Planning for the Age of ISBN-13: A BISAC Briefing on How to Manage the Transition

May 2004
by Tom Clarkson

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As of January 1, 2007, the numbers issued by all ISBN Agencies throughout the world will be 13 digits long, rather than 10 digits long. Because ISBNs are used to identify books for production, ordering, inventorying, or researching, publishers are understandably concerned about this upcoming major change.


Fortunately, planning for the transition can start now. A working group of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is in the final stages of preparing a specification for the new ISBN. Although it probably won’t be published until the beginning of 2005, the specification has been widely circulated in draft and its acceptance appears certain, so the format of the new ISBN is known.


The difficulty–or ease–of making the transition will vary from publisher to publisher, depending on present systems and practices. This article summarizes issues to consider as you begin formulating plans to accommodate the expanded number. As you’ll see, some aspects of the change are old hat; others may appear to be innocuous but have serious ramifications. In the coming months, we’ll be able to offer more details about how to make the transition as smooth as it can be.

Why Is the Change Taking Place?

We hear this question frequently because many publishers, large and small, have enough ISBN-10s to last for years. Nonetheless, the expansion is necessary, and for two reasons:


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