International ISMN Agency

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

News - Archive - 2003



Ten years ago, at the end of 1993, the new standard for printed music was published by ISO in Geneva, after draft versions of the standard text had been processed by ISO working groups at a fast pace. Since then, 44 countries or regions have joined the ISMN system, and 1,700 publishers of printed music are applying the number world-wide. For the future, it is expected that new applications which smoothly integrate a given ISMN into editorial, pre-print and distributional workflows will further underline the importance of this standard and its potentials.

The CD-ROM published by the International ISMN Agency ("ISMN. The New Standard") was supplemented by a version in Serbian.

The fifth edition of the MPIID appeared at K. G. Saur Publishing in Munich. First published in 1996, the MPIID serves as an indispensable tool for the market of printed music world-wide. The 2004 edition of the directory offers an increase in data of about 20% compared with the last edition. Addresses and contact numbers of 17,800 publishers in 99 countries are listed, among them 1,700 digital suppliers.

Khazar University in Baku decided to introduce the ISMN in Azerbaijan. The university's Library Information Center (LIC) plans to build a national bilbiographic database of all music prints in Azerbaijan based on the Khazar University electronic catalogue. With this digital catalogue, it will be possible to research and obtain music information quickly and easily. An efficient search engine will offer information about composers, songs, titles, prices, ISMNs, etc.

In preparing the fifth edition of the Music Publishers' International ISMN Directory (MPIID), we focused even more on the reliability of published data, indispensible for any serious directory project. In addition to the information updates and supplements offered by the local and national ISMN agencies and other libraries and institutions able to deliver pertinent information to the editorial office, the International ISMN Agency undertook the task of contacting all 15,600 publishers directly. Publishers were asked to check their address data and to specify the areas of musical activity covered by their publications of printed music. In introducing such content criteria into the data survey, it is hoped that the efficiency of any attempt to retrieve data, with the help of one of the future editions of the MPIID, will be raised.

From now on, the National and University Library of the Republic of Srpska in Banjaluka will take on the responsibility of handling the ISMN matters in Srpska.

The National Library of Serbia signed a contract with the International ISMN Agency which regulates the responsibilities with respect to the introduction and dissemination of the ISMN in Serbia. Library representatives expressed their interest in organizing the 2004 ISMN Panel Meeting in Belgrade.

The 11th ISMN Panel Meeting took place in Ljubljana, Slovenia, on May 16 2003, by invitation of the Slovenian ISMN Agency. The venue was the National and University Library. The kind hostess of this meeting was Alenka Kanic, head of the Slovenian ISMN Agency. The warm reception by her, her co-workers, and the other members of the Kanic family of the ISMN representatives of ten European countries laid the foundation for fruitful discussions which centered around the following question: whether the ISMN should be applied to virtual entities offered by Internet publishers of printed music and in which respect databases of printed music incorporate ISMN information and are able to increase the awareness of the potentials of the music number. For a detailed report about the meeting's presentations and discussions in ISMN Newsletter No. 13 click here. For a picture gallery offered by Alenka and Ivan Kanic click here.

This year the International Standard Music Number (ISMN) is looking forward to celebrating its 10th anniversary. The number of countries involved with the ISMN-system currently amounts to 41 and fortunately continues to grow. The new membership in the ISMN system of the following countries: U.S.A., Israel, New Zealand, Indonesia, Spain, Poland, Estonia, Kosova, Moldova, Armenia, and Georgia is evidence of the successful efforts of the International Agency to promote the standard and its merits on every possible occasion that presents itself.

In particular, the ISBN agencies in the countries in which the ISMN is not yet in use were targeted anew about the Music Standard and informed about the rationalising effects which would come with its implementation--and for good reason.Although they apply to printed products of different characters, the ISMN and the ISBN are very closely related to one another: The 10-digit format of the International Standard Music Number was intentionally adapted to the ISBN, which was already very successfully established in the market in 1993.

Above all, the U.S.A.'s participation may be viewed as an essential step towards a worldwide establishment of the ISMN. According to an estimation of the National Music Publishers' Association (NMPA) based on a census of 53 Regions, the U.S.A. and Germany covered over 60% of the worldwide turnover for printed music.


In February 2003, the "Deutsche Musikverlegerverband e.V." (DMV) in Bonn took over responsibility for the ISMN in the above-mentioned countries. Prior to this, the "MBV. Marketing- und Verlagsservice des Buchhandels GmbH" in Frankfurt, formerly known as the "Buchhändler-Vereinigung," had acted as the national agency. It had at the same time published the VLM (Music in Print), yet with limited success. A re-launch of this directory was initiated in 2002 by DE-PARCON based on the company's experiences with music database software and data administration. On the one hand, it is hoped that the cooperation between the DMV and DE-PARCON, both operating closely with the market for printed music, will be the key to continued development of the ISMN in Germany; and on the other hand, to the building of an effective database of printed music , turning this database into an indispensible tool for libraries and all parts of the supply chain.

From January 2003 onwards, the International Standard Music Number in Israel and Georgia wil be administrated by The Israeli Center for Libraries in Bnei-Brak and the Georgian Parliament I. Chavchavadze National Library in Tbilisi. Both institutions have been acting as national ISBN agencies in their respective country for a considerable time already.

New perspectives are being opened for the International Standard Music Number in the form of "digital music prints." The "Music Publishers' International ISMN Directory" (M-PIID), which is edited by the International ISMN-Agency and published by the K.G. In its 4th edition (Munich 2003) Saur Verlag lists for the first time the URLs of over 400 providers of printed music which is downloadable in digital formats. However, this number of records, the result of an initial search in the internet, will by no means comprise the entire spectrum of such "digital suppliers." The editorial staff of the M-PIID will increase its efforts for the coming editions of the directory in order to provide a more comprehensive picture of this growing Internet market.

The phenomenon of digital suppliers of printed music raises similar questions with reference to the rules of ISMN assignment, as is the case with the ISBN and its relation to eBooks and eTexts. Those responsible for the maintenance of the ISMN system will have to define the term "digital music print" more precisely and will have to decide about how the different digital formats with one and the same content are to be dealt with.

Most of the "digital suppliers" who were included in the first survey offer printed music as downloads free of charge (e.g. Project Gutenberg Music Website or Stretta Music GmbH ). Since the International Standard Music Number may used "to identify printed music, whether available for sale, hire, gratis or for copyright purposes" (ISMN Users' Manual, Chapter 3), there is no reason to exclude this group of digital suppliers from ISMN assignments, especially from the point of view of a complete bibliographical listing of printed musical works.

Ulrich Wegner