Metadata Can Make You Rip Out Your Hair

When I wrote Your First iPad Book: What The Dormouse Said, I wanted to have some certainty that this book would likely show up in the iBookstore. If not immediately, then at least eventually.

This meant I needed to confirm that it was already available in ePub format.

So first I went to Sony’s Bookstore, because they claim they’re now 100% ePub (although a Twitter query did not get replied to confirming this).

And it had a listing for it. This was promising.

But I needed at least one more source to confirm it was actually in ePub. Because even though a book is in that “industry standard” format doesn’t mean it will be on sale at every bookstore offering ePub.

Eventually, I got confirmation of it being in ePub at This is its listing.

Now I want to show the metadata horror story associated with this.

Here is the Sony ISBN:

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And here is the ISBN:

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This is the same book. Both are ePub. Yet one book, same format, two different ISBNs!

And what makes it worse, is when I tried to look up each ISBN:

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I wound up with this:

And this:

So, the ISBN isn’t even showing up as being associated with any book!

I also asked people on Twitter to search for those ISBNs, using professional tools they have. The same blank results!

And here is where this ties in with the iPad. My earlier post, A Peek At iBooks Metadata, had an ISBN in it too:

And what was the result of searching for that ISBN? This:

So, hello, Bowker. What’s with letting one ebook in the same format have two ISBNs? Isn’t there any method to prevent this confusion? And what’s up with ISBNs not showing up in searches at all? How are your ISBNs supposed to help publishers, writers, sellers, and readers if they can’t be called up and can’t be trusted?


8 responses to “Metadata Can Make You Rip Out Your Hair

  1. I think the reason is, each vendor has proprietary DRM. So while it’s an EPUB title, the book itself won’t work on an open platform – the DRM turns it into a different product, one that will only work on a Sony Reader or a nook or Adobe Digital Editions or what have you. As the book gets wrapped in those proprietary DRMs, it requires a different identifier to sell it.

    I know.

    Believe me, I know.

  2. In this case, though, the DRM argument doesn’t work: Sony and both are compatible with Adobe ePub DRM.

  3. Oh! You know, this is confusing, then. Absolutely. I will tell Bowker. Because this is wrong.

  4. Tell Bowker in a way that will make an impression. Here, use this baseball bat.

  5. I think a tire iron is more effective than a baseball bat in this situation.

  6. Andrew Meit

    Cutter* is rolling in his grave! Oy! Oh, marian the librarian where art thou? Jobs, go thee hence to her: Learn. Listen. Do.

    *One of the original librarians to figure out a meta-data schema to classify/organize books on shelfs. Btw, OCLC has locked down use of DDC system, for a fee you can use it. Apple could have bought rights and really make iTunes a library card catalogue.

  7. What’s even more fun is if you look at some eBooks, the publisher will have one isbn, the aggregator another, a vendor another and it goes on and on. Some third party vendors even use the hardcover or paperback as the eBook isbn, if I had hair anymore it would have been gone even earlier.

    Top this issue with bad meta and watch a librarian stare at you as if they are ready to smack someone and rightfully so.

    I’m with Mike, use something to press this as a need, it’s confusing everyone… plus it makes my head hurt to explain it all the time.

  8. Apple knows it Can’t Have it All. They currently use Gracenotes for record info and Kerbango is what they use for streaming radio. They need someone there to tell Jobs Apple cannot be a book island.