International Standard Serial Number

A year ago I attempted to get an ISSN assigned to Clagnut. There are a couple of immediate advantages to securing an ISSN for your blog: legitimacy and indexation. From Joe Clark’s ISSN for Weblogs:

  1. With an ISSN, your weblog indisputably qualifies as a serial or periodical, putting you in the same category as the Economist and the Guardian (and Asian Babes, of course). Further, the more webloggers apply for and use ISSNs, the greater the perceived legitimacy of electronic publications.
  2. Your weblog will be indexed in the international database of publications. It will then be possible for a would-be reader to ask a librarian to locate your weblog via the ISSN database.

My request for an ISSN was turned down by the British registrars because they ‘don’t give ISSNs to weblogs’. No explanation as to why though. Joe Clark recently published a document for ISSN registrars explaining the compatibility of Weblogs and ISSN. The document provides evidence that there are no justifiable reasons not to register weblogs for ISSN providing they meet the regular criteria. Crucially these criteria are:

  1. publication in successive parts
  2. numerical or chronological designations
  3. a common title intended to continue indefinitely

The British Library has a fine explanation of ISSN but is somewhat confusing when explaining their assignation (my emphasis):

ISSN may also be assigned to online journal titles, CD-ROMs and diskettes which are intended to be issued on a continuous basis. [...] ISSN should not be assigned to one-off publications, magazine specials, newspaper specials or web sites.

What is an online journal if not (at least part of) a Web site? And why should Web sites be excluded anyway? Is the Web not a valid medium of publication? Perhaps institutions such as the British Library are concerned that they need to archive all ISSN-registered publications. Even if this was the case, which is isn’t, then the onus would still be on the publisher to provide a copy for archival.

If you think I’m making a fuss over an arbitrary number that only applies to printed magazines and newspapers, consider some the users of ISSN as identified by the British Library:

Publishers who wish to identify their serial publications and incorporate a barcode on the magazine, journal or newspaper for sale via the major retailers.

I’m a publisher and I want to identify my serial publication. I would also consider running the barcode on printed pages, for identification purposes.

Documentation centres and databases which handle bibliographic references and use the ISSN for more accurate serials citation, abstracting and indexing services etc.

Academics who wish to cite in full details of publications for research purposes.

Clagnut and other weblogs have already been quoted by book authors and referred to in academic papers and syllabi. An ISSN would enable sites to be uniquely identified and cited in a consistent and accurate manner.

Subscription agencies who act as intermediaries between publishers and their customers use the ISSN to ensure the correct serial publication is ordered.

I have no plans to charge for access to Clagnut, but if I decided to then an ISSN could facilitate that. As more online content is charged for, publishers of ezines with regular content would benefit greatly from ISSN, as it would enable subscription agencies to handle online content in the same manner as printed and aural publications.

In summary

Weblogs are categorically eligible for ISSN under the existing guidelines and there are no rational reasons to disqualify weblogs from ISSN. There are many practical reasons for assigning ISSN to weblogs and these are increasingly compelling as more and more people publish serials exclusively to the Web.

I’m going to try once more for an ISSN and if I fail, I’ll follow it up with the evidence I’ve collected here on Clagnut edition 243, 14 October 2003.