Saturday, June 5, 2010

ISBNs in Canada vs US - The Good, the Better and the Funny

I don't frequently do informative posts about printing in general. I've only really done two books and one PDF, so I'm not all that comfortable with talking about "my vast knowledge" because I don't really have any. What happened is that I accidentally came across someone's blog, it was a locked blog but one of the few unlocked entries that wasn't a pile of tweets was the entry on how they're putting a book together. There was a lot of things there that were pretty standard information, but I think I'd like to set the record straight on ISBNs and what you need to do with them when you're in Canada.

What I'm going to talk about, is the ISBN. What an ISBN is, for those who don't know, is an International Standard Book Number. That means with this number, your book is unique and can be found out of all the bajillion books that are printed annually with just that number. It used to have 9 digits when it started, it had 10 digits for a while but then it got itself 13 so that it can match Bookland EAN-13s. Basically we were running out of numbers so we had to change it to make them have more. It's like switching from ESNs to MEIDs in mobile technology. There's just more possible numbers when you've got 13 Hex numbers over 10 decimal ones.

You can learn a lot about where a book is by just looking at the ISBN. It's got the group identifier (language), the publisher code and the item number. The number at the end is just the check digit, so I wouldn't worry too much about it. There's a math equation that they use to figure it out, but the key thing you need to know is that it doesn't have any information in and of itself.

If you want more information on ISBNs you can check it out yourself. It is the internet. What I really want to talk about is the difference between getting an ISBN in Canada and getting an ISBN in the states. In the US you need to go through the following website,, in order to get information on them. Then when you're ready to get one you go over to their other site to get them. The good news is that it's cheaper than when I looked at it, the problem is that for 10 numbers it's still 250$. That's 25$ an ISBN. It gets cheaper the more you buy, but as an independent publisher I can't afford to plunk down 1k to get 1k ISBNs because I probably will never use them all.

Check that, I will definitely never use them all.

Now, when I first started with Researching Medicine I needed to get one and I really was disappointed with it. I mean it was a lot of money to put down at once, at the time, and I was kind of shocked. Another expense that surprised me. Then, I did a little more digging. In Canada, we've got the Library and Archives of Canada that manage all ISBNs for Canadian Publishers. They do a lot of other things too, but the key thing is that they hand out ISBNs to Canadian publishers.

The best part of that, they're 100% free. That's right. I don't have to pay a cent to get an ISBN. The only thing they want is what's called a legal deposit. That means that they want two copies of a book to be mailed to them. If you make a game, like we do here, you don't need to send anything at all. I know because I sent two copies of Suitors and they sent it back to me. Next time I'm going to send a note that they can keep them rather than send them back. ^_^

They're also really nice, personable and friendly. The first time I got an ISBN I spent about thirty minutes on the phone with one of the women who worked there and had a great conversation. She explained that sometimes they get publishers in the states that try to call them to get Canadian ISBN numbers and they play with them because we do have caller ID up here and they do have a good idea what's a Canadian area code and what isn't.

It's something that makes me rather proud to be Canadian, there are less and less of these moments as time goes by, but we understand that identification shouldn't be something that you have to pay for.

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