979-prefixed ISBNs will appear early next year

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Book and library systems must be ready for 13-digit ISBNs by early next year, according to the International ISBN Agency. ISBNs with a prefix of 979 are likely to start being assigned in the second quarter of 2008 and these will not have 10-digit equivalents.

The ISBN changed from 10 to 13 digits in January 2007 in line with the revised ISO standard (ISO 2108). The reason for the change in the system was to ensure the numbering capacity of the ISBN system. However, until now, 13-digit ISBNs have all carried the 978 prefix, allowing systems to carry both 10 and 13-digit ISBNs. Once the 979 prefix is introduced, there can be no 10-digit equivalent as this could lead to duplication of numbers.

Both country prefixes and publisher prefixes will change in the 979-prefixed range of numbers as the system is being fine-tuned to avoid wastage of numbers, says the agency. There will also be a move to national prefixes rather than the language-based group prefixes on which the system was based when it was thought out in the late 1960s.

Brian Green, executive director of the International ISBN Agency, said, 'The move to 13-digit ISBNs has been relatively painless with most publishers and distributors operating dual systems during the changeover period. The arrival of 979-prefixed ISBNs means that everyone involved in the book supply, chain including publishers, distributors, booksellers and libraries, will have to make certain that their systems can deal with the full 13-digit ISBN.'