User:Andrew Gray/ASIN

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

For those wondering why I've been mass-editing articles, I'm removing ASINs for a handful of reasons -

  1. Half the time, usually for modern books, they're actually ISBNs; changing them to ISBNs means that we can use Special:Booksources with them.
  2. They have a tendency to vanish at the whims of Amazon, especially for out-of-print books - there was a question on WP:RD this afternoon which is what prompted me to notice this part.
  3. They're closed; it's not a real "standard" despite the name. The only people who use ASINs are Amazon - indeed, they're the only vendor who can, because they control the standard. Having ASINs is implicitly endorsing that one vendor, which is something we don't want to do (for a whole variety of reasons)
  4. Further to the last point, even with Amazon they're not very helpful. By the time you've figured out it's an Amazon(.com/.ca/ code, and put it in there, you'd have spent about as much time and effort simply going there in the first place and searching on the title given.
  5. For finding the material through anything other than Amazon, an ASIN is worse than useless - it offers no help in bibliographic control, and can mislead people into thinking it does.

I honestly feel they don't add anything to Wikipedia that isn't provided for by standard bibliographic details - author, title, publisher and date if possible - and actively detract in some ways. Comments would be appreciated below.

I'm not planning to revert my edits for now; if consensus comes out against removing them wholesale, I'll replace the removed ASINs, except the cases where they were replaced. However, I have stopped making the changes as of recieving complaints. Shimgray 01:13, 9 August 2005 (UTC)


(a quick bit of refactoring, since the old headers were a little confusing - oops Shimgray 01:58, 9 August 2005 (UTC))

This has also been discussed on the wikien-l mailing list; see this thread for details.

Clarifying questions before voting[edit]

  • Reference links to book reviews posted on would include ASIN's in their URL's. Are you editing those too? :o -- Sitearm | Talk 04:48, 2005 August 9 (UTC)
    • Originally I was using Google to search for ASIN, but later used the Wikipedia search - the former didn't pick up ASINs inside URLs, the latter does. I've been leaving Amazon links when they're part of a citation to some Amazon-unique information - a review, say - but purging them when they only exist as part of a general "further reading" section (keeping the item details, of course). My understanding is that this is consistent with policy - having the links to Amazon is favouring one commercial retailer, which we don't want to do - although now you ask I'm damned if I can find the policy. Judgement call, really; a lot of Amazon links are useful, but a lot are superfluous. Shimgray 12:48, 9 August 2005 (UTC)
Thanks for clarifying. The policy is at Wikipedia:How_to_edit_a_page where it says Link to books using their ISBN. This is preferred to linking to a specific online bookstore, because it gives the reader a choice of vendors. I agree with you to leave review links as is. Re replacing in general I'll add comment under "neutral" :) -- Sitearm | Talk 16:46, 2005 August 9 (UTC)
That policy is specifically about linking to books. In the case of ASIN references, we are not talking about linking to books, merely providing a unique identifier for reference. Kaldari 17:56, 9 August 2005 (UTC)
What about using UPCs? If parsed correctly and connected to a proper database you could actually figure out who makes the product if you couldn't actually figure out what the product is. --StarkRG 21:13, 13 May 2006 (UTC)

Deletion good[edit]

  • Only Amazon uses ASINs, so any WP implementation of them does not give the user as much freedom of vendor as the page for ISBNs does. Also as mentioned above the IDs are wont to vanish. GarrettTalk 01:54, 9 August 2005 (UTC)
  • Here's an argument by [probably flawed] analogy™: using an Amazon link (i.e. an ASIN) as though it were an identifier for a product is like "identifying" a product as "the second from the right on the third shelf in the fourth cabinet of my local Foo-Mart". Essentially, it's too specific - you wouldn't put in a bibliography that you bought New Scientist from WHSmith on a particular date, because that information is not necessary for the reader to follow up your reference, and not helpful if they shop at Sussex Stationers. The only reason it doesn't seem the same is that you can think of a page of Amazon as being a web-based resource - which it is, but the book/CD/etc isn't, it's a resource in Real Life™. So, in my opinion, using ASINs gives the impression that Amazon is somehow uniquely placed to locate this resource for you, when in fact they were just reasonably convenient for the author. As I've already said below, there must have been some information used to locate that item on Amazon in the first place; it is that information - the search criteria - which identifies the resource, not the search result. - IMSoP 19:30, 9 August 2005 (UTC)
  • ISBNs only came into common use in the early 1970s, & a large number of books cannot easily be identified by this index. While we debate over how to treat these earlier books (use their Library of Congress Card Number or the equivalent in other countries), the fact remains that a number of books were published in the past which do not & likely will never be assigned a similar identifier. Can we agree that the plausible lack of an ISBN will not result with the book being removed as a citation? -- llywrch 19:33, 9 August 2005 (UTC)
    • Of course - an ISBN isn't the be all and end all of citation, it's just a useful standard. ISBNless citations are fine - bibliography did exist before 1970! - though if an ISBN exists I guess we should always aim to add it. Shimgray 19:39, 9 August 2005 (UTC)
  • Jimmy Wales said on WikiEN-l "I think ASINs are very very very very bad things, and that you are doing wonderful wonderful work in purging them from Wikipedia completely.". The link provided actually goes to an unrelated message. I searched without success. Perhaps he never said this? EdJohnston 14:45, 6 October 2006 (UTC)

Deletion bad[edit]

  • The current citation templates require a book reference number of some form. Not including this messes things up; on the other hand, many books have neither ASINs nor ISBNs. (What does Google Print use? Does it have unique identifiers? Hmm.)
    • I believe they use Library of Congress IDs in lieu of ISBNs. But regardless of that Google Print's own ID system is unique in and of itself, but on the other hand it seems that they only scan one edition of each book (or, at least, I've never come across multiples). Therefore only one edition can be referenced to via Google Print. GarrettTalk 01:54, 9 August 2005 (UTC)
  • I would like to suggest the following policy: Replace ASIN numbers with ISBN for all books which have an ISBN number. For books that don't have ISBN numbers, leave the ASIN number, or suggest that they be removed on the article's talk page. Kaldari 01:30, 9 August 2005 (UTC)
    • When an ISBN exists for a book, the ASIN is identical; for example will take you, surprise surprise, a book with ISBN 1586853228. Wherever possible book ASINs should be checked to see if this is the case.
      • I've certainly been converting ASINs to ISBNs where they're valid, though most cases are "ASIN B..." Shimgray 12:33, 9 August 2005 (UTC)
  • When a book has no ISBN an ASIN is the easiest way to absolutely identify the exact referenced edition of that work. GarrettTalk 01:54, 9 August 2005 (UTC)
    • Not really. If it vanishes from Amazon, we need standard details - author, title, (publisher), date - to identify it; if we have those, the number of cases where we wouldn't be able to identify an exact referenced edition is vanishingly low... Also, say you look a book up on Amazon. You get an ASIN. ASIN books are usually very sketchily bibliographically described - how can you be sure it's the right edition to start with? Shimgray 12:33, 9 August 2005 (UTC)
  • Can you suggest a better way to link to a specific CD? (see Radovan Vlatkovic) I will whole-heartedly switch to it. If not, I would like to leave the links to CDs on amazon in. I'll revert the changes if I don't hear anything in the next week or so. Horndude77 04:16, 9 August 2005 (UTC)
    • Actually, yes, see #Neutral below for info on the EAN standard. Don't know if Amazon themselves use it, but at least it's an open standard. GarrettTalk 11:39, 9 August 2005 (UTC)
    • I can think of several more answers to this, actually, besides EANs (better known simply as "barcode numbers"). For one, ask why it's important to link to the CD in the first place - the Internet≠the world - and how you went about finding the ASIN yourself; why not provide the information you used to the reader, if it's not obvious? The other thought that springs to mind is how radio DJs do it - "that's from the foo CD, released on the bar label, with catalogue number BARCD0042..."; obviously, those catalogue numbers are publisher-specific, but since you're referring to something which has a specific publisher, that's a helluva lot better than being retailer specific. - IMSoP 19:13, 9 August 2005 (UTC)


  • I agree with changing ASINs to ISBNs. I'm also weakly in support of removing ASINs, but I fear the loss of information. For pure ASINs, are you checking whether the publication has an ISBN, or just removing the ASIN? I realise that the former is rather more work for you. May I suggest that you create a template for ASINs and use that instead? This would facilitate various future actions, whichever is deemed most appropriate: looking approximately like it was when you started; linking directly to the Amazon page; linking to a not-yet-created Amazon-independent ASIN-based booksources page; having no text appear except when editing; and finding and removing them all later. This way, instead of arguing about a mass revertion, we can just argue about what the template's expansion should be. Don't forget to note the template on Wikipedia:Template messages/Links#External links Bovlb 01:47:32, 2005-08-09 (UTC)
    • No it's not more work actually. ASINs which are actually ISBNs always start with a number (usually 0). ASINs which are not ISBNs always start with a letter (usually B). Amazon implemented this so that a book's ISBN cannot possibly clash with a non-book's ASIN. Therefore you can tell which is which in a second and there's no margin for error (unless the original poster left the B off). A template for ASINs sounds good. Since some people have already started linking ASINs with various standards, ideally there would be a generated list of all pages using that word as a bot can't convert the already linked ones without breaking them. GarrettTalk 03:00, 9 August 2005 (UTC)
      • I realize that it's easy to distinguish the subset of ASINs that are actually ISBNs. I was inferring that there might be some set of publications that has been allocated non-ISBN style ASINs, but which had somehow also acquired ISBNs. I realise now that this is probably the empty set, or so close to it that it's not worth checking. My recommendation on using an ASIN template (for non-ISBN ASINs) stands. Bovlb 04:24:48, 2005-08-09 (UTC)
        • Hm, that's a thought. While it's possible, I don't think the ISBN standard is meant to allow that, as any change to a book's content requires a new number to be issued--and putting an ISBN in various places on a book would in turn have to equal making a new edition. Hm... GarrettTalk 05:08, 9 August 2005 (UTC)
        • I think Amazon apply B-ASINs - the non-ISBN ones - when they have material without an ISBN. I suspect a lot of books they only have second-hand may fall into this, if the actual vendor doesn't list an ISBN, but could well be wrong. Shimgray 12:26, 9 August 2005 (UTC)
  • For media (e.g. CD recordings) that do not have ISBN, I would think EAN is the way to go (mostly coextensive with UPC). They are unique per item, standardized so there will not be collisions, and independent of vendor. Entering an EAN into Google frequently finds the item in multiple locations. (e.g. [1]). --Tabor 04:52, 9 August 2005 (UTC)
    • That sounds great, and we could easily draft up an updatable and comprehensive page like for ISBNs. It would require adding a line into the code to make EAN 724347478628 turn into an auto-link though. I would not recommend manually linking or templating EAN codes in any way until we get it coded into MediaWiki though, as we'd just have to turn around and remove it all to make the MAGICNUMBER equivalent work. GarrettTalk 05:08, 9 August 2005 (UTC)
      • Does anyone know who to speak to about a new Special:Booksources type page? Shimgray 12:26, 9 August 2005 (UTC)
  • I'm neutral because I can argue myself into either point of view. So treating on a case-by-case basis seems better to me than a systematic overhaul. When I add book references to articles I go the ISBN route, and as you clarified above, links to Amazon-specific content like reviews are not what you're after. Thanks for bringing this up! -- Sitearm | Talk 16:52, 2005 August 9 (UTC)
  • It is also possible to replace ASIN numbers with LCCN numbers for most books publishing in the US after 1898. That probably covers at least half of the current ASIN listings. I've gone ahead and switched to LCCN numbers for most of my articles. I would suggest doing that where possible, rather than just deleting the IDs outright. Kaldari 19:01, 9 August 2005 (UTC)
    • Hope you don't mind me moving your comment - in fact, this seems like a pretty pro-deletion point to me, though worded as though it's not: replacing the ASINs with LCCNs implies that the ASINs are in fact deleted. Or are you saying that retaining the ASINs as a temporary measure aids the location of LCCNs? - IMSoP 19:35, 9 August 2005 (UTC)
  • In my opinion, using ASIN is implicit advertising for Amazon and is embedding a proprietary code. I would much prefer to see us use ISBN, EAN, UPC or some other open system such as Long Tail identification numbers (recently proposed by Jimbo). In the absence of such non-proprietary indexing information, however, I would prefer not to lose the ASINs that are already in place; they provide access to information that would otherwise be lost. In other words: let us replace the ASINs as far as we can but leave them undeleted where we can find no alternative. —Theo (Talk) 00:12, 10 August 2005 (UTC)

Proposed solution[edit]

I am not completely against the idea of removing ASIN numbers, but I believe if it is done, it should be implemented in as painless a way as possible, rather than a slash and burn approach. With this in mind, I would like to suggest the following guidelines for those interested in removing ASIN numbers:

  1. if the ASIN number can be replaced with an ISBN number, replace it
  2. otherwise, if the ASIN number can be replaced with an LCCN or EAN number, replace it
  3. otherwise, if the ASIN number is in a Book reference template, change it to a Book reference no ISBN template and leave an explanation in the edit summary: "ASIN numbers are not recommended for use in Wikipedia reference citations"
  4. otherwise, remove the ASIN number and leave an explanation in the edit summary: "ASIN numbers are not recommended for use in Wikipedia reference citations"
  5. if the removal of the ASIN number is reverted, do not revert back without discussing it on the article's talk page

Kaldari 19:56, 9 August 2005 (UTC)

Comments on proposed solution[edit]

  • Sounds like a good solution to me, although the EAN numbers are probably a good option when CDs have no ISBN or LCCN. --Laura Scudder | Talk 21:09, 9 August 2005 (UTC)
    • Good idea. Kaldari 22:15, 9 August 2005 (UTC)
  • Might be best to link to somewhere like here in the edit summaries, to explain why the deletion's going on... also, is there a standard source for LCCNs? I don't tend to encounter them much on this side of the pond, for obvious reasons. Shimgray 21:39, 9 August 2005 (UTC)
    • Answering my own question, [2], of course. Shimgray 21:55, 9 August 2005 (UTC)
    • I rather like this, on the whole - it certainly purges ASINs :-). I'll get a better look at it tomorrow; have some travelling to do. Shimgray 22:16, 9 August 2005 (UTC)
  • I certainly agree that when ISBN is available it should be used; I'm less convinced on removing ASINs when there is no ISBN. -- Jmabel | Talk 01:26, August 10, 2005 (UTC)
    • My thinking on why we should purge ASINs is that they give a false sense of having provided sufficient information. The WP:RD question that prompted this is a good example of a situation where author, title and ASIN were the only info provided, and I'm sure that seemed good enough to the editor. The author's name is common enough and the article obscure enough that when the ASIN vanished, so too did our ability to track the publication down. Providing publisher instead of ASIN would have been far preferable. Perhaps instead of simply removing ASINs the last option should be replacing ASINs with a good bibliographic record when missing. --Laura Scudder | Talk 07:31, 10 August 2005 (UTC)
      • None of these IDs should be a substitute for listing the publisher. -- Jmabel | Talk 19:19, August 10, 2005 (UTC)
        • Author, title, publisher, year. Should hopefully be given for all books. Anything else (an ISBN, explicitly stating "third reprint edition", LCCN) is icing... hmm. How explicitly are our current "this is how to cite" examples worded? I can't find much, but I may be looking in the wrong place. Shimgray 20:37, 10 August 2005 (UTC)

Proposed solution, Mk.II[edit]

This is pretty much the same as Kaldari's proposal above, but I've put in some fluffy sentences at the beginning to explain to people what we're doing, and tried to ensure that all individual concerns raised are addressed in the "be careful not to do X" parts. I've taken concerns from both here and the wikien-l mailing list; please let me know if I've missed any!

I'll leave this pending for a few days; if there's no objection raised and not addressed by the middle of the weekend, I'll start removing ASINs again, trying to stay consistent with the guidelines below. Shimgray 23:31, 10 August 2005 (UTC)

ASIN removal[edit]


  1. ISBNs, ASINs, EANs and LCCNs - and other such reference codes - are aids to citations, and shouldn't replace citations in their own right. However, they're very useful to have, so we should try and use them. For CDs, manufacturer catalogue numbers are probably a useful reference, alongside EANs.
  2. Because we have a quick and painless hack for ISBNs, at Special:Booksources, the use of ISBNs is favourite. Hopefully we'll be able to develop something for EANs and LCCNs in the future.
  3. ASINs are generally deprecated for use in Wikipedia citations, for various reasons, but should be kept if they offer a specific benefit not offered by a "more open" number or by a simple text citation.

Proposed guidelines

  1. As such, ASINs are to be replaced by ISBNs; if ISBNs are not available, then LCCNs or EANs. If possible, a complete citation (title, author, year, publisher) should be given. If you're adding an ISBN, be careful with hyphenation - if you're unsure how to handle the hyphens, it's safe to leave them out.
  2. If it's not possible to find a non-ASIN number for the item, then the ASIN should be removed, checking that the normal citation is as complete as possible (title, author, year, publisher)
    1. If the ASIN was in a Book reference template, then it should be changed to a Book reference no ISBN template
  3. Leave an explanatory note in the edit summary saying (something like) "ASINs are not recommended for use in Wikipedia reference [[Wikipedia:Cite sources|citations]]; see [[User:Shimgray/ASIN|discussion]]."
  4. If the removal is reverted, discuss the changes on the talk page of the relevant article(s) rather than re-removing.


  • is an excellent source for US ISBN and LCCN numbers; Copac an excellent one for British ISBNs (it's much more user-friendly than directly using the British Library catalogue). For other books, try Special:Booksources and look for a library likely to contain it, then check their catalogue.
  • Amazon will usually list catalogue numbers for CDs alongside the ASIN.
  • I have no idea how to find EANs - anyone? Other than simply reading off the barcode, anyway...


I still disagree with one piece of this:

If it's not possible to find a non-ASIN number for the item, then the ASIN should be removed, checking that the normal citation is as complete as possible (title, author, year, publisher)

Why delete a piece of possibly useful identifying information when no better substitute is available? -- Jmabel | Talk 06:25, August 11, 2005 (UTC)

Well, the "better substitute" is the check that the normal citation is as complete as possible. It seems to me that that information should be sufficient for finding the item at Amazon or any other store/library/etc, whereas the ASIN isn't guaranteed to remain useful even within Amazon. Add to this the fact that it implies bias towards Amazon, and I really don't see that it's a useful part of a citation.
Consider this: if Barnes&Noble also stock the item, should we link to their product page as well? how many stores should we link to? which ones? Special:Booksources exists so that we don't have to think about that; hopefully, other kinds of catalogue number could eventually have similar pages, but ASINs never will. I think it's best to dissociate ASINs from the Amazon spin that they're an identification number, and think of them as external links; in terms of a citation, the useful information on the end of that link is details like title, author, year, publisher - so why not just copy those across, and lose the link? - IMSoP 14:39, 11 August 2005 (UTC)
This is pretty much what I was going to say (but more competent). Thanks. Shimgray 21:24, 11 August 2005 (UTC)

This Mk II solution looks fine to me. Move it to the Wikipedia namespace somewhere, and go-to-it! JesseW 20:12, 11 August 2005 (UTC)

I like it, too. Idealy, every entry would have a full bibliographic record, but it becomes particularly important for those without any stable standard identifier. --Laura Scudder | Talk 05:11, 12 August 2005 (UTC)

If we are going to do this we will clearly at some point have to update the instructional pages. Wikipedia:Citing sources does a good job, but Category:ISBN needed only mentions ISBNs and ASINs (and on ASINs they say the only downside is that links to book sources aren't generated). — Laura Scudder | Talk 16:44, 24 August 2005 (UTC)