Learning More About the ISBN

Whether you are searching online for a textbook to rent or purchase, or you are looking for a college textbook in a bookstore, the best way to conduct your book search is with the ISBN number.

With this handy little number, you can be certain to find the exact book you need to purchase for your classes while also making the search process simpler. But, what exactly is an ISBN number and how does it help make the search process easier for you?

The History of the ISBN

The ISBN, or International Standard Book Number, is a unique 13-digit number assigned to books. The number actually started as a 9-digit code that was created by Gordon Foster in 1966. At this time, the number was known as the Standard Book Numbering, or SBN, code.

The SBN code ultimately evolved to a 10-digit code, which was designed by the International Organization for Standardization. These codes were published in 1970, though the 9-digit SBN code was still used in the United Kingdom at this time. Since January of 2007, however, the 13-digit ISBN has been put in place. Books published before this date still contain the 10-digit format.

Creating an ISBN

A significant amount of time and thought is put into creating an ISBN. First, the ISBN contains a group identifier, which can range from 1 to 7. This group identifier is used to identify the language of the book and are sorted as follows:

  • 0 or 1 - English-speaking countries
  • 2 - French-speaking countries
  • 3 - German-speaking countries
  • 4 - Japanese-speaking countries
  • 5 - Russian-speaking countries
  • 7 - Chinese-speaking countries

The publisher number is then assigned to the book by the national ISBN agency, but the publisher is allowed to select the item number that is to be used. In general, large publishers receive blocks of ISBNs that they can use for the books they expect to be publishing. A smaller publisher, on the other hand, may only receive on a few ISBNs. Either way, the publisher may obtain another block of ISBNs after using up the original block.

Regulations Regarding ISBN

Many people are surprised to learn that book publishers are not required to assign an ISBN to their books. In addition, books can still be put up for sale even if they do not have an ISBN. Nonetheless, many bookstores will only accept those with an ISBN because the code makes it easier to keep track and to search for books. In addition, it is generally in the best interest of a publisher to add ISBNs to books. After all, including an ISBN makes it possible for readers to more easily find the books they are looking for.

For those that are interested, it is possible to purchase a book that details all of the 628,000 different ISBNs that are assigned to books. This book costs nearly $1,000, however, which is a cost that most college students aren't ready to take on. Nonetheless, you don't need this book to utilize this special code. With or without the book, you can still use the ISBN when searching for your book, whether you are at a bookstore, at the library or searching for your book online.