BNC 101: ISTCs

The International Standard Text Code (ISTC) is a numbering system developed to enable the unique identification of textual works.—

An ISTC is a new way of linking different formats of the same book. Unlike an ISBN, it is tied to the book and only the book, not the publisher. A simple example is using an ISTC to link the hardcover, trade paper, mass market, and epub versions of a title. Even though each format would have a different ISBN, they would share a single ISTC.

Why is it important? Because it helps you manage your catalogues and it improves online discoverability for booksellers, consumers, librarians, media, etc. To use BNC CataList, our online catalogue service, as an example, we’re currently limited to relying on ONIX fields (which are often incomplete) or on publishers manually entering information to link a single title to all its other formats. If ISTCs were used throughout the industry, we would be able to automatically link all formats together. So if you were to look up hardcover A, the ISTC would automatically enable CataList to show you that it has the same content as trade paper A, mass market A, and epub A.

This becomes even more important if the title of the text changes, but the text itself remains the same. For example, Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes in Canada and Someone Knows My Name in the United States. Same content, but different titles in the countries. The standard way to link these two titles would be to use an ISTC.

What’s Happening

  • ISTC became an official ISO standard (21047) in March 2009.
  • The International ISTC Agency is currently partnering with Bowker and Nielsen to run a pilot program with a group of publishers, authors, and rights holders.
  • ISTC Search beta site is up and running.

What about Canada?

There currently isn’t very much happening in Canada with ISTCs. Interested? Publishers can always take the lead to make something happen. Contact us if you have any questions.


ISTC International

ISTC Pilot Program

BISAC Identification Committee presentation on ISTCs

ISTC Search - Beta


ISO Standard 21047

ISTC Registration Agencies

You can find all of our introductory blog posts in the BNC 101 category.