One More Day Until The End Of ISBN

You are probably asking yourself what the heck this is all about. I am surprised myself that this event is happening pretty much unnoticed, not just by the Affiliate Marketing Industry, but in general.

Okay, it is not as “hot” of a news as the execution of Saddam Hussein yesterday , but compared to this, will the execution not have any impact on this industry.

The switch from ISBN to ISBN-13 on the other hand does affect merchants that sell books of course, but most importantly a lot of the countless affiliates out there that are promoting book merchants.

Okay, lets start from the beginning.
ISBN stands for “International Standard Book Number“.

The ISBN is WORLDWIDE for Books what the UPC-A and UPC-E Numbers are for general (non-Book selling) US Retailer and the EAN-13 for most people outside the US and Canada, unless you are an international operating US Merchants.

The ISBN Number is a unique identification number which is given to pretty much EVERY book published since the standard was internationally adopted in 1970 and the UK (where it was created) since 1966.

Grab any book you have around; a technical Reference, Novel, Pre-2007 Marketing Sherpa Benchmark Reports or Buyers Guides, AffStat reports or whatever, any published print and look at the back of it (99% of the books) or for the Marketing Sherpa prints on the front 🙂 and you will find a number and/or barcode labeled “ISBN” followed by a 10 Digit number and in some cases a 9 Digit Number followed by the letter “X”.

There you go, that is the ISBN and it is used in a lot of systems as “Key” or “Code” that deal with Books. Most price comparison search engines use it to match the books from different merchants and to show you all the merchants that have it and their price. A lot of sites that sell books use the number as Image File Name and so on and so forth.

This number CHANGES WORLDWIDE as of 1/1/2007 and will eventually disappear. The ISBN FAQ for ISO 2108:2105 states:

“After 1 January 2007 the ISBN will be a 13-digit number and all electronic systems will have to be able to accommodate that form. Commercial systems will not support 10-digit ISBNs after that date. In the transitional period, however, arrangements may be made between trading partners to support both formats. “

The new 13 digits long number, called ISBN-13 or “Bookland”, where all existing 10 digist long ISBN numbers will be converted to, is 100% EAN-13 compatible.

That is not an accident. “Pure” EAN-13 is going to replace ISBN completely over time; something that will probably happen to UPC-A / UPC-E eventually too.

Wal-Mart for example switched internally to EAN-13 entirely already and more merchants will or already did follow this example. I believe that it is only a matter of time until UPC-A will be discontinued as well.

The process of switching from ISBN to ISBN-13 begun on 1/1/2005. It started with the parallel use and print of both numbers and bar codes on the books and will end on 1/1/2007 with the discontinued support of the old ISBN standard.

The ISBN numbers that were or will be converted to ISBN-13, will all start with the numbers “978”, which is then followed by the first NINE digits of the old ISBN number. The last digit of the ISBN-13 number will be different than the last digit/letter “X” of the old ISBN number, because it is a calculated check digit based on the other 12 (ISBN-13) or 9 (ISBN) digits.

If you come across an increasing number of broken links and images to books, starting next year, moving forward, you will know why that is and also how to fix it.

If you are an Affiliate that works with a lot of Book merchants, I only have one advice for you: Check your links and images!

This is a global event and almost as far reaching as the Euro Currency (ISO 9000) conversion was during the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) process. Even the details of the process itself are remarkable similar to the ISBN to ISBN-13 conversion process.

It started with the introduction of the Euro for electronic transactions in 1999, using Euro and the local currency parallel in computer systems with the final “switch” of the physical currency in 2002, which was done in a very short period of time. Most of the local currency in circulation was converted within the first two months of 2002 where practically both, the old and the new currency was used and accepted everywhere. The ability to exchange old currency to Euro at a bank depends on each country. Some set a deadline, others did not.

I am working on a “my 2006 reflections” post for RN (very personal , but very related to this industry and hopefully helpful for others too), but I don’t know yet, if I will be able to finish it this year or not.

So just in case that it will be next year: Happy New Year Everybody and thank you for your loyalty, comments and contributions to discussions at my blog at and also any the Blog in general.

Carsten Cumbrowski

About Carsten Cumbrowski

Internet Marketer, Entrepreneur and Blogger. To learn more about me and what I am doing, visit my website and check out the “about” section.

Twitter: ccumbrowski

5 Responses to One More Day Until The End Of ISBN

  1. Heather Paulson says:

    Great Article, well thought out thanks for the information!

    Heather Paulson

  2. Wayne Porter says:


    I am a book hound and missed it. Thanks for the news…my question is WHY?

  3. Sam Gladstone says:

    This is being done to harmonize on a single numbering system referred to as "GTIN".

    The eventual goal is to go to a GTIN-14 based number system.
    I believe this is a good thing as a lot of disparate numering systems are being merged into one. On the affiliate front, this might one day allow for harmonized searching in affiliate databases for prices and availability.
    Amazon, which currently uses their own skew (ASIN) does offer a UPC to ASIN function. FYI, the current UPC numbering system (UPC-A) is the EAN-13 system with an assumed first digit of 0 (North America and Canada). This is merge into the EAN system in a couple of years.

  4. For ISBN was also a very practical reason for this move. They are running out of numbers and had to do something anyway. The decision to solve this via the adaptation of the international EAN system was IMO a good one. A Global UPC, SKU, EAN or whatever you want to call a unique product identifier is benefitial for everybody who is conducting global commerce.

  5. For anybody looking to upgrade to the new standard, there is a service at that will create the new barcode (as a TIFF) for you for $25.