spawn spawn logo






Sign Up for the
SPAWNews Newsletter and
Get a FREE Report Too!



SPAWNews is packed with writing, editing, illustrating, and publishing information. Each month you receive market opportunities, events, and articles you can use now!
Not sure? Check out back issues of SPAWNews on our blog, or in the older SPAWNews archives)

Internet articles

Other editing/publishing articles

ISBN Changes

By Elizabeth Burton

Editor’s Note: This is a two-part article. The first is Elizabeth’s explanation of the recent ISBN changes. The second part is a Q&A with Patricia Fry asking questions related to the ISBN changes and Elizabeth Burton providing the answers.

On January 1, 2007, ISBNs--International Standard Book Numbers--will go from the familiar ten digits to thirteen. There are several reasons for this, not the least one being that the supply of 10-digit numbers is just about depleted. However, another important reason in these days of global publishing is that the change brings the current system into alignment with the EAN.UCC system that is used to identify other products, like CDs and DVDs.

The main thing to keep in mind about the transition is: don't panic. Bowker and the ISBN organization have been and continue to be working to make it as painless as possible.

You do NOT need to stop using the 10-digit numbers you already have. Just go to and use the handy online tool provided to change your 10-digit to a 13-digit. Below the converter is a link for information if you have a large list of numbers you want to convert.

The 13-digit ISBN differs from the 10-digit in two ways. The prefix 978 is added to the existing publisher ID, and the check digit--the final digit in the number--usually (but not always) changes. So, when we convert 1-55410-270-7, the converted ISBN becomes 978-1-55410-270-9.

After the first of the year, all NEW ISBNs issued will use the 979 prefix.

This year, Bowker and the ISBN organization recommended you use both ISBNs both on the copyright page and the barcode. Come January, they prefer you not use the ISBN-10. However, not all vendors have updated their systems to accommodate the ISBN-13, so even if you don't include it on book or barcode you need to keep a record of it somewhere to use for responding to orders or working with databases that aren't ready for the new method. A spreadsheet that lists both numbers is simple to set up.

The other change you may need to make is in your barcode. If you've been using the UPC--the Universal Product Code--style, you need to begin using instead the EAN--European Article Number--code. These are available for a fee from Bowker as well as a number of other companies, but you can generate your own using free software available at We've been using this for the last six years with no problems, despite the caveat that it's "experimental."

For a complete, detailed discussion of the reasons for and the implementation of the change, visit to download ISBN-13 for Dummies.


Patricia Fry: So do I have to change the numbers on all of the books I have stored in boxes waiting to be sold?

Elizabeth Burton: No, what's done is done--and the ISBN-13 should be on your barcode by default--it's the one below the graphic. If not, and you didn't have both the numbers listed on the copyright page, you should change that before you do another print run. As I said, the transition on the part of the vendors is going to take longer, so while it's not required, offering both numbers on the copyright page and on promotional material for the next little while is a courtesy.

PF: What numbers do I use the online converter tool on? My list of unused numbers? I think we need to make this clear.

EB: Yes, you input the 10-digit numbers you already own and convert them to the 13. You needn't do them all at one time, but the official number after the first of the year is the 13. All the 10-digit numbers have either been sold or ditched, so when you buy your next block they'll have 13 digits and start with 979. The 978 prefix is to distinguish converted numbers from the new ones to prevent duplication.

PF: I think we determined that we do not need to do anything with the books we already have printed, right? But when we do a reprint, revision or produce a new book, we need to convert the original number (for a reprint) and the new number (for a revision or new book) to the 13-digit format?

EB: Any books published after January 1 MUST have the 13-digit number. If you're in the LOC-CIP program, they are already requiring you enter the 13-digit number first, then the 10, if you want to use it. So, any new edition for which you would register a new ISBN will need the 13, although I'd recommend you offer both, as I said earlier. However, if all you're doing is a new print run, technically you don't need to fix the ISBN. However, if it won't cost you a fortune, it couldn't hurt to add the 13. It would depend on how soon you anticipate a new edition, if any.

PF: Won't barcode companies automatically turn your 10-digit number into the 13-digit when they issue you a barcode? But I guess some people are buying programs to create their own barcodes, so they need to know this information.

EB: See above--the barcode has had the 13 all along. And why are they buying what they can get free? That, I think, needs to be stressed--the Bookland program is FREE, has been updated to comply with ISBN-13 and has been accepted by every vendor we've dealt with.

PF: I like that you said we should not panic. Many--probably most--of our members have books produced through the fee-based POD publishing services. Is there something they should know about this transition?

EB: In these cases it's the responsibility of the publisher to make sure the books comply. They can ensure that happens by requiring both numbers be on the copyright page when they proof their galley--which those publishers should have been doing without nudging since it's what Bowker and said they should do more than a year.

--Elizabeth Burton is Executive Editor for Zumaya Publications,



Popular Articles
on Writing, Editing
Publishing &


spawn spawn