International Standard Book Number (ISBN)

ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is a unique machine-readable identification number allotted to a book or editions of a book before publication which helps to identify its publisher, edition and volume number without mistakes. In addition, it enables separate identification of similar publications, such as the same publication made available separately in different product forms. 


The present ISBN is based on the work of Gordon Foster of Trinity College, Dublin who first created a 9 digit code called ‘Standard Book Numbering (SBN)’ for W. H. Smith Booksellers in 1966. Later on David Whitaker popularized the use of this code in United Kingdom in 1967 and Emery Koltay of R.R. Bowker started using it in United States in 1968.  

10-Digit ISBN: The 10 digit ISBN format was developed by the International Organization of Standardization (ISO) and was approved & published in 1970 as the first edition of International Standard ISO 2108. Subsequently, the second and third editions of the Standard came out in 1978 and 1992 respectively.

13-Digit ISBN: The fourth edition of ISO Standard 2108 published in 2005 brought a major revision of changing the ISBN from 10-digits to 13 digits.  However, the allotment of 13 digits ISBN started since 1st January 2007. A 3 digit EAN (European Article Number) is added as pre-fix to convert the 10-digit ISBN into 13 digits. So far EAN-978 & 979 have been made available by GSI, a non-profit organization founded in 1974 in Brussels (Belgium) that develops barcode for business communication worldwide. The fifth and latest edition of ISBN Standard (ISO 2108) applicable to all monographic publications has been released in 2017. 

Points to Remember:

The following categories of publications require an ISBN:
·         All kinds of books including pamphlets, maps and atlases
·         Braille Publications
·         Educational videos, DVDs
·         Books on Cassettes and CDs.
·         Microform Publications
·         E-books

Note: Music sound Recordings, Serial publications, calendars and notebooks do not require an ISBN.

Points to Remember:

Significant changes to a publication with respect to former editions require a separate ISBN. The rules apply if significant changes are made to:
·         The title and/or subtitle of a publication
·         Textual content except minor corrections
·         Language
·         Publisher name or imprint
·         Author name
·         Product form (i.e. paperback to hard cover or PDF to EPUB)

Points to Remember:

A separate ISBN is generally assigned to:
·         Each edition and variation (except re-printings) of a publication i.e. Paperback, hard cover
·         Different media i.e. e-book, audio-book
·         Different format of an e-book i.e. EPUB, PDF etc.


International ISBN Agency, appointed by ISO which is located in London (United Kingdom) works as the registration authority for the ISBN system worldwide. The ISBN system is administered at three levels: (i) International Agency (ii) Registration Agencies, and (iii) Publishers

R. R. Bowker is the US ISBN Agency, while Nielsen Book Services is the UK national agency for ISBN.

ISBN Allocation Office, India: In India, ISBN system was put into operation since January 1985 and Raja Ram Mohan Roy National Agency for ISBN is responsible for ISBN registration in India and is affiliated to UK based International Agency. In 2011, ISBN allocation office shifted from Kolkata to New Delhi. It is now located in the Department of Higher Education, Ministry of HRD, Parliament street, New Delhi.

Elements/Parts of ISBN: Since 1st January 2007, there are 5 elements/parts of ISBN which are separated with either hyphen or spaces. Three of the 5 elements of ISBN are of varying length while two are fixed in length.
  1. Prefix Element: 3 digits EAN (European Article Number) has become the first element of ISBN. Currently digits 978 or 979 are allotted as EAN. It is always 3 digits in length (Fixed length).
  2. Registration Group Element: It can be between 1 to 5 digits in length (variable length) and helps to identify individual country, geographical region or language area.
  3. Registrant/Publisher Element: It can be up to 7 digits in length (variable length) and helps to identify the publisher or imprint of a book.
  4. Publication/Title Element: It can be up to 6 digits in length (variable length) and helps in identifying particular edition and format of a specific title.
  5. Check Digit or Checksum digit: It is always the final single digit that is used for ‘error detection’ in an ISBN.


1.    Which of the following publications does not require an ISBN?
      a)      Diaries
      b)     Educational videos
      c)      Books on CDs
      d)      Calendars
         A.     a, and d are correct
         B.     b, and d are correct     
         C.     a, c, and d are correct
         D.     b, c, and d are correct

2.    A separate ISBN is allotted for each __. Select the wrong statement:
      A.    New edition
      B.    New reprint
      C.    Different file format
      D.    Different media

3.   How many parts are there in 13 digit ISBN number?
A.     7
B.     4
C.     5
D.     3

4.    Which of the following publications does not require an ISBN?
      a)      Maps
      b)     Books on CDs
      c)     Music Sound Recordings
      d)     Pamphlets
         A.     a, and b are correct
         B.     b, and c are correct     
         C.     a, and c are correct
         D.     only c is correct

5.    In ISBN 978-0-670-08595-8, 670 stands for ___ group?
A.    Registration group
B.    Registrant
C.    Publication element
D.   Check digit

6.   Which of the following are true about publication element of ISBN?
      a)     Variable length
      b)     Up to 5 digits
      c)     Fixed length
      d)     Up to 6 digits
         A.     a, and d are correct
         B.     a, b, c,  and d are correct     
         C.     b, c, and d are correct
         D.     b, and d is correct

7.   The latest edition of ISBN Standard (ISO-2108) published in __?
A.    2005
B.     2015
C.     2017
D.    2019

8.   Select the United Kingdom's national agency for ISBN?
A.     R. R. Bowker
B.     Whitaker
C.     Nielsen Book Services
D.     None of the above

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