International Standard Book Number (ISBN) – Definition

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International Standard Book Number (ISBN) Definition

The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a unique numeric identification code for published books. Affiliates of the International ISBN Agency sell ISBNs to publishers.

A Little More on What is an ISBN

Every edition and variation (except reprinting) of a book has an ISBN. The hardcover, paperback and e-book editions of a book will have different ISBNs. Before 2007, ISBNs had 10 digits but from 1 January 2007, ISBNs have 13 digits. Assigning an ISBN varies by country, but it largely depends on the scale of a nation鈥檚 publishing industry.

The first ISBN code was created in 1967. It was based on the 9-digit Standard Book Numbering (SBN) of 1966. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) created the 10-digit ISBN format. The ISO published the new format in 1970 with the code ISO 2108. To convert the SBN to ISBN, prefix the 9-digit code with zero (0).

Occasionally, privately published books may lack an ISBN. However, the International ISBN Agency may decide to assign ISBNs to such books.

The International Standard Serial Number (ISSN) is a unique identifier assigned to periodical publications including magazines, while musical works receive the International Standard Music Number (ISMN).


Except for reprinting, each edition and variation of a book has an ISBN. Thus, the hardcover, paperback, and e-book edition of a book have a different ISBN. Prior to 2017, ISBN has 10 digits, but ISBNs issued from January 1, 2017 have 13 digits. 10-digit ISBNs comprise 4 parts while 13-digit ISBNs have 5 parts.

The Parts of an ISBN

ISBN has the following parts:

  • 路 聽聽聽聽 The prefix element (for 13-digit ISBN)
  • 路 聽聽聽聽 Registration group
  • 路 聽聽聽聽 Registrant
  • 路 聽聽聽聽 Publication
  • 路 聽聽聽聽 Check digit

A 13-digit ISBN has a prefix element. The registration group element represents the territory, individual country or language-sharing country group. The elements of an ISBN are separated with hyphens or spaces in 10-digit and 13-digit ISBN formats. Because the parts of an ISBN do not have the same number of digits, separating them correctly is often difficult.

How ISBNs Are Issued

The ISBN registration agency for each country or territory issues ISBN for publications within its domain, irrespective of the publication language. Individual countries are assigned ranges of ISBNs according to the size of their publishing industry. Thus, the number of books, number, size and type of active publishers determines the ranges of ISBN assigned to each country. ISBN registration agencies may be government run or nongovernmental organizations such as bibliographic data providers.

Registration Group Identifier

The ISBN registration group identifier is 1 to 5 digits number valid within a single prefix element including 978 or 979 which can be separated using hyphens as in 鈥978-1-.鈥 Registration group identifiers occupy the 978 prefix element. Within the 978 prefix element, the single-digit group identifiers include:

  • 路 聽聽聽聽 0 or 1 for English-speaking countries
  • 路 聽聽聽聽 2 for French-speaking countries
  • 路 聽聽聽聽 3 for German-speaking countries
  • 路 聽聽聽聽 4 for Japan
  • 路 聽聽聽聽 5 for Russian-speaking countries
  • 路 聽聽聽聽 7 for People鈥檚 Republic of China

For example, Bhutan uses 99836 as its 5-digit group identifier.

Allocated group IDs include:

  • 路 聽聽聽聽 0鈥5
  • 路 聽聽聽聽 600鈥622
  • 路 聽聽聽聽 65
  • 路 聽聽聽聽 7
  • 路 聽聽聽聽 80鈥94
  • 路 聽聽聽聽 950鈥989
  • 路 聽聽聽聽 9920鈥9989, and
  • 路 聽聽聽聽 99901鈥99981

Typically, books published in rare languages are assigned longer group identifiers.

The ISBN reserves the registration group identifier 0 within the 979 prefix element as an alternative to the International Standard Music Numbers (ISMNs). However, the ISBN is not assigned to such works. Within the prefix element 979, France, the Republic of Korea and Italy have been assigned 10, 11, and 12 registration group identifiers, respectively.

There was no registration group identifier in the 9-digit SBN, but it can become a valid 10-digit ISBN by prefixing with a zero (0).

Registrant Element

The ISBN agency for a country issues the registrant element and a range of ISBNs within that registrant element to a publisher. The publisher assigns each of its books one of the ISBNs. While most countries do not mandate publishers to assign an ISBN, most bookstores only accept publications with ISBNs.

The International ISBN Agency has over 900,000 assigned publisher codes available for purchase in book form for 鈧1399 or US$1959. Publisher codes are accessible on the ISBN agency鈥檚 site for a fee. However, incomplete lists of the English language catalogs covering identifier 0 and identifier 1 are available online.

The number of ISBN blocks publishers receive depends on their size. A small publisher may receive a single digit for the publication element, several digits for the registrant element, and one or more digits for the registration group identifier. The publisher will receive another block of ISBN after exhausting the one at hand. Larger publishers may have more than one registrant elements or registration group identifier if all the registration elements in that group have been assigned.

ISBN registration agencies use variable block lengths to customize each publisher鈥檚 ISBN allocations. For example, the agency may give a large publisher a block of ISBNs with fewer digits allocated for the registrant elements and multiple digits of publication elements. Also, countries with several publication titles allocate fewer digits for the registration group identifier while the publication and registrant elements get several allocations.

References for ISBN

Academic Research on International Standard Book Number (ISBN)

Error Detection and Correction in the International Standard Book Number, Kamaku, P. W. (2015). (Doctoral dissertation). This thesis looks at the ability of ISBN-1- and ISBN-13 codes to detect and correct errors in the total number of code words. The paper compares the aforementioned codes with the ISBN-16 code and concludes that the latter offers enhanced error detection and correction capabilities compared to the former.

THE MEANINGS AND APPLICATION OF INTERNATIONAL STANDARD BOOK NUMBER AND INTERNATIONAL STANDARD SERIAL NUMBER [J], Qing-fang, H. E. (2001). [J]. Journal of Jiamusi University (Natural Science Edition), 4, 028. This article explains the meanings and applications of the ISBN and ISSN.

Interpretation and Transfer Algorithm in International Standard Book Number and Books Bar Code, Yong, Y. (2005). Data Analysis and Knowledge Discovery, 21(10), 88-90. In this paper, the author examines the important of book bar codes and the International Standard Book Number in designing library management information systems

The Application of and Problems in ISBN (International Standard Book Number) in Books Acquisitioning and Cataloging, Yan, P. E. N. G. (2010). Sci-Tech Information Development & Economy, 11, 034. This book looks at how the ISBN helps in book acquisition and cataloging.

Importance of ISBN (International Standard Book Number), Bharti, R. K. Importance of ISBN (International Standard Book Number). This book traces the history of the ISBN, and its importance in publishing and library services.

International Standard Book Number, Rajan, T. N., & Ramaswami, K. (1972). In this piece, the author details the applications, challenges and importance of the International Standard Book Number.

Unit-12 International Standard Book Number and Its Importance, Jolly, G. S. (2017). IGNOU. This report provides a comprehensive analysis of the ISBN and its importance.

Study of Current and Potential Uses of International Standard Book Number in United States Libraries. Final Report., Schmierer, H. F., & Pasternack, H. (1977). Final Report. This paper offers the different ways United States Libraries use the ISBN and its future applications.

The international standard book number and its application, Walravens, H. (1995). African Publishing Review, 4(5), 14-15. This article looks at the ISBN, its uses, and its importance for tracking commercial publications.

The ISBN system ( International Standard Book Number – International Standard Book System), Mu帽oz, MY (1995). In Basic treatise on librarianship (pp. 155-168). Editorial Complutense. In this piece, the author looks at the ISBN system, how it works and its different variations.

ISBN ( international standard book number ) -an international perspective, Walravens, H. (2002). Helsingin yliopiston kirjaston tiedotuslehti 44 (2002): 4. This article examines the ISBN, its history, elements, and how national ISBN registration agencies allocate the code to publishers.

The ISBN system ( International Standard Book Number – International Standard Number for books), Mu帽oz, MY (1996). In Basic Treaty of Library Science (pp. 153-166). In this article, the author details the ISBN system, its importance and applications.


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