Amidst complaints of red-tapism and fears of censorship by the government, the HRD ministry is risking losing its role of distributing International Standard Book Numbers (ISBNs) to publishers in the country, an Indian Express report has said. The ISBN International Agency, in a letter to Minister of State for HRD Mahendra Nath Pandey on March 29, has said, it is “seriously considering” canceling ministry’s appointment as the agency for issuing ISBNs in India as the number of complaints have gone up.
The ministry had last year digitised the allotment of ISBNs, a step which publishers complain has slowed down publishing in India. The new system of online application has raised concerns of censorship in the country, with the ministry wanting to know details of each book before issuing ISBNs. For example, publishers have to provide the book jacket, carrying blurbs and synopsis from authors.
ISBN is a 13-digit code, mostly found on book’s back cover above the barcode and used by buyers to identify books. Even while, ISBN is not mandatory to publish a book, it has become a tool as wholesalers, distributors and bookstores keep track of books usually by these codes. As of now, there are more than 150 registration agencies appointed by based ISBN International Agency for providing ISBNs to publishers in over 200 countries. The Raja Rammohun Roy National Agency (RRMRNA), under the HRD Ministry, has been entrusted this task in India.
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Several publishing houses, speaking to Indian Express on the condition of anonymity, have said that ISBNs are now issued in lots of 10, rather than 100, after a wait of about three or four months. “Many of us have been surviving on our stock of ISBNs secured earlier. But we are running out. At this rate, the publishing industry in the country will face a serious crisis in two to three months,” a publisher was quoted to have said by the paper.