Persistent data; non-existent object

We’ve just returned from a short trip overseas. Mostly holiday, and re-making some old acquaintanceships, but at the event which was the trigger for the visit one of those acquaintances mentioned the persistence of an International Standard Book Number (ISBN).

It seems that, some years ago, our friend was writing a textbook (his field is astrophysics) with a publisher’s contract, deadlines and so on when he was pre-empted by a couple of other authors. Realising there would be no benefit in continuing (no personal pride there!) he agreed with his publisher to abort the project and the volume was never completed, let alone published.

However, an ISBN had been obtained for the putative title. And it proved impossible to get the issue of this ISBN rescinded. So out there, it appears, there is an ISBN for a book which does not exist, has never existed, and never will exist.

I should note that the obvious easy searches have not turned up the rogue volume; but what price the persistence of data?

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