Remember 2017-18? When the government changed over from allotting bulk allotment that had been operating in India for decades to an electronic application system during the time of Smriti Irani as HRD Minister. Then Mr Javadekar took over the HRD Ministry. Publishers waited for months for the government to get the process right while in-charges blamed each other and technology? Book Link had a story then saying how ISBN nightmare hits textbook publishers, IGNOU, TERI among the desperate.

The respite came finally in late 2018. The industry was not very happy. A publisher had to apply one book at a time. The book process takes time, the title can change at the last minute. The cover can be redesigned a number of times and can be improved until it finally goes to printer. The government, or ISBN dispenser, Raja Rammuhan Roy Library authorities, needed cover and title for each single book. Publishers in India complied, at least the process was electronic, one did not have to stand in long line at some government facility in New Delhi to get the ISBN. Not to forget that there are about ten thousand legal publishers across India, according to Nielsen.

But since mid-year 2020, we are back to square one. The government does not want the cover anymore but wants the copyright page of a book. If you have five books in process and provide five copyright pages, you are theoretically entitled to five ISBNs. But its only theoretically. The at-last-smooth process has become only partially online, it is mostly back to manual allocation and long ques by publishers from distant places. It means money and man hours for each

Of course, everything, all excuses for inefficiency these days is blamed on the Corona virus and pandemic. The government decided in the pandemic to change the SBN allocation once again in mid-2019. And now there is no HRD ministry. The Raja Rammuhan Roy National Library and the Foundation that ran it have been separated.

The new ISBN portal rolled out during the Corona Pandemic has proven to be more of a nightmare for both small and big publishers. The Education Department now controls the Raja Rammuhan Roy National Agency now manages the ISBN portal.

It is not only insensitive to the publishing industry, suffering huge losses in the pandemic, it has displayed a ‘helplessness’— a what-can-we-do attitude towards the already struggling-to-survive industry. A publisher who visited the agency’s office on the condition of anonymity told Book Link, that , “Even though the new ISBN Portal is good , but the roster system for the employees has impacted the ISBN allotment pretty badly’.

As long as 15 days for each ISBN allotment is now an accepted standardised time, hurting the book deadlines for the publishers.

The government, on the one hand promotes the slogan ‘ease of doing business’ but on the other makes operations so very difficult for publishers to do any business.

At the time of writing, First of January 2021,publishers are made to do ‘parikrama’ of the ISBN office in New Delhi for every ISBN. If the government doesn’t address this problem quickly the morale of the publishers and the industry will take a severe blow. –Team BLT.