If you cannot find the answer to your questions on this page then please contact us. We are happy to clarify any questions that you might have about ISMNs.

More detailed information is also available in the ISMN Users' Manual (914 kB PDF file).

1. What is an ISMN?

An ISMN is a 13-digit standard number that is used to uniquely identify publications of printed music anywhere in the world.

2. What types of publications are eligible for ISMNs?

Most publications of notated music, whether available for sale, hire, or gratis, are eligible for an ISMN. These include:

  • scores (including full, short, miniature, vocal and so on)
  • sets of parts (or individual parts if they are available separately)
  • song books and anthologies
  • other media that is integral to a notated pubication (e.g., an electronic recording that is one of the parts of a published work)
  • braille music publications
  • electronic publications of notated music
  • any other item that is an integral part of the published work and which is made available separately (e.g., song texts/lyrics or commentaries that are integral to the work)

ISMNs are not allocated to stand-alone sound or video recordings, or to books or periodicals — even if they are about music. Sound recordings are identified by the International Standard Recording Code (ISRC); audio-visual works by the International Standard Audiovisual Number (ISAN), books by the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) and serials by the International Standard Serial Number (ISSN).

3. Why should I get ISMNs for my publications?

Using ISMNs to uniquely identify your music publications offers several advantages to Australian publishers. They include:

Increasing the internet exposure of your publications

Most publishers seek to promote their publications to as wide an audience as possible, and when you allocate an ISMN to a publication it is listed on the National Library of Australia's online catalogue. The advantage of this is that entries in the NLA catalogue are exposed to internet search engines, such as Google, and consistently rank very highly. So even if a member of the public is not seeking to find a library copy of your publication, by searching for it using a search engine such as Google he or she is very likely to see the details of your publication in the top ten list of results. This means that the search engine "visibility" of your publications will potentially be much higher, and it also means that potential buyers can find out how to contact you as explained in the next section.

Another way in which your online exposure is increased is listing your publications on the Music Australia website. Music Australia is an online resource that is heavily used by scholars, musicians, and anyone else interested in Australian music. Having an ISMN is a way of ensuring that your publication will be discoverable on Music Australia

Making your contact details known (optional) for each of your publications

When you advise the ISMN Agency of the details of publications to which you have allocated ISMNs, you have the option of allowing the NLA to include appropriate contact details, such as a website or email address, in the catalogue entry for your publication. This means that whenever somebody finds the catalogue entry for your publication listed in a search engine or elsewhere, he or she can see straight away how to contact you to obtain a copy. Furthermore, the details in the NLA catalogue record are shared with any other library that obtains a copy of your publication, which further increases the online and public presence of your work.

Removing uncertainty about different versions of a publication

Have you ever had the experience of someone wanting to buy a copy of your music but has been unsure of the version required? This can happen when parents, for example, try to get music for their children only to be confounded when asked whether they want the B-flat or the E-flat version. Or the version for high or low voice.

It is also common for choral works to be produced in many different versions depending on the choral configuration — SATB, SSAA, TTBB, with or without accompaniment, and so on.

Or perhaps you produce scores in different formats such as full orchestral scores, piano reductions, vocal scores, small study scores or scores that are sized and bound appropriately for performance. Perhaps you sell them with the parts all included, or you sell sets of parts by themselves, or perhaps just the score by itself.

By assigning a specific ISMN to each type of publication that you make available you remove all ambiguity and uncertainty in distinguishing one version from another. In all of the above cases, simply knowing the ISMN for the required version is all that is needed to uniquely identify a particular version, even without understanding the technical language of key signatures, choral configurations and the differences between different score formats.

Getting your contact details listed on the International Music Publishers Directory

From late 2009, the worldwide ISMN service will produce and maintain an online directory of music publishers around the world. This will be a unique resource that people will be able to use to locate and contact music publishers in their country or anywhere else in the world. Registering with the Australian ISMN Agency means that you have the option of having your contact details listed in this directory.

Facilitating stock control and barcode numbering

EAN barcode using 13-digit ISMNAnother reason for using ISMNs is that it provides a mechanism for stock control and delivery, and for producing EAN-compliant barcodes for retail and other purposes. These advantages may only be important to a relatively small sector of the Australian music publishing industry, but for those who require them, the ISMN is designed to meet these needs.

And of course you can, if you choose, use the ISMNs as your own catalogue number.

4. How much does it cost to get an ISMN?

Nothing! The Australian ISMN Agency is run as a free service to the music publishing industry by the National Library of Australia. There are no costs involved in acquiring ISMNs for your publications.

5. How do I get an ISMN?

The process for obtaining ISMNs is simple, and is described on the About ISMN page.

In brief, all you need to do is register with the agency and we will then send you a list of ISMNs depending on how many you think you will need. The numbers on that list will be for your use only and cannot be used by anyone else in the world. You then assign numbers from that list to your publications as you require, and then let us know the details of every item to which you allocate an ISMN.

6. How long does it take to get an ISMN?

The Australian ISMN Agency works to a turn-around time of five working days for ISMN registrations and allocations. However, most applications are processed much faster than that and often they will be completed within two days.

If you need a faster turn-around time, please contact us and we will do our best to meet your needs.

7. What is a self-allocating publisher?

A "self-allocating publisher" is the term that we use to refer to the practice of publishers allocating their own ISMNs to their publications from a list of numbers that we provide.

When you register with the agency we ask you to indicate how many ISMNs you are likely to need for the forthcoming year. If you require, say, 40, then we will likely issue a block of 100 ISMNs to you. These numbers are assigned to you and are for your exclusive use. From that list, you then "self allocate" the numbers to your publications as you require. However, as you do so you must use the ISMN Allocation form to let us know the details of each publication.

After a year if you have only used 40 numbers then you still have 60 that are unused, but reserved for you, and you can continue to allocate them as you publish more music. When you get close to using up all the numbers that have been assigned to you, simply request more.

8. Is there an alternative to self-allocation?

Self-allocation is the way that the ISMN system is designed to work, and the way that most publishers manage their ISMN allocations. However if, for some reason, you don't believe that you can adequately manage the self-allocation process yourself, the Australian ISMN Agency can assign numbers on your behalf.

After you register with the Agency, simply complete the online ISMN Allocation form to let us know the details of the publication to which you would like to assign an ISMN and we will send the number to you to print in your publication.

9. Can ISMNs be re-used?

No! Once an ISMN has been allocated to a publication then it stays fixed forever. Even if the work is no longer available, or the publisher ceases to operate, the ISMN continues to identify that publication in perpetuity.

Similarly, if a block of ISMNs have been issued to a publisher and the publisher does not use them all then those numbers will remain forever unused because they cannot be re-issued to another publisher.

10. Can a work have an ISBN or an ISSN as well as an ISMN?

The short answer is yes — it is possible to assign different standard numbers to a publication depending on the nature of that publication. For example, it is not possible to assign an ISMN to a serial, but it might be possible to assign and ISMN to a single issue of a serial if it is also a printed music publication. Similarly, it might be the case that a publication is equally eligible for an ISBN as well as an ISMN.

Please contact the Agency directly to discuss your particular situation.

11. What is a Cataloguing-in-Publication entry?

A Cataloguing-in-Publication (CiP) record is a bibliographic record that is created for a publication before it is published. It is commonly printed on the reverse side of the title page at the front of books. More information about CiP records can be found on the National Library of Australia's website.

If desired you can request a CiP record for your music publication by selecting the relevant option on the ISMN Allocation form.