ISBN update: The good news is… offline systems still work

ISBN spreadsheet snapshot

This is what you get…

A couple of days ago I applied for a block of ISBN numbers – a process that involved printing and scanning a form.  The good news is, once you’ve done all of that they beat the “3 working days” turnaround and did it in 2 working days.

Actually about one and a half.

Plus, all my unanswered questions and items that weren’t clear from the form or the guidance notes you can access before you start the process were answered by the email when they sent me the numbers back.


I have a spreadsheet with everything I need to know, and three titles (the .Mobi / ePub and PDF versions of the same book) all registered with my own ISBN.  Plus advice on how to make a legal book deposit with the British Library.

So the system works fine, just not online.

The challenge is perhaps an indicator of an aspect of the customer, something I hadn’t considered in the last post.  You see… if you’re really determined (which you have to be to write a book and self publish it in the first place) the complicated online sign-up is just another hurdle to get over.  So it’s not really a barrier to entry.

However, as we know, you don’t *need* and ISBN number for all platforms.  So if you’re just knocking out a quickie ebook for Kindle or PDF, and find the ISBN process to be a little too clunky, you’ll skip it.

Then what happens?  We wind up with a different set of unique identifiers for some books… which multiplies into world where an ISBN number becomes less relevant.  It’s no longer the worldwide standard numbering system it has been until now.  It’s a competitor.  It’s the equivalent of having the option of another postal service and two different addresses for the same location, depending on which postal service you’re using.

It’s not good news for ISBN.  It’s good news for the company that can capture all book ID data and make all books discoverable through one system… which is a sort of data crawling search engine… er… it’s Google, isn’t it.

Yes.  Whilst organisations can create alternate numbering systems to organise the world slightly differently depending on where you start, the person who captures the lot is the outright winner.  That person is the one who is easiest to use… and it helps a lot if they’re free, too.

GSBN numbers might one day be a reality, after all, most of us remember that twenty years ago there were dozens of search engines out there too.