Wednesday, February 18, 2009

China and ISBNs

Here in the U.S., we pretty much take the ISBN number on books for granted. They certainly don’t in China. An article from Danwei called “Snags in China’s New ISBN Distribution System” talks about its history there, the ongoing snags and the upcoming overhaul.
In the past, authorized publishers applied to GAPP for a batch of ISBNs a few times each year, which they then assigned to the books they published during that period. No one else was able to obtain ISBNs from GAPP, but because many publishers received more ISBNs than they needed, a black market sprung up with authorized publishers acting as book number dealers to private companies that handled acquisitions, editing, marketing, and most of the other tasks a publisher traditionally takes on.
To stop this practice, the administration started issuing ISBNs on a per-book basis instead of in batches.
However, because of platform development issues in GAPP's network, Guangdong's publishers have yet to be granted a single title-based book number: new book licenses for 2009 are unable to be issued.
The issuance of ISBNs is not the only problem the Chinese system is having:
Many publishers worry that after the title-based system goes into effect, the book data they need to submit to GAPP, including an author bio, a book title, a price, and a total character count, in order to obtain a unique book number and bar code will require working from a complete manuscript that has been edited, laid-out, and fully inspected, and that once this has been done, there will be no chance for further changes.
The kinks are being worked out, hopefully. Another Danwei article said:
… the General Administration of Press and Publication, the national media regulating body, has declared: "By the end of 2010, all for-profit news media and publishing entities will be decoupled from the government institutions they are affiliated with and transformed into separate companies. The government will no longer place restrictions on them in terms of ISBN numbers, publication licenses, and content."


  1. Nothing is easy there in China, is it?

  2. Another good reason for government to stay out of private industry. BTW, I have unused ISBN numbers from my former publishing business, if anybody needs one/some.


  3. Heidi, Kind of makes you appreciate our screwed up governmental process!

  4. Thanks, Jean, that's good to know.

  5. There's always something. With such a large population in China, it's understandable they'd have lots of authors and publishers to clog up the system.

    Morgan Mandel

  6. I think the good news is they're re-thinking the system. If something doesn't work, sometimes you have to boot it out and come up with another plan.

  7. That sounds like a royal hassel from, well, from hell!

    L. Diane Wolfe

  8. Hi Diane. You hope they're learning from their mistakes, but we're talking government regulations here, so who knows.

  9. Interesting information. Guess I'm not surprised. We ARE talking China here. I agree with Jean, keep big gov out of business.

  10. At least China seems to be trying to correct their mistake.

    Unfortunately, government is involved in business everywhere.


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