About ISMNs

An ISMN (International Standard Music Number) is a 13-digit number that is used to uniquely identify notated music publications anywhere in the world.

The ISMN standard is defined by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and is similar in function to the well-established ISBN standard for books.

The ISMN service within Australia is managed National Library of Australia, on behalf of the International ISMN Agency located in Berlin, and operates as a free service to the music publishing industry.

Once an ISMN has been assigned to a publication it can never be re-used — even if the publication ceases to be available or the publisher stops publishing. This ensures that an ISMN will uniquely identify a publication forever.

What can have an ISMN?

In general any publication of notated music, whether it is intended for sale, hire, gratis or for copyright purposes, is eligible for an ISMN. This includes publications such as scores, sets of parts, anthologies, song books, braille music and electronic publications.

One ISMN is normally assigned to the whole publication as a unit. For example, if you publish an anthology of songs you can obtain an ISMN to identify the publication as a whole. You would not assign ISMNs to each song in the anthology because the ISMN standard is intended to identify publications in their entirety.

Similarly, if you publish a piece of music for a brass band and the publication includes the conductor's score and performance parts you only need one ISMN to identify the complete set because that is what the publication includes.

However, if you decide that you would like to make the conductor's score available without the parts then you can assign one ISMN to the score and another to the set of parts.

If you are uncertain about what is eligible for an ISMN then please contact us. We are happy to help however we can.

What cannot have an ISMN?

Any publication that is not notated music is not eligible for an ISMN. This includes

  • books about music — even if the book includes music notation (ISBN is the appropriate standard number in this case);
  • stand-alone audio or video recordings (ISRC is the appropriate standard in this example);
  • journals and serial publications — even if the subject matter is music (ISSN is the appropriate standard). Note, however, that it is possible to assign an ISMN to an individual volume in a series if that volume is predominantly music notation.

How are ISMNs managed?

Within Australia, ISMNs are managed by the Australian ISMN Agency, which is part of the National Library of Australia.

ISMNs are issued in blocks of 10, 100, 1000, or even more depending on the amount of publishing that you expect to undertake or the number of back-catalogue publications to which you would like to assign ISMNs retrospectively.

There are two ways that your block of ISMNs can be managed.

  • The first and most common is self-allocation. After the Agency allocates a block of ISMNs for your use, you can assign them to your publications as you require. When you assign an ISMN you must then notify the Agency with the details of the publication so that we can register those details on our database.
  • The second option is non-self-allocation, which is when the Agency assigns numbers on your behalf. In this case you send us the details of the publication and we allocate the ISMN for you. We then send you the number so that you can print it in your publication. Normally you would only elect to work this way if you publish very little and feel that you cannot adequately manage a block of numbers yourself.

If you eventually assign all of the ISMNs in your allocated block of numbers, simply apply for more numbers and we will allocate another block of numbers to you.

How do I apply for ISMNs?

Applying for ISMNs is very easy. All you need to do is complete the online ISMN Publisher Registration form. After we have processed the form you will receive your block of ISMNs and you can then begin to assign them to your publications (assuming you have elected to be a self-allocating publisher).

For each ISMN that you assign, you need to complete the online ISMN Allocation form with the details of the publication so that we can register those details on our database.

If you are a large publisher and wish to assign many ISMNs then please contact us to discuss alternative ways to register the details of your publications. We will always endeavour to accomodate the best workflow for your needs.

Why should I use ISMNs?

Since ISMNs are numbers that are unique to specific publications, there can be many advantages to using them depending on your own circumstances.

For example, it is quite common for publishers of choral music to publish many different versions of a title — such as SATB, TTBB, SSA, with piano accompaniment, unaccompanied, and so on. Sometimes it is difficult for users to identify the right version for their needs, particularly if they are not familiar with these acronyms or if they are buying music on behalf of someone else. Assigning a unique ISMN to each version can eliminate this uncertainty.

Another use of ISMNs is to assist with cataloguing and stock control. Publishers can use ISMNs as catalogue numbers knowing that they can be included in retail lists, library catalogues, and so on.

ISMNs can even be used as EAN-standard barcode numbers.

Furthermore, the use of ISMNs in Australia offer other advantages:

  1. Registering an ISMN will ensure that your publication is listed on the National Library of Australia catalogue, which in turn means that it will appear on the Music Australia website.
  2. An NLA catalogue record will also mean that the details of your publication will be exposed to internet search engines, such as Google, and in general these records receive very high search engine rankings. This is a great way to increase the internet presence of your publications.
  3. You have the option of including your contact information in the library catalogue details, such as an email address or website. This makes it easier for people to find out how to get copies of your publications, which can be particularly important for small or self-publishers with limited distribution options.

Legal Deposit

"Legal deposit" refers to your obligation as an Australian publisher to provide one copy of each of your publications free of charge to the National Library of Australia. In most cases you must also provide a copy to the respective state library as well.

Doing so ensures that there is a comprehensive collection of Australian music publishing activity held at the NLA for future use, research, and posterity. In short, it ensures that your music has the possibility of a life well into the future.