The book-publishing business is famously anachronistic. There's the whole words-on-paper thing, for one. Consider this, too: Nearly every other consumer product for ordering and inventory bears a 14-digit Global Trade Item Number. Since the 1960s, the book industry has embraced the 10-digit ISBN standard. Why? Long story. But now, some 10 billion books later, publishers are running out of numbers. So as of January 1, they'll move en masse to a new system. With, um, 13 digits. Sigh.
Tom Clarkson and his friends at the Book Industry Study Group aim to rescue the industry from its self-perpetuated obsolescence. "Anytime you have to do anything out of the ordinary it's an extra cost," says Clarkson, director of supply-chain technology for
Barnes & Noble plans to convert its ordering system to 14 digits by next summer. Others will, we sure hope, follow.
A version of this article appeared in the December 2006/January 2007 issue of Fast Company magazine.