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FAQs: ISBN Eligibility

The ISBN is intended for a monographic publication: text that stands on its own as a product, whether printed, audio or electronic. ISBNs are never assigned to music, performances or images, such as art prints or photographs. Consult the chart below to determine if specific products/entities are eligible for ISBNs.

PRODUCT/ENTITY ELIGIBLE?
Advertising and promotional materials No
Audiobooks Yes
Blogs No, publications subject to frequent update (online databases, blogs) are not eligible for ISBNs.
Board games No
Broadsides/broadsheets Broadsides are eligible for ISBNs if the content is not serial in nature. A broadside, also called a broadsheet, is a large sheet of paper, newspaper-size, which is printed, almost poster-like, on one side.
Brochures and pamphlets Yes
Calendars No, unless required by the retailer
Cell phone novels Yes, the content of such a publication could be identified by ISBN in this format.
Compact discs (CDs) CDs are only eligible for ISBNs if they are spoken word or instructional. Music or performance CDs are never assigned ISBNs. Meditation CDs that combine music and spoken word are not eligible for ISBNs. If the CD is eligible for an ISBN, the ISBN is placed near the copyright line on the packaging. The UPC (now called the GS1) bar code is the appropriate product identification standard for a music CD.
Clothing No
Chapters, paragraphs, charts, etc. Chapters, paragraphs, charts and other sections of published text are eligible for their own ISBNs if a publisher is selling them separately.
Coffee mugs and other utensils No
Coloring books Yes
Comic books Comic books, since they are serials, do not get ISBNs. However, graphic novels are eligible for ISBNs.
Digital customized publications No, unless a publisher’s internal assignment is necessary for back office systems, such as finance or inventory control.
DVDs DVDs may not get an ISBN if they are entertainment or performance videos. If the DVD is instructional or educational, then the DVD is eligible for an ISBN. However, retailers vary in their requirements regarding the type of product identification. Publishers should check with their retailers for requirements. If the DVD is eligible for an ISBN, the ISBN is placed near the copyright line on the packaging.
Electronic advertising / promotional materials No
Electronic newsletters / e-zines No (see Serials)
Electronic schedulers No, electronic devices are not assigned ISBNs, but a program on the device could be assigned an ISBN, if it were instructional or educational in nature.
Electronic/video games No
Emails No
Flash cards Only if instructional in nature. Playing cards and tarot cards are not eligible for ISBNs.
Food and medicine No
Graphic novels Yes (see Comic books)
Greeting cards Greeting cards are not assigned ISBNs unless required by the retailer. If assigned, they are assigned by price point rather than design. For example, if several different designs are all sold for the same price, only one ISBN is used.
Historical documents Yes. Historical documents archived in a library or museum are part of the bibliographic record of interest to researchers. They meet the criteria for discoverability and reporting that is part of the ISBN system.
Journals and diaries Journals and diaries can be assigned ISBNs when required by retailers.
Loose-leaf volumes Yes, such reference works are routinely tracked by revenue strands (individual vs. library subscription reporting) by publishers.
Magazines No (see Serials)
Maps Yes
Music/performance CDs No (see Compact discs)
Online databases No, publications subject to frequent update (online databases, blogs, etc.) are not eligible for ISBNs.
Pamphlets and brochures Yes
Periodicals No (see Serials)
Personal documents, if digitized No
Pictures and photographs No. ISBNs are never assigned to images; they are used for text.
Playing cards and tarot cards No
Podiobooks Yes, this format of audio book could be assigned an ISBN.
Postcards No
Posters and art prints No. ISBNs are never assigned to images; they are used for text.
Puzzle books Yes, puzzle books are eligible for ISBNs, including but not limited to crossword puzzles and Sudoku books.
Search engines No
Serials (magazines, periodicals, etc.) Magazines, periodicals and serials of any type do not get ISBNs. They are assigned ISSNs, available from the Library of Congress, or BIPAD numbers, available at bipad.com. However, if a single issue of a periodical is being sold as a book, then that issue alone may be assigned an ISBN.
Sheet music No, sheet music does not get ISBNs. The ISMN is the appropriate standard for sheet music, which doesn’t have any binding. ISBNs are not assigned to books of printed music.
Shirts and other apparel No
Software Only if it is educational or instructional
Stationery items No
Toys, including stuffed animals No
USB drives/sticks Devices themselves are not assigned ISBNs, but the text content sold in this particular format may be identified by an ISBN.
Web-based books Websites are not assigned ISBNs. However, if the publisher needs to identify tracking, trading and discovery between two product types, one of which is an accessible web-based product, then the ISBN can be assigned to the product in its web-based version.
Web-based games No. Electronic games, whether web-based or otherwise, are not eligible for ISBNs.