I found out this week that ISBNs are running out. That’s right, the international standard book numbers have been used up. According to this site, which appears to have some sort of connection with ISO, the current 10 digit ISBN is to be replaced with a 13 digit ISBN.
As you probably know, the whole point of ISBNs is to identify books. Each publisher purchases a range of ISBNs for their publications and these ISBNs are administered on a country by country basis, feeding into one global system. In the UK, Whitaker administers the ISBNs.
The digits are not just random, but have meaning. The first digit identifies a national, geographic or language grouping of publishers. The second set of digits identifies a particular imprint or publisher, the third set of digits is for the book itself, and the final digit is a check number. The new 13 digit ISBNs, as far as I understand, will have three digits added to the beginning and a new check digit. Current ISBNs can be transfered by adding three digits to the beginning and recalculating the check digit at the end. This makes it the same as the digits you get on barcodes.
Well, I found it interesting :-)