Administrative decisions

The administrative changes ebooks require will vary from company to company, but most often they involve organising ISBNs, and deciding how sales will be tracked and reported.

Identifiers (ISBNs, UUIDs, URLs)

Despite the introduction of ISBN-13 in 2007, it’s possible that the industry will run out of ISBNs if they’re used for the increasing number of ebooks being published. (Though we could keep adding book ISBN prefixes beyond 978–, starting with 977–.) For this reason and others, there is already discussion about new identifiers, including UUIDs (Universally Unique Identifiers, which are randomly generated strings of numbers and letters) and URLs (web addresses).

For now, the most common publisher question is whether to use a new ISBN for every format that an ebook is sold in.

Essentially, you need an identifier that works with your sales reporting system, whatever that may be. For most, that’s an ISBN. For now we recommend that for each book you obtain:

  1. One ISBN for every print edition (as you’ve always done).
  2. One ISBN for the statically paged ebook (usually the PDF ebook).
  3. One ISBN for the reflowable ebook (e.g. epub, but this could also be used for other reflowable formats like Amazon’s).
  4. Optionally, you may want ISBNs for app or website editions, depending how you want to track sales and royalties in your in-house systems.

Reflowable ebook formats (such as epub and old formats like mobi, lit, pdb, etc.) are essentially interchangeable. They can be easily converted between each other. And, in some cases, this conversion will be done on the fly at the distributor according to the user’s choice or device (as with Amazon Kindle). And this is how it should be: a layperson should not have to know the file format they’re purchasing, it must just work. In the same way you probably don’t care which company’s petrol goes into your car, or whose flour the baker used in your everyday bread.

Moving forward, consider using UUIDs in addition to ISBNs, especially if you’re changing or upgrading your sales-reporting systems. (InDesign generates a UUID automatically when you convert a document to epub.)

Also, you may also want to consider using an International Standard Text Code to identify a single textual work an any of its versions (epub, PDF, paperback, hardback, large print, illustrated, pop-up, and so on).

Reporting and tracking sales

If you’re using ISBNs, it’s simplest to report sales alongside print editions, as you might hardback and paperback editions of the same book. This may also require setting up new royalty accounts, depending on your royalty calculation systems.

Tracking production and marketing costs

How you track production and marketing costs depends on your in-house systems. The important thing is to make a decision early on whether you will track these costs against one or more ebook editions (PDF, epub, or other), or put all costs against the ‘parent’ title, which is usually the print edition. Once you’ve made a clear decision about this, it will be easier to monitor their profitability, and make decisions over time about where best to put your digital resources.