International ISMN Agency

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

Part 1: General questions

What is the ISMN?

ISMN is the International Standard Music Number. It is a unique number for the identification of all notated music editions from all over the world. The edition can be in printed or digital format and be for sale, for hire or distributed free of charge; whether a part, a score, or an element in a multi-media kit.

Why do we have a separate numbering system for notated music?

It is true, just looking at the technical side of the identifiers, ISBN would be able to cover also music publications. There are a number of practical reasons, however, which exclude this "easy" solution:

  • Music is relatively specialized and international, independent of languages.
  • Some ISBN agencies, especially those connected with private companies, refused to cover music publications, owing to lack of experience in this field. Sharing contingents of numbers within one country would easily lead to confusion.
  • The music sector (publishing, trade) is organised quite differently from the book sector; supply and distribution channels are not the same.
  • There are distribution forms which do not exist in the book-trade, e.g. hire materials.
  • Many people (staff) are music illiterate - they cannot read music. This is an important factor in handling in the trade, even now when so much is not looked at but just processed in automatic ways. Lots of music is produced in small editions by composers, church communities etc. and still has to be processed manually.
  • In contrast to Books in Print, Music in Print should be an international directory.
  • Music is clearly excluded from ISBN in the text of the standard.
  • Music publications can be easily filtered out of the huge amount of other publications by means of the ISMN and thus used for Music in Print and other purposes. Customers do not have to search the needle in the haystack, namely music among millions of non-music items.

Who needs an ISMN?

Everyone who comes in contact with notated music publications needs an ISMN. Its usefulness is recognized internationally by composers, music publishers, music traders, libraries and rights organizations. 

What is the reason for having an ISMN?

The International Standard Music Number is an efficient organizational and simplification tool wherever notated music publications are produced, distributed, sold and lent. The ISMN gives added value to the entire music industry chain. 

What are the benefits of having an ISMN?

The key benefit is the ability of the ISMN to accurately track products through their lifetime. Tracking allows capturing of critical information, follow-up of products, use of the worldwide supply chain, monitoring and synchronization. Other gains are improved stakeholder communication, greater interoperability of systems, increased opportunities to automate processes, better management of data, improved ordering and sales, online information exchange, transparency in the field of copyright, streamlining of royalty payments, simplification of legal deposit in libraries and more efficient and effective cataloguing. 

What are the advantages of the ISMN in small countries?

There is sometimes the question whether the ISMN is really useful to countries with a small music production.

There are indeed advantages:

  • Complete bibliographical control over published material 
    It is necessary to list and preserve the national production of publications - usually the responsibility of national libraries which issue national bibliographies. If notated music is left out a possibly small but possibly significant part of the publications would be neglected and would not be preserved. Bibliographic resolution is usually managed by international standard numbers, in the case of music by ISMN.

  • Making music publications internationally more visible 
    While music publications of large publishers and organisations are easy to find those from small music countries would not be included in databases and bibliographic catalogues without ISMN to allow easy record management. If not to be found in such catalogues the publications are considered non-existent or not available.

  • Facilitating identification, especially also those in less common languages 
    ISMN allows easy identification and overcomes the obstacles of foreign languages and scripts and can be read and used by anybody.

  • Allowing including of titles in music catalogues and music in print publications 
    As the ISMN is designed for notated music it filters out music items from the big amount of other publications and makes searches fast and manageable.

  • Facilitating ordering and distribution, especially internationally
    International standard numbers are the identifiers used by the trade for ordering and distribution. Items without these numbers cannot be processed automatically and are neglected.

As a composer, what are the reasons for using an ISMN?

For the composer the ISMN helps timely and accurate royalty payments and lifelong unquestionable ownership of the piece of music. 

As a music publisher, what are the reasons for using an ISMN?

The number helps music publishers in managing the supply chain through close tracking of a products movements, enhanced communication, greater interoperability of systems, automated workflows, greater data management, increased visibility, streamlining of accounts payable and smoother progress of an outsourcing workflow. 

As a music trader, what are the reasons for using an ISMN?

Using an information-rich unique id for each product creates a smoother and more efficient ordering system, a transparent and accessible selling process and smooth online information exchange. 

As a rights organization, what are the reasons for using an ISMN?

The number is deemed most useful in the simplification of the title registration process, tracking and close follow-up of music usage, transparency in copyright issues and streamlining of royalty payments. 

As a librarian, what are the reasons for using an ISMN?

The number is esteemed for its usefulness in the simplification of the acquisition and legal deposit process, inclusion in library catalogues and comprehensive data structuring. 

What other standards are used in conjunction with the ISMN to track the life of a musical work?

International Standard Name Identifier (ISNI) - identifies a person, the creator
International Standard Musical Work Code (ISWC) - identifies a musical work
International Standard Recording Code (ISRC) - identifies a music recording
International Standard Audiovisual Number (ISAN) - identifies a film 

Do the ISBN and the ISMN have the same function?

No, the ISMN and ISBN are separate numbering systems; ISBN is the International Standard Book Number which identifies text-based publications and ISMN is the International Standard Music Number which identifies notated music publications. They are also distinguished from each other through different specializations, different supply and distribution channels, access to global markets, hiring and ordering processes and global directories. 

Where can I get an ISMN from?

The national agency of your country will provide you with an International Standard Music Number for your publication. A list of the agencies may be found here

What does it cost to get an ISMN?

The cost of obtaining an ISMN varies from country to country. Please contact your national agency for exact fees. 

Whom should I contact if I need to know more?

If you wish to obtain an ISMN, please contact your national ISMN agency. The local ISMN representative will give you further information about the procedure of the ISMN assignment. 

Where can I get a number, if there is no ISMN national agency in my country?

In this case, please contact the International ISMN Agency in Berlin. 

Part 2: Publisher FAQs

Does a price change require a new ISMN?


Does a new title require a new ISMN?

Yes, you need a new ISMN for a new title. 

I am publishing a music print with a text part in a foreign language. Should it have an ISMN of the country in whose language the text is written?

No. It is the country where the publisher is based which determines which national agency should assign the publisher ID, not the language of the text. 

The composer is revising his composition which has been published by us before. Does the revised version if published require a new ISMN?

A (substantial) change requires a new ISMN. 

Does a reprint without any substantial change in text, music, format, or binding require a new ISMN?

No. The original number must be retained.

I would like to issue a new ISMN for marketing reasons. Is this permissible?

No. There is no change of text, format or binding which would justify a new ISMN.

I am reprinting a music score with a price change. Is a new ISMN required?

No. A price change does not require a new ISMN. 

What happens if I have used all the numbers under my publisher ID?

An additional publisher ID can be assigned--allowing for a larger output if necessary. This is an additional ID, and not a replacement.

Is it possible to reassign ISMNs when the music prints to which they were allocated are out of print?

No. An ISMN identifies a given title, and its edition and binding for all time. Even if out of print it will still exist in some shops, and will certainly still exist in libraries. 

I am publishing a composition as a full score and in individual parts. Will one ISMN suffice or will each part need its own ISMN?

The rules state that in a publication consisting of scores and parts, the full score, the set of parts as a whole, and each individual part (if available separately) must be assigned their own ISMN. 

I am taking over another firm, which already has an ISMN prefix. All future music prints will be published under my name. Can I renumber all the other firm's titles?

Not until reprinted under your own imprint, carrying your own name. 

I am publishing a Braille music print. Are Braille music publications entitled to carry an ISMN?

Yes. Braille music publications can be assigned an ISMN.

Part 3: Questions regarding the implementation of the 13-digit ISMN (as of January 2008)

What happens to ISMNs that have already been obtained by a publisher but are not yet assigned?

The publisher should continue to use these until they are exhausted but must convert the number formats to the new 13-digit standard, prefixed by 979, and replace the M- by 0- (zero). E.g. ISMN M-345-24680-5 is converted to ISMN 979-0-345-24680-5.

Will new ISMNs have to be assigned to products that have already been published?

No. Existing ISMNs should be converted from the 10-digit format to the 13-digit format (prefixed by 979) by 2008. This will apply to records for any title for which transactions may occur and should therefore include out of print titles as well as those currently in the catalogue. For barcoded notations: The ISMN and bar code on notations will not need to be changed until the publication is reprinted as the bar code already represents the EAN13 which is the same number as the new 13-digit ISMN. 


May publishers re-use existing 10-digit ISMNs on a new publication adding a 979 prefix?

No. The addition of a 979 prefix to a previously used ISMN does not make a new ISMN and for that reason must not be assigned to a new publication.


Will I be able to communicate with trading partners using 10-digit ISMNs by end of 2008?

By 2008 the ISMN will be a 13-digit number and all mechanical systems will have to be able to accommodate its use in that form. Commercial systems may not support 10-digit ISMNs after that. In the transitional period, however, arrangements may be made between trading partners to support both formats.


Will publishers have to change to 13-digit ISMNs or can they continue using the 10-digit ones?

Publishers will have to change all their systems to accommodate the 13-digit ISMN by end of 2008. It is essential that mechanical systems are adapted by that date to enable communication with trading partners to continue without interruption.


If our company still has lots of 10-digit ISMNs, why do we need to reformat them as 13-digit ISMNs?

The International ISMN standard is changing. The ISMN system drives all trading in the industry internationally and the allocation of ISMN is organised on an international basis.

Should both a 10-digit and a 13-digit ISMN be printed in a publication?

For notations published in 2008 and after only the 13-digit ISMN should be printed. However, for barcoded titles published after 1 January 2008, publishers should print the 13-digit ISMN in eye-readable form above the bar code on the back cover of their publications, retaining the correct hyphenated structure.