Understanding The ISBN

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For more than thirty years International Standard Book Numbers or ISBNs have been in existence. They were created through the International Organization of Standardization (ISO) in 1970. Currently R.R. Bowker is the United States agency for ISBNs and there assignment. Publishers and self published authors currently in the U.S. Can get ISBNs from www.isbn.org.

The ISBN is a books ordering number/identifier, in regards to it’s title. ISBNs are not required , anyone an publish a book without them. The problem with doing this makes it difficult for potential readers to find your book in the market place. Printed books, pamphlets, audio books, CDs and DVDs will have an ISBN assigned to them. Journals, periodicals and newspapers are a few examples of items that won’t ever have an ISBN assigned to them.

The format of an ISBN is broken up into 5 parts. You probably have seen the 978 or 979 prefix, which is always 3 digits. After the prefix is the registration number which is the country, geographical region or language area. This element can be 1 to 5 digits in length. The numbers next will indicate the publisher or imprint and my be up to 7 digits in length. The publication element is next and will identify a particular edition or format of a title. The length of this segment can be up to 6 digits. Finally, the check digit, it validates the rest of the numbering sequence. It is calculated by a Modulus 10 system in alternates of 1 and 3. when its all said and done an ISBN number will look like this:






EAN = European Article Number, now the International Article Number (IAN)

Group = English Speaking Area

Publisher = Llewellyn Publication (in this example)

Title = True Police Stories of the Strange and Unexplained (in this example)

Check Digit = This is used and is a method of verifying redundancy.

Confused yet? You are certainly not alone. With all that is involved in assigning an ISBN number that is unique to a title, it’s no wonder only a few agencies have this task. To learn more about ISBN numbers, please visit www.isbn.org or visit the Library of Congress site at www.loc.gov or Publisher Services at www.isbn-us.com.