FAQ on International Standard Book Number

  • What is an ISBN?

The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a 13-digit number that uniquely identifies books and book-like products published internationally.

  • What is the purpose of an ISBN?

The purpose of the ISBN is to establish and identify one title or edition of a title from one specific publisher and is unique to that edition, allowing for more efficient marketing of products by booksellers, libraries, universities, wholesalers and distributors.

  • What is the format of the ISBN?

Every ISBN consists of thirteen digits and whenever it is printed it is preceded by the letters ISBN. The thirteen-digit number is divided into four parts of variable length, each part separated by a hyphen.

  • Does the ISBN have any meaning embedded in the numbers?

The four parts of an ISBN are as follows:

  1. Group or country identifier which identifies a national or geographic grouping of publishers;
  2. Publisher identifier which identifies a particular publisher within a group;
  3. Title identifier which identifies a particular title or edition of a title;
  4. Check digit is the single digit at the end of the ISBN which validates the ISBN.
  • Why do some ISBNs end in an “X”?

In the case of the check digit, the last digit of the ISBN, the upper-case X can appear. The method of determining the check digit for the ISBN is the modulus 11 with the weighting factors 10 to 1. The Roman numeral X is used in lieu of 10 where ten would occur as a check digit.

  • Who can assign ISBNs to a publisher?

There are over 160 ISBN Agencies worldwide, and each ISBN Agency is appointed as the exclusive agent responsible for assigning ISBNs to publishers residing in their country or geographic territory. The United States ISBN Agency is the only source authorized to assign ISBNs to publishers supplying an address in the United States, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam and Puerto Rico and its database establishes the publisher of record associated with each prefix.

Once an ISBN publisher prefix and associated block of numbers has been assigned to a publisher by the ISBN Agency, the publisher can assign ISBNs to publications it holds publishing rights to. However, after the ISBN Agency assigns ISBNs to a publisher, that publisher cannot resell, re-assign, transfer, or split its list of ISBNs among other publishers. These guidelines have long been established to ensure the veracity, accuracy and continued utility of the international ISBN standard.

As defined by the ISO Standard, the ISBN publisher prefix (or “root” of the ISBN) identifies a single publisher. If a second publisher subsequently obtains an ISBN from the assigned publisher’s block of ISBNs, there will be no change in the publisher of record for any ISBN in the block as originally assigned. Therefore, searches of industry databases for that re-assigned ISBN will
identify the original owner of that assigned prefix as the publisher rather than the second publisher. Discovering this consequence too late can lead to extensive costs in applying for a new prefix, re-assigning a new ISBN, and potentially leading to the application of stickers to books already printed and in circulation.

If you are a new publisher, you should apply for your own ISBN publisher prefix and plan to identify and circulate your books properly in the industry supply chain. You may encounter offers from other sources to purchase single ISBNs
at special offer prices; you should be wary of purchasing from these sources for the reasons noted above. There are unauthorized re-sellers of ISBNs and this activity is a violation of the ISBN standard and of industry practice. A publisher
with one of these re-assigned ISBNs will not be correctly identified as the publisher of record in Books In Print or any of the industry databases such as Barnes and Noble or Amazon or those of wholesalers such as Ingram. If you have questions, contact the US ISBN Agency for further advice.

  • Who is eligible for an ISBN?

The ISBN Agency assigns ISBNs at the direct request of publishers, e-book publishers, audio cassette and video producers, software producers and museums and associations with publishing programs.

  • How long does it take to get an ISBN?

Allow 5 business days for non-priority processing from the time an ISBN application is received at the agency (not from the date sent by the publisher.) Priority processing is two business days from the time an application is received at the agency. Express processing is 24 business hours.

  • How much does it cost to get an ISBN?

There is a service fee to process all ISBN applications. Service fee information is contained on the application. Priority and Express processing involve an additional fee.

NOTE: The processing service charge is NON-REFUNDABLE.

  • What do I do when I receive the ISBN and where is it printed?

An ISBN should be assigned to each title or product, including any backlist or forthcoming titles. Each format or binding must have a separate ISBN (i.e., hardcover, paperbound, VHS video, laserdisc, e-book format, etc). A new ISBN is required for a revised edition. Once assigned, an ISBN can never be reused. An ISBN is printed on the lower portion of the back cover of a book above the bar code and on the copyright page.

  • How & where do I register my ISBN?

Once ISBNs have been assigned to products they should be reported to R.R. Bowker as the database of record for the ISBN Agency. Companies are eligible for a free listing in various directories such as Books in Print, Words on Cassette, The Software Encyclopaedia, Bowker’s Complete Video Directory, etc.

NOTE: Receiving just your ISBNs does NOT guarantee title listings. To ensure your titles get in the Books in Print database you must submit your title information.

Book titles should be registered with Books in Print at http://www.bowkerlink.com

  • Can a publisher have both an ISBN & an ISSN?

Both numbering systems are used for books in a series and with annuals or biennials. The ISBN identifies the individual book in a series or a specific year for an annual or biennial. The ISSN identifies the ongoing series, or the ongoing annual or biennial serial. If a publication has both, each should be printed on the copyright page.

  • How can I find an assigned ISBN?

The Publications (hard copy listings) in which the assigned ISBNs appear are Publishers, Distributors & Wholesalers of the United States, published by R.R. Bowker, and Literary Market Place, published by Information Today.

  • How are ISBNs used in a Bar Code & how do I obtain one?

The ISBN can be translated into a worldwide compatible bar code format. Publishers who wish to have their ISBNs translated into worldwide compatible bar codes can now make their request directly online at

http://www.isbn.org or http://www.bowkerbarcode.com

Bar code scanning is a required step required by for many retailers in the sales transaction process for book publications and book-related items. We hope that offering this service will save you time and enable you to meet all of your transaction partners’ requirements.

  • How do I select the correct number of ISBNs?

ISBNs are sold in blocks of 10, 100, and 1000. When purchasing ISBNs, we recommend that you estimate the number of publications you will be publishing within the next five years, and select the block that best suits your needs. It is always best to select the block that will last you for a few years because you will be able to maintain one publisher prefix, and minimize the unit cost per ISBN. When purchasing a larger block of ISBNs, the price per ISBN decreases.

  • What is the format of the new ISBN-13?

Every ISBN will consist of thirteen digits in 2007. The thirteen-digit number is divided into five parts of variable length, each part separated by a hyphen.

Does the ISBN-13 have any meaning imbedded in the numbers?

The five parts of an ISBN are as follows:

  1. The current ISBN-13 will be prefixed by “978”
  2. Group or country identifier which identifies a national or geographic
    grouping of publishers;
  3. Publisher identifier which identifies a particular publisher within a group;
  4. Title identifier which identifies a particular title or edition of a title;
  5. Check digit is the single digit at the end of the ISBN which validates the
  • Where does an ISBN get placed on a book?

An ISBN gets placed on the copyright page and, if there is no bar code, on the back cover.

  • What is the difference between a bar code and an ISBN?

An ISBN is a number. A bar code is the graphic with vertical lines that encodes numerical information for scanning purposes. An ISBN and a bar code are two different things.

  • Does it matter where a book is printed?

No, books can be printed anywhere. ISBNs are assigned based on the geographical location of the publisher, not the printing company.

  • If a publisher is selling their books on their own and are not trying to place them in stores or libraries or with wholesalers, is an ISBN required?

No, an ISBN is not required.

  • Do ISBNs have to be assigned to books that are not being sold?

No, they do not have to be assigned, but they can be.

  • Are different ISBNs used if a book appears in different languages?

Yes. Each language version is a different product.

  • Are custom publications assigned ISBNs?

No, custom publications are not assigned ISBNs unless such assignment is necessary for a publisher’s back office systems, such as finance, since there is only one customer in such arrangements.

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