from TEN DIGIT to THIRTEEN DIGIT --- an improvement or a headache?
March 25, 2010 12:39 PM   Subscribe

Once, there were ten-digit ISBNs. Then, someone added a three-digit "978" prefix, the checksum digit at the end of the number changed, and now ---shazam--- they are Thirteen-digit ISBNs. Are they planning one day to use prefixes besides "978"? What was the point of this massive and seemingly pointless change?

Chatfilter, yes, I expect deletion. Any comments before that happens?
posted by shipbreaker to Technology (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The longer codes are EAN-13, a European standard for more than just books. See wikipedia for more.
posted by reptile at 12:46 PM on March 25, 2010

I didn't care enough to actually read the wikipedia entry on this.
posted by neuron at 12:46 PM on March 25, 2010

Um, this is Googleable. It's not, however, chatfilter.
posted by jessamyn at 12:46 PM on March 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

Why chatfilter? These questions have definite answers.

Are they planning one day to use prefixes besides "978"? Yes. When the 978 numbers are all assigned, 979 will be used.

What was the point of this massive and seemingly pointless change?
"This change is happening for the following reasons:

to expand the numbering capacity of the ISBN system and alleviate numbering shortages in certain areas of the world;

to fully align the numbering system for books with the global EAN.UCC identification system that is widely used to identify most other consumer goods worldwide."
From here.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 12:47 PM on March 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

Fuzzy is correct.
posted by eatdonuts at 1:00 PM on March 25, 2010

The Wikipedia article event tells you what the next prefix will be and on what specific condition it will be used. I guess questions like this are the reason we can only post once a week.
posted by themel at 1:44 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't know if I'd label this as Chatfilter, but the gist of your answer's pretty easy to find if you look at the Wikipedia articles on ISBN and Bookland. An even better resource is the article "Anatomy of a 13-digit ISBN" at the ISBN Information web site.

I assume that you know already that ISBN-13 is needed because the set of possible unique numbers available under the ISBN-10 system is running low. In particular, this is because ISBNs are segmented, with different parts of the number reserved for geographic /linguistic zone, publisher, etc., leaving only a small set of digits within the ISBN actually available for uniquely identifying individual publications. (If you know anything about IPv4 vs. IPv6 addresses, it's an analogous situation.)

Okay, so why the '978'? Here's how I understand it. The ISBN is a subset of the EAN product identification system, and EAN IDs must begin with a three-digit country code. For whatever reason, all ISBNs are assigned the country code '978', which refers to a fictitious, presumably delightful, country called Bookland. Existing books with ISBN-10 codes get the '978' prefix, but the code '979' is also available for use, and if the set of numbers beginning with '979' runs out, some other prefix may be used, too.

Somebody please correct me if I'm misrepresenting anything. This explanation largely comes from skimming the above sources.
posted by cobra libre at 2:58 PM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Bookland is a fictitious country created in the 1980s in order to reserve a Unique Country Code (UCC) prefix for EAN identifiers of published books, regardless of country of origin, so that the EAN space can catalog books by ISBN rather than maintaining a redundant parallel numbering system.

As I said ... ... improvement or headache?
posted by shipbreaker at 7:34 AM on March 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

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