ISBN-13 Update: Erroneous Bar Codes

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The Book Industry Study Group (BISG) recently announced that it had received several reports of books carrying a Bookland EAN bar code with an erroneous number encoded in the bar code and displayed below the bar code itself. "The erroneous number begins with '979', an invalid prefix for today's Bookland EAN and an ISBN range not yet activated by International or National ISBN Agencies," said the BISG statement. "The erroneous number is unlikely to be recognized by the computer systems of many booksellers who are not yet prepared for ISBN-13. For those who are prepared, it will not "match" the correct ISBN previously stored for the book. The result will be a delay in processing or selling at best, and a likely loss of sales and reorder data."

BISG also noted that the erroneous number is also a potential duplication of an ISBN that will be issued in the future when the ISBN Agencies activate the "979" prefix.

The new ISBN standard of 13 digits goes into effect on January 1, 2007. To convert current 10-digit ISBNs to 13 digits, publishers will assign the prefix "978" to the current ISBN and then recalculate a new check digit. Some publishers are already including dual 10-digit and 13-digit ISBNs; however, beginning next January, only 13-digit ISBNs will be issued.

The "979" prefix should not begin appearing until sometime in 2007, according to BISG, which noted that these books will not have corresponding ISBN-10s.

BISG is asking publishers, distributors, and retail booksellers to be alert for any occurrence of a number beneath the bar code that begins with "979" and to report these mistakes immediately to the publisher (or bar code vendor, if you are a publisher). BISG also requests that copies of the correspondence be sent to them at [email protected] so that it can follow up and provide information as appropriate.

Effective January 1, 2007, booksellers will need to begin using 13-digit identifiers when transacting business with publishers and wholesalers, and POS systems will need to accommodate 13-digit numbers. BISG warns that some retailers may need to implement a systems change in order to accommodate this. Booksellers should discuss the ISBN-13 transition with their store POS systems vendors and/or in-house IT personnel to ensure that they are ready for the changes that are coming.

BISG provides information about the ISBN-13 transition for retailers at