International ISMN Agency

The International Standard Music Number for Notated Music.
A System for Publishing, Distribution and Library Practices

United Kingdom & Ireland

The Shift of ISBN Users Among Music Publishers to the ISMN (2000)

The main area of concern for the UK ISMN Agency continues to be with those publishers who have not transferred to ISMNs and are still using ISBNs to number their music. We have put a great deal of effort into trying to persuade these companies of the benefits of being a participant in the ISMN system but to no avail. At a recent MPA Printed Music Publishers Committee meeting our members re-confirmed their continued support for the ISMN system and signalled their belief that a move to another numbering system or return to the ISBN system would be a retrograde step. The pragmatic approach was to realise that those principal publishers currently outside the ISMN system would eventually use up their ISBNs and would at that time take ISMNs. In some instances this could be years rather than months as some publishers still had many ISBNs left - but it would happen eventually.

With regard to the problems with ISBNs, the UK ISMN Agency is indebted to the UK ISBN Agency for their complete co-operation and the building of a good relationship between the two agencies to ensure that the correct standard numbers are issued for every new application. In practical terms the UK ISBN Agency cannot stop publishers using ISBNs on their music publications if those publishers originally took out ISBNs before the ISMN system was in place. However, both agencies are now being very strict about issuing new numbers and it was with some satisfaction that a realistic compromise was achieved late in 2000 to ensure that Warner/Chappell Music (International Music Publications) must now use ISMNs as well as ISBNs on their new publications. I know that purists will argue that 2 numbers on a publication are confusing! However, this compromise means that an ISMN now appears where none did previously, in connection with a publisher/distributor who is very prominent in the UK and whose publications will be handled widely not just by the music trade but also by libraries and members of the public. This is a very important point in publicising the ISMN system. It is hoped that this will be an interim measure that will be resolved once the US ISMN Agency is operational.

Although the UK agencies were very pleased with the Warner/Chappell outcome, we were disappointed that we did not receive more support from the International Agency in this respect and that this solution was effectively solely the work of the agencies hammering it out with the publisher. A paper prepared by the UK ISBN, ISMN & ISSN Agencies had been made available by Carole Moran at the International ISBN Meeting in Berlin in October 2000. This expressed our general concern at the pressure the agencies were being put under by users (publishers) to 'bend' the rules and issue standard numbers (in particular ISBNs) for their commercial convenience, to the detriment of the other standards (ie ISSN & ISMN). The UK ISMN & ISBN agencies had approached the International Agency during July/August 2000 requesting clearer support and guidelines as they felt they were 'out on a limb' and it would be helpful to refer to an International Agency ruling. (Effectively, we wanted confirmation that both agencies should have the right to independently accept or turn down applications according to their suitability, regardless of any commercial pressure being applied.) However, although the International Agency did correspond with Whitaker it was specifically over their TeleOrdering system (in terms of its acceptance of ISMNs and their barcodes) rather than responding clearly to our request.