Book Industry Communication (the UK equivalent of BNC or the BISG) has released their recommendations on dealing with ISBN assignment for e-books.
In a nutshell:
Publishers should not assign ISBNs to non-product source or production files which are not being traded in the supply chain.
So what does that mean? It means that BIC’s position is ISBNs are for format level issue i.e. hardcover, trade paper, e-book. Different iterations of the same format file, as you get with proprietary treatments like retailer-specific DRM, should not be treated like different books as they are not being traded in the supply chain. The source file is the tradeable ancestor and thusly, the smallest unit that should be ISBN-stamped.
BIC suggests that for single-channel formats (the aforementioned DRM marked retailer files) or chapters/fragments, other identifiers other than the ISBN would better serve the purposes of the publisher. In the former case, it would be an internal system and in the latter, digital object identifiers (DOI). This keeps the purpose of the ISBN intact while still allowing for practical sorting and filing.
Thoughts from the peanut gallery? This is a controversial issue which is far from settled. Do these recommendations address the reasons why ISBNs are being used to identify proprietary files? Are the suggestions for alternate practice practical in real life? How do these guidelines fit with what is actually happening? Let’s hear it!