Challenged by 979 ISBNs? We want to hear from you

Posted By: Brian F. O'Leary Committees,

Three years ago the U.S. ISBN agency, overseen by Bowker, announced the planned introduction of an inventory of ISBNs with 979 prefixes. The change was not immediate, and the market use of ISBNs with 979 prefixes has grown slowly over the past three years.

When it was first announced, BISG wrote about the planned change, noting at the time that "For the first time in the U.S. market, there will be no 10-digit equivalent to a 979 ISBN. As well, the change will introduce a new classification unique to the U.S., where books will begin 979-8. Publishers and metadata recipients will need to confirm that their systems can reliably accept and maintain 13-digit ISBNs, including those that begin with the 979 prefix."

We also wrote, "The move to a 13-digit ISBN took place in 2007, but some systems continue to rely on or convert 13-digit ISBNs to 10-digit identifiers. Metadata recipients that rely on 10-digit identifiers will need to update their systems to manage the new inventory of 979 ISBNs." Staff from Bowker did significant work to make metadata senders and recipients aware of the challenges, and in the first year after that assessment, few 979-prefix ISBNs circulated, few problems were reported.

More recently, some smaller independent or hybrid publishers have reported difficulty getting products listed on retail sites. We've heard reports from multiple channels - via trade media, from other publishing associations, from different organizations affected by a missed listing, and via Bowker, the organization responsible for IBSNs in the U.S. marketplace. With information coming in from across the supply chain, we want to gather examples that help us address any problems that may be associated with the use of the 979 identifiers.

At the November meeting of BISG's metadata committee, we agreed to put out a call across the industry that helps us track down and understand situations in which 979-prefix identifiers are not being accepted or listed by supply-chain partners. At a minimum, we'd like to know the ISBN(s) involved, the supply-chain partners that have not accepted or listed product with the 979 identifiers, and a brief description of how metadata is conveyed to those partners (direct entry on a web portal, through a third party, directly using an ONIX feed, etc.)

It's important to note that we're not looking to get a particular supply chain partner in trouble. That's not what BISG does. The industry is made up of multiple systems and hand-offs across a wide variety of firms. Intermittent problems, which is what the data suggests we have, may be a sign that a component of a workflow isn't delivering the right outcome some of the time. The more specific you can be in your examples, the more likely we can find what's causing the problem.

If you do have data to share, send it to BISG at We'll collect everything we receive and share it at the next meeting of the metadata committee, which takes place on December 21 at 10 a.m. ET. If you're interested in that discussion, write us at the same address, and we'll add you to the committee for this cycle. Participation in our committee work is normally reserved for members, but we recognize that some organizations affected by this problem may not be part of BISG today, and we don't want to exclude you from this conversation.