Important Numbers to Book Publishers: LCCN, ISSN, SAN, Printer's Key

David Rogers


For a world of words, there sure are a lot of numbers involved in the publishing and book printing industry. For instance, not too long ago we took a look at the somewhat complex (but very important) world of ISBN Numbers.

As a self-publisher there are quite a few others numbers you should be aware of, as well – including LCCN, ISSN, SAN and Printer’s Key. Not all of these will apply to every book, but it’s good to be familiar with them in case you ever need one or more for your works.

Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN)

The Library of Congress Control Number – LCCN – acts as a serial number for books published in the United States that may be added to the Library of Congress’ (LOC) collection. The LOC has served as the central cataloging organization for U.S. books since 1898. You should obtain your LCCN before you are ready to print, as it will be printed on the copyright page of your book.

How to Get a LCCN

As noted on the Library of Congress website, there is a two-step process to obtain an LCCN.

1. Publishers (including self-publishers) must enroll in the Preassigned Control Number (PCN) program, which requires completing an Application to Participate.

2. Upon approval, publishers use a username and password online to request a LCCN for every individual title they intend to publish.

To be eligible, titles must be published in the U.S. There are a number of works that are not eligible for LCCNs, including eBooks and other electronic publications. You can find a full-list of works that don’t need LCCNs here.

Is there any cost for an LCCN?

No, there is no charge for LCCN, though you are required to send a physical copy to the Library of Congress. These copies are non-returnable and should be sent to the following address:

Library of Congress US & Publisher Liaison Division Cataloging in Publication Program 101 Independence Avenue, S.E. Washington, D.C. 20540-4283

Printer’s Key or Numberline

On some copyright pages you may notice what seems to be a strange series of numbers. For example, you may see the something resembling the following:

4 5 6 7 8 9 93 92 91 90 89

These numbers are called the printer’s key – or numberline – and represent the printing version of the particular edition of the book. Though these have been common since just after World War II there is no standard, which can occasionally lead to some confusion.

Generally speaking, the series in the example above would indicate that the particular copy of the book is a fourth printing and was printed in 1989 (i.e. the number that’s furthest left indicates which printing and the number furthest right represents the year of printing). When and if the book entered the fifth printing, the “4” would have been removed. If that fifth printing occurred in 1990, the “89” also would have been taken away.

It is also fairly common for a printer’s key to not include the year. Also note that the print year is not necessarily the same as the year the book was first published, which appears as the copyright year.

Do you need a printer’s key?

There is no requirement to include a printer’s key on your copyright page but you certainly can, particularly if you think you will eventually make multiple printings of your work.

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

There’s sometimes a bit of confusion about the difference between an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) and ISSN. While there are similarities, the primary difference between the two is that ISBN numbers are for single volume works (books, ebooks, maps, etc.), while the ISSN is specifically for serialized works that have no predetermined end date.

Accordingly, ISSNs are commonly seen in newspapers and magazines, as well as the following list from the official website.

– Annual publications (reports, directories, lists, etc.) – Journals – Collections – Websites – Databases – Blogs, etc.

Difference Between ISBN and ISSN

In addition to the difference in the kinds of works these numbers are used to identify, there also is a difference in the information the numbers contain.

An ISBN reveals information about the work, including country and region, publisher, and title section.

The ISSN, on the other hand, contains no information about the publication, but instead is simply an eight-number digital code with no intrinsic meaning. A final difference is that an ISSN is free of charge, while an ISBN number has a charge.

Standard Address Number (SAN)

The Standard Address Number are assigned by Bowker, the same company that issues ISBNs.

Here’s how Bowker officially describes the SAN it on its website:

The Standard Address Number (SAN) is a unique seven-digit identifier used to signify a specific address of an organization in (or served by) the publishing industry.

Essentially, the number serves as an electronic identifier designed to avoid billing, shipping and payment errors, in addition to other miscommunication. This number is used by organizations including bookstores, libraries publishers and printers, among others.

Do you need a SAN?

If you are self-publishing your book, you fall under the publisher category above in the list of organizations that use SANs. However, unless you have multiple addresses you need to keep separate for billing, shipping and other purposes, it is unlikely that you have a real need for a SAN. You certainly can obtain one, but there is no requirement for it.

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