Federation of Ontario Public Libraries

The 10-Digit ISBN Is Getting Retired Next Year


“Every commercially published book in the world is given a unique International Standard Book Number, or ISBN. On its inception in 1967, that number was 10 digits long, though it was updated to 13 digits in 2007. Now, starting in early 2020, the 10-digit ISBN is getting replaced entirely by the 13-digit version for the first time in the US market.

The news comes from the Book Industry Study Group’s Metadata Committee, which met earlier this month to discuss the changes.

Up until now, any 10-digit ISBN could be updated to a 13-digit version by slapping a “978” onto the front — pick up any commercially published book, and you’ll see the ISBN and barcode somewhere on the cover.

Next year, Bowker, which manages US ISBN assignments, plans to add a new “979” prefix in addition to the 978 one. With two prefixes floating around, any systems that still just convert 13-digit ISBNs to 10-digit identifiers will have no way to tell a 978-prefixed ISBN from its 979-prefixed counterpart. And those systems still exist. Some might even opt for a 10-digit number automatically.”