For Authors and Publishers

ISBN And What You Need To Know...

International Book Number FAQ

I hope the answers to the most frequently asked questions will give you a better understanding of the International Book Number, how it works, where to get them and so on - and best of luck with your writing career.

What is an ISBN and Why Do I Need One?

The International Book Number consisted of a 10-digit number that uniquely identifies books published internationally. The system was established in 1968 as a standard identification system and is used to identify a title or edition of a title from a specific publisher. Each number is unique to that edition, ie: a hardcover, CD, or eBook format of the same title would each have their own unique number. Today all book databases use the International Book Number system making marketing and distribution far more efficient.

On January 1, 2007 the numbering system was changed to a 13-digit system in order to accommodate the larger capacuty of books that are being published today. All book and book-related products are now required to carry a 13-digit (rather than the 10-digit) ISBN.

If you are publishing a book and want to make sales to bookstores or simply want people to be able to find your book you will need a number. Without a number your book will not be recognized in the book databases and this would undoubtedly hurt your sales.

What is the correct format?

Every number consists of thirteen digits preceded by the letters ISBN. The 13-digit number is divided into five parts, each part separated by a space or hyphen.

What do the numbers signify?

There are five parts to a number. (Example number: 979-1-22065-024-6) The first number is the new EAN product code (979). The second number (1) is the group or country identifier which identifies a national or geographic grouping of publishers. The third number (22065) identifies a particular publisher. The fourth number (024) identifies a specific title or edition of a title. The fifth number (4) is the check digit arrived at by following a special algorithm.

Who should request an ISBN?

Publishers, e-book publishers, audio cassette and video producers, software producers, museums and associations with publishing programs.

Who assigns the numbers?

Numbers are assigned by International Book Number group agencies worldwide coordinated by the International ISBN Agency in Berlin. Numbers are assigned in the United States by R.R. Bowker, an independent agent in the U.S. for this system.

How do I get a number?

In the United States contact:
R.R. Bowker
121 Chanlon Road
New Providence, NJ 07974
Phone (908) 665-6770 Fax (908) 665-2895
You can download the application form or apply online here:

In Canada contact:
The National Library of Canada
395 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON
Phone: (819) 994-6872 Fax: (819) 997-7517

In the United Kindom contact:
ISBN, SAN, & DOI Agencies
3rd Floor, Midas House
62 Goldsworth Road
Woking, Surrey, GU21 6LQ
Phone:(+44 )(0)870 777 8712

How much does it cost?

The cost of a block of numbers depends on the country in which you're applying. Generally you will receive a block of 10 numbers, but larger blocks are available upon request.

How long does it take to get a number?

Generally allow 10 business days from the time an application is received at the agency (not from the date sent by the publisher.) Priority processing is available in two business days from receipt of application. Express processing is 24 business hours.

Where do I put it?

The ISBN should be printed on the copyright page, and in the lower right hand corner of the back cover of your book. You should use a font size between 9 and 12 points. The number should also appear on the upper edge of the left hand flap of a dust cover. For disks and cassettes, the number should be printed on the label. Once assigned, a number can never be reused.

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