Dear sellers of eBooks,
You may have seen my script that automatically links to 9 print book e-tailers, given one ISBN (you can see it in action on my books page, here, or on the sidebar of my blog). The reason I can do that so simply is that all of those e-tailers, from Amazon to Barnes and Noble to Indiebound, all make it easy to link to an individual item by ISBN. That is, you can access the page for my Christmas anthology by clicking on a link that looks like this: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ISBN=0373774273
Want a different book? Just change the ISBN. Having (mostly) conquered my online print book script, this last weekend I devoted some time to creating a similar thing for ebooks. It made sense. I like ebooks; I would like to make it easy for other people to buy ebooks from my website. But I discovered there was no way to set up anything similar. Why?
Here is how Books on Board lists its product page: http://www.booksonboard.com/index.php?BODY=viewbook&BOOK=513519
See that “BOOK=513519” at the end? If I wanted to automate a link to Books on Board, I would have to figure out where that last number, 513519, comes from. The ISBN for the digital edition is: 9781426840616. And that appears to be related to the book by . . . absolutely nothing. I love Books on Board. They have a fantastic selection and great prices (also, full disclosure: at the Rogue Digital Conference, I won $200 in free books from them). But because they link to books using an entirely inscrutable number, it is hard for me to automate links. (I can’t even automate a search to BoB, because searching on ISBN yields no results.)
Here is another store I wish I could automate: eHarlequin. I love eHarlequin as a site. They have great deals, including free books, and hello, vintage eHarlequin releases this October? Yes, please. Also, Harlequin is my publisher. I would love to be able to automate a link to an eHarlequin eBook. This is the eHarlequin link to the eBook version of Gena Showalter’s The Darkest Whisper: http://ebooks.eharlequin.com/D9DBB432-4D08-410F-BD61-2C912A2A4748/10/126/en/ContentDetails.htm?ID=A19D6AFC-916A-4BB9-A9CE-B56411DB4427
If you snoop around a bit, you find that the first inscrutable number (and yes, a mixture of arabic numerals and letters from A-F is a number–just a hexadecimal one) is some sort of a web-tracking device. You can replace it with anything, and the website will continue to return a result. But that does leave us with the second inscrutable number, A19D6AFC-916A-4BB9-A9CE-B56411DB4427.
What is that thing? How can I generate it, without going to their website and looking it up? The Sony eBook store uses another inscrutable number, usually in the form of R-400000000000000169063.
Barnes and Noble gets this right. If you want to link to an eBook on B&N’s website, it’s simple. You just link to this: http://search.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/isbninquiry.asp?ean=9780345516848
See how easy that is? The only inscrutable number they use is the actual inscrutable number that is attached to the electronic format.
Now, what does this mean, oh sellers of eBooks? Well, it means when I write my eBook script, I grumble. A lot. I have to choose a small number of eBook retailers to link to–there are more e-tailers out there than there is space to gracefully link to. So who am I going to choose? I’m going to link to eHarlequin, because they’re my publisher and they’re awesome. I’m going to link to Books on Board, because I like them. I’m going to link to the Sony store, because I think they have a beautiful eReader. I’m going to link to the Kindle version. I’m going to link to each of these places, even though it means I will have to go and search out an inscrutable number for every single one. I’m going to do all those things for my own books, because, well, I want people to buy my books from whatever outlet they buy books from.
But I’m also going to link to Barnes and Noble and Powell’s, an independent bookstore in Portland, Oregon, because they made it really easy for me to do so.
On a more than occasional basis, I link to other books. And it is far too much work for me to go in and look up five inscrutable numbers every time I link to another book. I am too lazy, and it takes too much time. So I wish you would make it easy for me to try and sell people your eBooks. If someone points me in the direction of an eBook store that allows me to easily link by ISBN, I will add them to my script. It takes almost zero work for me to do that. For those other books, I won’t link to Books on Board. I wish I could, but it takes too much work.
So, booksellers, if you implemented a simple redirect–given an ISBN as input, it spits out the single-item page as output, just like Barnes and Noble and Powells–I could automate my links to your site, and that means you would get more incoming links.
I want to link to you. You want me to link to you. Make it easy for me to do so, and I will link to you forever, with every book I mention on my website. And if I’m wrong–if you have made it easy to link to your site via ISBN, and all my snooping around hasn’t uncovered it–please shoot me an e-mail, and I’ll be happy to add you to my general script.
P.S. I do share my scripts–and in my copious spare time (namely, when I need a break from writing), I am actually working on a WordPress plugin to do the same. I value inclusiveness. I want to include you. Make it easy for me to do so.