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News & Press: General Announcements

New 979 ISBN Prefixes Expected in 2020

Sunday, November 24, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Brian O'Leary

At a November 20 meeting of BISG's Metadata Committee, Bowker's John Purcell and Pat Payton provided an update on plans to introduce a 979 prefix in the U.S. market. As is widely known, Bowker manages ISBN assignments the U.S. market. At the meeting, Purcell noted that overall demand for 978-prefix blocks has diminished inventory, and Bowker expects that it will need to introduce a new 979 prefix in early 2020 to be able to meet demand for blocks of certain sizes.

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.

Bowker is planning to begin working with its clients, a base of all firms that purchase U.S. ISBNs, to build awareness and plan for use of the 979 inventory. That work is expected to start after the Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S. Overall, Bowker is asking its customers three questions:

  • Is your system currently reliant on ISBN 10?
  • Will you need ISBNs in the next 12 months?
  • What size block will you need?

Metadata recipients can focus on the first question. 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.

During the committee call, we were able to confirm that the check digit calculation would stay the same for ISBNs with 979 prefixes. Publishers heard that trying “one” or a limited number of 979 ISBNs would be a useful test for the supply chain once the new inventory is made available. We also learned that 979-prefix ISBNs may be used to describe a collection of products that are identified using 978 ISBNs.

The 979 prefix is already in use in France, Italy, and Korea. BISG will reach out to its supply-chain counterparts in these markets to learn what they did to support the introduction of the 979 prefix in their markets. We'll also ask for information about any problems or challenges they faced.

A metadata aggregator and a retailer on the call shared that ISBNs with 979 prefix codes are already part of their databases. Some subsequent work was done to assess the retailer ISBNs, and it appears that they may not be accurate ISBNs, with more investigation needed. During the committee call, members expressed concern that some recipients may have systems that assign a 10-digit ISBN automatically, even though doing so may not be not valid. This possibility is something BISG will also investigate in partnership with metadata recipients.

BISG will also work to identify areas in which supply-chain partners may need help or support. We're working now to advise the industry as a whole, coordinating with Bowker to deliver a consistent message.More outreach and engagement around areas that include IT may be needed. Any suggestions, questions, or concerns can be shared with your Bowker representative, if you are a client, or with BISG


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