As a previous eContent Pro International blog has already covered, International Standard Book Numbers (ISBNs) are 10- to 13- digit codes that are used to identify a book, or a version of a book. Each code is unique and helpful in tracking, stocking, and ordering the book. This code is broken down into five important parts: Prefix, registration group, registrant, publication, and check digit.
The United States ISBN Agency has recently announced that they will begin implementing a new 979 prefix. This changes not only the prefix itself, but the resulting registration group. So how do these number groups work together, and what exactly will these changes do?
Changing ISBN Prefixes
In January 2007, ISBNs jumped from 10 to 13 digits to address the shortage of available 10-digit codes. The additional three digits make up the ISBN prefix, which is a number compatible with the European Article Number system. When this change was set into motion, 13-digit ISBN codes included the 978 prefix. However, ISBN block sizes starting with 978 (such as 10,000, 100,000, and 1,000,000) are dwindling. Therefore, the United States ISBN Agency will begin assigning ISBNs starting with 979 in addition to the present 978 prefix. While books with a 978 ISBN prefix allowed systems to contain both a 10-digit and 13-digit version, books starting with 979 do not have a corresponding 10-digit ISBN. Once this change is enacted, only 13-digit ISBNs starting with 978 or 979 will be used to identify a book.
Changing ISBN Registration Group
The ISBN registration group describes the book’s country of origin. Right now, the United States ISBN Agency is assigning ISBNs beginning with either 978-0 or 978-1, the 0 and 1 indicating an English-speaking region. Once the 979 prefix is introduced, the 0 and 1 will become an 8, which will become the number unique to the United States. It is important to note that though these numbers are exclusive to books published through English-speaking countries, it does not mean that your work can only be produced within these countries. U.S. publishers and self publishers may market their work anywhere in the world. Other countries also have identifiers; Germany is indicated by a 3 and Japan by a 4.
What This Means for You
An ISBN code is crafted to make books easy to track, and it contains valuable information describing the book. When researching, the new 13-digit code system is important to note. Searching for a book in a database is tricky, but being aware of the new prefix streamlines the process. An author going through a publishing house or an e-publishing company will not have to worry about this change personally, as most publishers have noted the change and updated their systems appropriately. But for the self-publisher, it is important to note two things: All 10-digit codes will need to be reformatted into a 13-digit code, and the new pairing country code is key for all publishing within the United States. It could take some time before this change is fully implemented, perhaps even years, but for publishers and authors alike, this change in coding is critical.
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