Tag Archives: Bowker

You Don’t Know Jack about ISBNs

For many publishing people, managing ISBNs ranks with sorting sardines among the world’s most boring tasks.  But imagine where we would be without a system for identifying and tracking each edition or iteration of a book.

That’s why Bowker, the exclusive agency for ISBNs in the United States and the world’s leading source of bibliographic information, is the unsung hero behind every published book. Triumph or failure, profit or loss can turn on a single digit in the string of numbers constituting the International Standard Book Number.

For those who believe that assigning an ISBNs is a simple task of copying numbers off a list, a visit to the Bowker website will be instructive and sobering.  The demanding complexity of the company’s duties is daunting, and a few minutes spent navigating its services will imbue new respect for a company that is as essential as it is unglamorous.

And if you’re still skeptical, we invite you to take the following quiz.  To raise the stakes, we suggest you imagine yourself the CEO of a publishing company where a wrong answer can cause embarrassing and even ruinous scheduling delays.

So: do you know…

  • Where does an ISBN get placed on a book?
  • Are different ISBNs used if a book appears in different languages?
  • If the price of the book changes, does the ISBN?
  • If you change the cover of a book, does a new ISBN have to be assigned?
  • If typos are being corrected, is a new ISBN necessary?
  • Can an ISBN be reused?
  • How are ISBNs assigned to multi-volume works? To books in a series?
  • If an ISBN is assigned in another country, does a US ISBN have to be gotten to sell the book in the US?
  • Can I use one of my friend’s (or relative’s) ISBNs?
  • If an author gets the publishing rights back, does the original publisher’s ISBN remain?
  • Can I get an e-ISBN?
  • Do I use the same ISBN on the print book and on the e-book since the content is the same?
  • Who assigns the ISBN on an e-book: distributor, the manufacturer/vendor, or the publisher?
  • Are bar codes required for e-books?
  • Do cell phone novels get ISBNs?
  • Can a publisher use one ISBN to cover all eBook formats?
  • What about ISBNs for proprietary eBooks like Sony’s and Kindle?
  • What if publishers don’t assign separate ISBNs, but distributors and retailers need them?
  • Aren’t we moving, with eBooks, away from fixed products, to a customised world where people will pick and mix, recombining and chunking disparate bits of content? Are we going to need a different ISBN every time?
  • Shouldn’t we be using Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs)?

The answers to these and other questions can be found here. And if you were stumped by as many as we were, perhaps you’ll join us in a tip of the cap to the folks at Bowker and their indispensable strings of digits.

Richard Curtis


Bowker to Launch Manuscript Submission Program

Asked to free-associate with the name “Bowker” most publishing people think of such publishing services as ISBN book-identification numbers and similar tedious but essential data.  But, in a surprising announcement emailed to publishing professionals, Bowker today announced a service for authors, and one guaranteed to raise some eyebrows.

“I am writing to inform you of the exciting release of Bowker Manuscript Submissions,” writes Natalie Piccotti. “a new online service allowing authors to submit their manuscript ideas to a number of publishing houses from one central location.

BowkerManuscriptSubmissions.com will be featured at Book Expo America in May 2010, and will officially launch in June 2010.”

The initiative is designed to “streamline the process of sorting through an overwhelming volume of unsolicited manuscripts publishers receive. Built off the success of Christian Manuscript Submissions, Bowker will now provide a similar service to the trade and higher education publishing communities.”

For an annual fee of $295 the program will…

* Sort by subject of choice and submission date
* Search by keywords in title, description and topic
* Identify proposals that have been professionally edited
* Cut down on wasted time – our system remembers your last date of entry so you do not read previously reviewed manuscripts
* Contact the writer directly
* Find proposals by author’s name
* Review an author’s publishing history, book summary, and writing style in one step

Before literary agents’ noses go out of joint, the announcement reassures them that the submission program will enable them to promote their services and match their clients’ ideas to the best possible publisher.

Our nose remains in place (though permanently deviated 5 degrees by a football injury), but we suspect many an agent will wonder if the program can substitute for or even supplement a lifetime of knowledge and wisdom, experience and cultivation of relationships.  Will Bowker Submissions know if the science fiction list of Publisher A is inventoried, or the romance editor of Publisher B just jumped to Publisher C, or if Publisher D just acquired the same idea from another author six months ago?  Will Bowker Submissions buy us lunch? Will it hold an author’s hand when her idea has been shot down at ten houses?

These mean-spirited observations aside, we welcome the program as an interesting attempt to offer vital information for authors and agents.  And here’s the best part – if Bowker makes a match between an author and a publisher, it won’t ask the agent to split a commission.

Richard Curtis