At the recent London Book Fair Exact Editions launched its new free publisher service: smart ISBN’s. The smart ISBNs were showcased through a collection of poetry books that was made freely available for the period of the fair: the Carcanet Caribbean Collection. 16 books by Caribbean poets from the Carcanet list. While the collection is no longer completely open, the books can be previewed as a group or individually via their smart ISBNs.

Here is a smart ISBN for Olive Senior’s Hurricane Watch

and one for Mervyn Morris’s Peelin Orange

If you edit a link in that format for any of the 16 books/ISBNs in the Caribbean Collection it will work as a smart ISBN, opening up the individual title.

When we click on these smart ISBN links we are in effect opening a dedicated web site for the book in question. The link will work in most digital contexts (a browser, an email, a PDF file, a Zoom session or a blog posting or podcast notes) and it works because a link in this format is a specific instruction to the Exact Editions web service to open up this preview of the book. 

Some people find it helpful to think of the smart ISBN as an actionable key to the book, in its own self-contained cell or bubble of web pages. Some of the book is free to read, but only some of it, since this is a system for promoting books. Not for giving them away or for downloading them. 

The Exact Editions self service system is a tool for publishers to promote books through giving readers access to samples of the book. So he/she will decide how much of the book to make fully open for sample reading: 4, 8 or 16 double page spreads both at the beginning and end of the book. Clicking on pages outside the open zone will take the user to a ‘buying page’ where the the book can be purchased. The destination of these buying pages is also a decision for the publisher. It could be an Amazon web page, or the site of another retailer, or the catalogue page for the book at the publisher’s web site as it is for Mervyn Morris’s book.

Why is this technique of smart ISBN’s particularly suitable to publishers of specialist books and publishers of poets in particular? There are at least three compelling reasons for poetry publishers to jump upon this service. First, it is a free service for any book and it is a zero cost way of helping any reader to sample a poetry book. 

Second, the process of making the smart ISBN is quick and straightforward. The publisher has to upload a complete PDF of the book including its front and back covers. These covers are required because the Exact Editions process is automated and the uploaded book will be databased and then presented as an exact replica as the print edition. Covers are almost always a key part of the promotion and virtual presence of a book. 

Third, creating a smart ISBN is completely specific to an individual book (this is the great advantage of tagging along with the internationally recognised ISBN identity system). Since practically any book has an ISBN this specific resource is available to any book worth publishing. Publishers who use this service will also have a free account at Exact Editions through which they can keep track of the number of times each smart ISBN has been clicked. A real time usage metric is helpful in measuring the effectiveness of different forms of promotion. Through having this free account the publisher can also change any decision taken on the allocation of free pages, or the destination of buying links.

Usage of some smart ISBNs

Looking beyond the role of the publisher to the needs of authors and poets: the specificity of the smart ISBN to each individual book, what we might call its ‘book-centric’ focus, is also an advantage for the book’s author. Poets, from time to time, may have even more interest in, and better occasions for, free publicity than the book’s publisher. Smart ISBNs once loosed upon the world, can be used by poets and authors in articles, interviews, blogs and reviews. Many active poets who are now academics, or teachers of creative writing, frequently giving live readings or performances, will find a use for smart ISBNs. They could be used in reading lists, cv’s, the signature to emails or even as an QR code when giving a poetry reading. On any occasion on which a book may be discussed or mentioned it will generally be helpful to give the reader or viewer a chance to glimpse and sample the book in an exact digital representation of the print edition. For example Vahni Capildeo’s recently published Like a Tree Walking

Vahni Capildeo has published four books with Carcanet and we can sample a preview Reading Room of all four books. This collective Reading Room has been programmed to last for a year and here is a short term link to her latest and prize winning Like a Tree Walking which will only last for a few days.

A Reading Room for Capildeo’s four books with Carcanet