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ISBN-13 Update: A Report from the Field

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Three months into the 2005 “Sunrise” Initiative for ISBN-13, the Book Industry Study Group (specifically its BISAC committee, which deals with industry data standards) has put together the ISBN-13 Education and Support Project, and publishers should be using both ISBN-10s and ISBN-13s on new titles with trading partners.

As recommended in our December 2004 issue (see “The New ISBN Timetable” by Tom Clarkson at www.pma-online.org), both numbers should appear on the copyright page of each book coming off press in the format recommended by the International ISBN Agency:

ISBN-13: 978-1-56619-909-4

ISBN-10: 1-56619-909-3

Please note, though, that dual numbering is valid only for ISBN-13s that begin with 978–which they all will until 2007–and that before you can use dual numbers, you must be capable of accepting either version (ISBN-10 or ISBN-13) in written, verbal, and electronic communications.

Moves to Make Now

Different companies will, of course, be making the transition at different rates. Still, it’s important for everyone to become accustomed to seeing the 13-digit number, and BISG recommends including stuffers with your paper invoices or tags on your electronic invoices that refer trading partners to ISBN-13 information at www.bisg.org/pi. BISG also recommends briefing your sales reps on the issue, following up with those reps to make sure the message is being communicated effectively, posting ISBN-13 information on your Web sites, and including it in email communications with customers.

A survey of the entire BISG community is in the works, and a survey of a sample of large publishers has now been completed. It shows that many of them are still communicating about ISBN-13 internally and have not yet solidified their external messages to trading partners, although some have participated in educational sessions at industry conferences, surveyed their trading partners about ISBN-13 readiness, and begun printing ISBN-13s alongside ISBN-10s in their catalogs.

Another small survey, this one by the American Booksellers Association, targeted systems vendors in the independent retail market. Eight of the 15 vendors in this survey reported that they would be ready to handle 13-digit ISBNs in all their transactions by March 2006, at the latest (for the report, see Bookselling This Week, http://news.bookweb.org/features/3233.html).

The good news for independent publishers is this: being smaller generally means being more flexible, able to act faster than large houses whose systems are riddled with legacy software and old data. So it’s largely a question of keeping certain salient points in mind when going through your systems and figuring out what, if anything, you now need to change.

ISBN-13 is nothing more nor less than the Bookland EAN already in use, and with a 13-digit ISBN there’s no need to convert from 10 digits to 13 for the bar code.

Every place you use a 10-digit ISBN will need to be reconfigured to use a 13-digit ISBN, if it hasn’t been yet. This means focusing on (among other things) contracts and royalties, catalogs, production processes, warehouse and shipping systems, sales to distributors, and direct sales; as well as on registering copyrights, registering ISBNs with Bowker, and registering other identifiers, such as ISTC.

Where to Find Out More

A thorough and continually updated repository of information about ISBN-13 is available at www.bisg.org/pi. It includes both detailed and broad discussions of the various conversion issues, along with recommendations. You’re invited to check back often for news, additions to the FAQ, and other features we’ll be adding as we continue our outreach efforts.

And in the coming months, PMA members will also be invited to send feedback on experiences with ISBN-13 that might be helpful to other publishers as the transition period progresses.

Laura Dawson is an 18-year veteran of the book industry. She has written articles and given numerous presentations on consumers and content, industry standards, and data delivery.

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