Application - ISBN


A separate ISBN must be assigned to every title, or edition of a title by each publisher, but NOT to an unchanged impression or unchanged reprint of the same title in the same format by the same publisher. Revised editions require a new ISBN. A price change does not call for a new ISBN. Changes of the format induce a new ISBN. The same title being published in a series and individually is treated as two different editions.

Facsimile reprints

A separate ISBN must be assigned to a facsimile reprint produced by a different publisher.

Publications in different product forms

Different product forms of a publication (e.g., hardback, paperback, Braille, audiobook, online electronic publication) require separate ISBNs. Where electronic publications are made available in different formats (e.g. .lit, .pdf, .html, .pdb) each separately available format shall be assigned a unique ISBN.

Loose-leaf publications

If a publication appears in loose-leaf form an ISBN is assigned to identify an edition at a given time. Individual issues of additions or replacement sheets will also be given an ISBN, when they are separately stocked.

Multi-volume works

An ISBN must be assigned to the whole set of volumes of a multi-volume work; also, if individual volumes of the set are sold separately, each volume must be assigned its own ISBN. Thus the individual processing and sale of single volumes is made possible. Even when multi-volume works are only sold as a set, the assignment of ISBN to each volume is advisable: It facilitates the handling of returns (damaged volumes) and the processing of shipments when not all volumes are published or distributed at the same time.


A publisher is required to number all backlist publications and publish the ISBNs in catalogues. The ISBN must also be printed in the first available reprint of a backlist title.

Collaborative publications

A publication issued as a co-edition or joint imprint with other publishers is assigned an ISBN by the publisher in charge of distribution. Other co-publishers may assign their ISBNs if they want to.

Books sold or distributed by agents

(Except for a) this applies only to countries that are not yet participating in the system)

  • As the ISBN standard states, a particular edition, published by a particular publisher, receives only one ISBN. This ISBN must be retained no matter where, or by whom; the book is distributed or sold.
  • A book imported by an exclusive distributor or sole agent from an area which is not in the ISBN system and which has no ISBNs assigned to it, may be assigned an ISBN by the exclusive distributor.
  • Books imported by an exclusive distributor or sole agent to which a new title page, bearing the imprint of the exclusive distributor, has been added in place of the title page of the original publisher, are to be given a new ISBN by the exclusive distributor or sole agent. The ISBN of the original publisher should also be given.
  • A book imported by several distributors from an area not in the ISBN system and which has no ISBNs assigned to it, may be assigned an ISBN by the group agency responsible for those distributors.

Acquisition of one publisher by another

A publisher acquiring another publishing house must continue to use the originally assigned ISBN until the book is reprinted under the new company imprint.

Acquisition of complete stock of a publisher

A publisher acquiring the complete stock of another company must use the original publisher's assigned ISBN until the new company reprints under its own imprint.

Publishers with more than one place of publication

  • A publisher operating in several places which are listed together in the imprint of the book will assign only one ISBN to the book.
  • A publisher operating separate and distinct offices or branches in different places may have a publisher identifier for each office or branch. However, each book published is to be assigned only one ISBN. This ISBN should be assigned by the office or branch responsible for publication.

Register of ISBN

It is the responsibility of all publishers to inform their group agency or the organization responsible for the maintenance of title registration of the ISBNs that have been assigned to published and forthcoming books. When the publisher does not take this responsibility, the group agency or the organization responsible for the maintenance of title registration is authorized to maintain the ISBN register of this publisher on its own initiative.

ISBN can never be re-used

An ISBN, once assigned, can never be re-used, under any circumstances. This is of the utmost importance to avoid confusion. If, through a clerical error, a number is incorrectly assigned, the number must be deleted from the list of useable numbers and must never be assigned to another title. Publishers should advise the group agency of the number(s) deleted and of the titles to which they were erroneously assigned.

ISBN for electronic publications

The ISBN also applies to electronic publications:

  • Offline items, like floppy disks and CD-ROMs, are treated like any other publication.
  • Online items may be completed and finalised publications, like a textbook on the Internet. In this case an ISBN would suffice.
  • An online publication may be a bibliographic or fact database that is subject to change any second. This would be comparable to an encyclopedia or dictionary which is also constantly updated in other media, without each little amendment leading to a new edition or new ISBN. Only significant and/or structural changes (including title changes) would require new ISBNs.
  • Linked material (e.g. hypertext) would only be considered covered by the same ISBN if the related material is actually part of the publication.
  • If an online publication is available under different operating systems and/or command languages, each «edition» would require a separate ISBN.

ISBN for eligible software products:

An ISBN is used to identify a specific software product. If there is more than one version (perhaps versions adapted for different machines, carrier media or language version), each version must have a separate ISBN.

  • When a software product is updated, revised or amended and the changes are sufficiently substantial for the product to be called a new edition, a new ISBN must be assigned.
  • A relaunch of an existing product, even in new packaging, where there is no basic difference in the performance of the new and the old product, does not justify a new ISBN, and the original ISBN must be used.
  • When software is accompanied by a manual which is useful only as an adjunct to the software, the software needs the manual before it can be operated, and they are sold as a package, one ISBN must be assigned to cover both items.
  • When two or more items in a software package can be used separately, or are sold separately as well as together, then the package as a whole must have an ISBN
  • each item in the package must have an ISBN.

An ISBN should be assigned to a software product independently of its physical form (e.g. if software is only available from a remote database from where it is downloaded to the customer.)

As well as identifying the product itself, an ISBN identifies the producer or manufacturer; it should not be used to identify a distributor or wholesaler of the product.

Printing of ISBN


The ISBN must appear on the item itself. This is essential for the efficient running of the system.

The ISBN must appear:

  • on the verso of the title page (copyright page)
  • on the lower section of the outside back cover
  • on the foot of the title page, if there is no space elsewhere
  • on the bottom of the back dust jacket, or any other protective case, or wrapper
  • on the base of the spine (only if the product is a paperback book)
  • on the label of the container if the publication is issued in it (cassette, diskette, CD-ROM etc.)
  • on the title display, or the first display (CD-ROM, internet publications)
  • on the credit titles (film, video)

The ISBN should always be printed in type large enough to be easily legible (i.e. 9 point or larger).

ISBN in bar-coded form

The rapid, worldwide expansion of bar code scanning has brought into prominence the agreement reached between the EAN International (EAN), the Uniform Code Council (UCC), and the International ISBN and International ISMN Agency, which allows the ISBN to be encoded into an EAN-13 bar code. This makes the ISBN an international identifier compatible with the worldwide bar coding scheme.

Representing the ISBN in an EAN-13 bar code symbology must be done in accordance with ISO/IEC 15420 (bar code symbology specification EAN/UPC) that requires the usage of EAN-13 symbols to be in line with the recommendations of EAN and UCC. An EAN bar code consists of thirteen digits.

An example of an ISBN encoded in an EAN-13 bar code symbol is shown below:

ISBN 978-1-873671-00-9

When used in a bar code, the ISBN must be displayed in human readable form immediately above the EAN-13 bar code symbol, preceded by “ISBN”.

Further information on the introduction and use of the EAN-13 bar code symbol is provided by the ISBN group agencies and the International ISBN Agency. Group agencies are encouraged to cooperate directly with the EAN organisations on a national or regional level.

The recommended location of the EAN-13 bar code symbol for publications is the lower right quadrant of the back, near the spine.

The Functions of a Group/National Agency

  • To promote participation in the ISBNs system within its area.
  • To manage and administer the affairs of the group.
  • To decide, in co-operation with publishers and their representative agencies, the range of publisher identifiers required.
  • To allocate publisher identifiers to eligible publishers and maintain a register of publishers and their identifiers.
  • To decide, in consultation with publishers and their representative agencies, which publishers will assign numbers to their own titles, and which will have numbers assigned to their titles by the group agency.
  • To advise publishers on the correct and proper implementation of the system.
  • To provide materials and resources that ensure the proper implementation of the ISBN standard.
  • To make available computer print-outs of ISBNs to publishers numbering their own books with check digits already calculated.
  • To inform publishers of any invalid or duplicate ISBN assigned by them.
  • To provide technical advice and assistance to publishers and ensure that standards and approved procedures are observed in the group.
  • To encourage and promote the Bookland EAN bar code format.
  • To encourage and promote the importance of the ISBN for a proper listing of titles with book listing and bibliographical agencies.
  • To maintain liaison with all elements of the book industry and introduce new publishers to the system.
  • To assist the book industry in the use of the ISBN in computer systems.
  • To handle relations with the International ISBN Agency on behalf of all the publishers in the group.
  • To keep and make available the files of assigned publisher identifiers and title numbers. If the National Bibliography fulfils the latter task, the agency does not have to duplicate this effort.
  • To report regularly to the International ISBN Agency.