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Libraries and Publishers Ready for New ISBN


New York, Oct 19, 2006

The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) system, which has served to uniquely identify every printed book in circulation for more than three decades, is about to get a makeover. January 1, 2007, marks the deadline for publishers, libraries, and booksellers to implement a new 13-digit numbering system.

Since its adoption by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) as ISO 2108, Information and documentation—International Standard Book Number (ISBN), in 1970, the 10-digit ISBN system has proved a central component to the international book trade, enabling electronic order transactions, inventory tracking, and cataloging between publishers, booksellers and libraries. But due to the significant growth in traditional publishing during the last few years and the rise of electronic publications over the Internet, the numbering capacity of the current system has been rapidly approaching its limit.

In a move to increase the capacity of the international book identification system and ensure that the ISBN continues to serve the needs of publishers, librarians and retailers, the ISO committee responsible for standard identifiers in the field of information and documentation—ISO technical committee 46/subcommitee 9, Identification and description—published a revision to ISO 2108 in 2005. ISO 2108:2005, Information and documentation—International Standard Book Number (ISBN), provided a framework for negotiating the conversion to the 13-digit system and set a two-year deadline to allow the industry to prepare for and accommodate the necessary changes to its systems. The change impacts lines of production, editorial processes, marketing and sales, warehouse management, accounting and cataloguing.

Under the current 10-digit system, an ISBN comprises a book’s country of origin or language code, publisher and item number, in addition to a checksum character used to ensure data integrity. The new system adds a three-digit prefix set by GS1, formerly EAN International, which developed the well-known European Article Numbering Code, EAN-13.

“The ISO standardization process has ensured international buy-in from all sectors of the industry,” said Brian Green, executive director of the International ISBN Agency and chair of the working group that developed ISO 2108. “The international book trade is well prepared for the move to 13-digit ISBNs.”

For the 10- digit ISBNs currently in circulation, publishers must adjust their systems and convert all existing titles subject to continued trade to 13-digit ISBNs. Libraries will have to accommodate both 10-digit and 13-digit ISBNs in their catalogue systems. After the January 1 deadline, commercial systems will no longer support the 10-digit ISBN. However, because the new 13-digit ISBNs will match the EAN barcode format of existing 10-digit ISBNs, they will remain fully compatible with existing barcodes.

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