Soon after getting a warning from the ISBN (International Standard Book Number) Agency to strip the Indian government of its role in distributing ISBNs to publishers, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has asked the Human Resource Development (HRD) ministry to given an explanation at the earliest. ISBN Agency has threatened the government after the complaints of red-tapism and fears of censorship. In a report published by Indian Express, the HRD Ministry have already held a meeting on May 31 regarding the same and decided to process all ISBN applications with the next 48 hours. The ISBN had earlier sent a letter to the Minister of State for HRD Mahendra Nath Pandey in March stating that the agency is seriously considering to revoke the ministry’s appointment as the agency for issuing ISBNs in India. The international agency reasoned its decision on the back of the number of complaints has reached unacceptable levels.
In 2016, the HRD Ministry, then headed by Smriti Irani, digitised the allocation process of ISBNs which was objected by various publishers of the country complaining a slowdown in publishing in India. It has also elevated the threat of censorship and the ministry is seeking details of every book before issuing ISBNs.
What is ISBN
ISBN is a unique 13-digit code which is found on the back cover of a book just above the barcode. It is generally used by the buyers to identify books. Though it is not mandatory for publishing a book, but it has emerged as a pivotal sales tool with it helps bookstores, wholesalers and distributors in keeping track of books by these codes.
As per Indian Express report, there were three primary problems raised by the ISBN International Agency in its letter to the HRD ministry. 1) The failure in responding to emails or phone calls from the Ministry once an application for ISBNs has been filed; 2) A massive delay of around 3 months from publishers’ end to get ISBN numbers allotted; 3) The restrictions imposed on the number of ISBNs assigned at a time – from set of 100 to a set of 10.
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In its meeting held on May 31, the HRD Ministry had decided to come up with some standard guidelines to dispose of the requests with efficiency. The guidelines includes a new dashboard on the Raja Rammohun Roy National Agency (RRMRNA) website to track all the pending application, informed IE sources.
The report further added that the ministry is still concerned over the hoarding of ISBNs by publishers as only 50 per cent of the unique codes issued to publishers till May had been used for publishing the books. Further it is being said that to address the issue, publishers will be asked to upload the e-books on the National Digital Library website. This will support the fact that they have published the book and are not hoarding ISBN numbers. As off now, all the pending application have been cleared by the HRD ministry and a final status report with all aforementioned developments has been submitted to the PMO.