How important are ISBNs?
This is a guest post by Karina Luke. Karina was appointed as BIC’s Executive Director in February 2012 and has been instrumental in its restructure, which has seen the creation of an agile members organisation focused on driving and delivering meaningful change and education across all sectors of the book industry. You can follow Karina on Twitter @KarinaLuke.Periodically I am asked the question, “How important are ISBNs?” and I always reply “Incredibly important, now more than ever.” With the ever increasing number of books published each year, it is vital to have a unique identifier assigned to them in order to identify, track, manage and monitor books through the increasingly complex supply chain. Used in over 200 countries and territories, the ISBN is crucial in ensuring accurate and efficient communications between trading partners, representation of accurate information to readers and buyers, aiding discoverability, the compilation and management of sales records which in turn may affect the correct assignment of royalties to the right authors etc. It’s a recognised, reliable standard used by all industry stakeholders: publishers, booksellers, distributors, printers, libraries, wholesalers, data aggregators, readers and many more. In order to ensure each ISBN is and remains unique, it is important that anyone wishing to obtain one, only does so via official agencies. Unfortunately, recent years have seen an emergence of rogue ISBN suppliers selling “second hand” ISBNs – a practice which clearly undermines the principles and benefits of having a unique identifier per product. A full list of official national ISBN agencies can be found on the International ISBN Agency’s website here: https://www.isbn-international.org/agencies BIC strongly advises anyone wishing to obtain an ISBN, to use only the agencies listed here. Without the ISBN the book industry’s supply and information chains would become unmanageable – how else would we be able to manage and/or report on product identification and discovery, ownership, behaviour and bibliographic information? How would we accurately know which book was to be reprinted, or delivered to a customer, not to mention stock and inventory management. The book industry without ISBNs would become confusing, and costly for all stakeholders. In order to successfully and efficiently identify, manage and follow a book (digital and/or printed) through its entire lifecycle it will always need a unique number, or identifier, assigned to it. The ISBN is this unique number. To quote the International ISBN Agency: “The purpose of the international standard is to coordinate and standardise the international use of ISBNs to identify uniquely one publication or edition of a publication published by one specific publisher in one specific format” Without the ISBN, the book industry would quite simply be unable to do this, and if we’re not able to do this, the ramifications are potentially huge. The 13-digits of the ISBN themselves impart a lot of information as follows:
- i) The country, geographical region or language grouping of publishers participating in the ISBN system ii) Who the publisher (or imprint) of the book is iii) The specific edition of the publication in a specific format