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Thursday, November 11, 2004

Amazon Search ISBNs--How Dumb Can You Get?

My "Recommend Book" page allows people to enter the ISBN numbers of books they think I should read and, over the years, it has been the source of numerous books which have broadened my intellectual horizons beyond the well-tramped turf I usually inhabit. One persistent mystery was why some ISBNs (International Standard Book Numbers) failed to find a book at Amazon while entering the author and title would immediately retrieve the self-same book with the same ISBN.

It's because Amazon are idiots.

There is no standard at all about separating digits in an ISBN by dashes, periods, or other delimiters. Usually, they designate the country, publisher, etc. but ultimately all that matters is the numbers (and the final checksum, which can be a number or the letter "X").

Believe it or not, Amazon.com's "advanced search" page requires you to enter ISBNs with no delimiters at all--notwithstanding that the book you're looking at has dashes (or periods if you're French, or spaces if you're British) between groups of characters.

It would take precisely one Perl regular expression to make every ISBN search so-entered which came up blank actually find the book the user was looking for. Amazon, little help here?

Posted at November 11, 2004 01:23