International Standard Book Number

International Standard Book Number

What’s the big deal about an ISBN?

What is the ISBN and why do I need one for my book?

The International Standard Book Number is most commonly known as the ISBN. It is a special numeric commercial book identifier based upon the 9-digit Standard Book Numbering (SBN) code created by Gordon Foster, Emeritus Professor of Statistics at Trinity College, Dublin, for the booksellers and stationers W. H. Smith and others in 1966.

Before 2007, the ISBN consisted of 10 digits; however after January 1, 2007 every ISBN assigned is 13 digits long. An International Standard Book Number consists of 4 or 5 parts:

  1. For a 13-digit ISBN, a GS1 prefix: 978 or 979 (indicating the industry; in this case, 978 denotes book publishing)
  2. The group identifier, (language-sharing country group)
  3. The publisher code,
  4. The item number (title of the book), and
  5. A checksum character or check digit.


Note the different check digits in each. The part of the EAN‑13 labeled “EAN” is the Bookland country code.

The ISBN separates its parts (group, publisher, title and check digit) with either a hyphen or a space. Other than the check digit, no part of the ISBN will have a fixed number of digits.

Rory C. Keel

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