Frequently Asked Questions about the ISBN
What is an ISBN?
- The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a 10-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 ten digits and whenever it is printed it is preceded by the letters
ISBN. The ten-digit number is divided into four parts of variable length, each part separated
by a hyphen.
Does the ISBN have any meaning imbedded in the numbers?
- The four parts of an ISBN are as follows:
- Group or country identifier which identifies a national or geographic grouping of
- Publisher identifier which identifies a particular publisher within a group;
- Title identifier which identifies a particular title or edition of a title;
- 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
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
How long does it take to get an ISBN?
- Allow 15 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 Encyclopedia, 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
Book titles should be registered with Books in Print at
Can a publisher have both an ISBN & an
- 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 www.isbn.org
or 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 amount of ISBNs?
- ISBNs are sold in blocks of 10, 100, and 1000. When purchasing ISBNs, we recommend
that you estimate the amount 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
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 ISBN.