obama got inaugurated again. It sounded wonderful.


In Brussels, Part Deux

I am staying in the Metropole Hotel – a chain so venerable it was mentioned in Downton Abbey. The lobby is gorgeous; the rest is ordinary, if not scuffy.  The wifi is below ordinary – I have paid for the high-speed service, and I can’t even get online most evenings.

So obviously my thoughts turn to those for whom this is a normal situation.

There is nothing more frustrating than a call with no response. And that is the Internet – all our responses. We call out for information, and we get newspapers and blogs. We call out for contact, and we get family and friends.  We call out for knowledge, and we get libraries and books.

Increasingly, those who cannot make these calls are isolated. They have no helpdesk to call (I’m online right now and doing fine); they are literally cut off from the world.

I’m convinced that Internet access is a fundamental human right. It’s what connects us to other humans – and humans at their best are networked.  Everyone deserves to be at her best; everyone deserves to breathe and eat and sleep and think and say.

A call to the helpdesk fixed a lot tonight. But many people don’t have a helpdesk to call.

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