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International Standard Numbers (ISNs)

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ISBN Frequently Asked Questions


1.  What is an ISBN?
An ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is a 13-digit number that uniquely identifies each specific edition of a book or book-like product. This 13-digit number is divided into five parts of variable length; each part is separated by a hyphen or a space.

The five parts of an ISBN, in order, are:

  • the EAN (European article number) product code: the first three digits of the EAN bar code number;
  • the group identifier: a single digit following the EAN product code that specifies the country or language in which the book is published;
  • the publisher prefix: a number that identifies a particular publisher within the preceding group;
  • the title identifier: a number that identifies a particular title or edition of a title issued by the preceding publisher;
  • the check digit: a single digit at the end of the ISBN that validates the accuracy of the ISBN.

2.  What is ISBN-13?
Effective January 1, 2007 the ISBN will change from 10 digits to 13 digits. ISBN-13 will be the exclusive ISBN to be used on books and book-related products after this date. Note: The letters ISBN always precede the number.

Example 1
Old 10-digit ISBN and barcode
The 10-digit ISBN with a barcode is shown below. The EAN barcode number, at the bottom of the machine-readable stripes, is different from the 10-digit ISBN, placed above the barcode.

Old 10-digit ISBN and barcode

Example 2
New 13-digit ISBN and barcode
In the 13-digit ISBN, the EAN product code "978" precedes the 10-digit ISBN and the check digit (or final number) is recalculated. The new ISBN is the same number as the EAN/UCC barcode number which appears at the bottom of the barcode with hyphens.

New 13-digit ISBN and barcode

3.  Does the 13-digit ISBN require a longer barcode?
No. The 13-digit ISBN requires a 13-digit barcode (with or without the five-digit price code add-on) just like the 10-digit ISBN. With the new ISBN, both the ISBN-13 and the EAN/UCC numbers are identical. The EAN appears beneath the barcode, while the 13-digit ISBN has hyphens and is displayed above the barcode.

4.  Can I use both the 10-digit and 13-digit ISBN on a publication?
Yes, this practice is called dual numbering. Between January, 2005 and December 31, 2006, publishers may use both numbers on their publications. However, after January 1, 2007, publications should ONLY carry the 13- digit ISBN and EAN/UCC-13.

During the transition:

  • For books with a 10-digit ISBN & EAN barcode:,
    Print both ISBN on the Copyright Page only.

  • For books without a barcode:
    Print both ISBN on the Copyright Page and on the back cover of the book.

  • Dual numbering is valid only for ISBN-13s that begin with '978'. It should be phased out beginning on January 1, 2007.

International ISBN Agency's recommended format:

Example 3
Dual numbering system format
ISBN-13: 978-1-55457-001-0
ISBN-10: 1-55457-001-8

5.  Will the EAN prefix always remain '978'?
No. The EAN prefix 978 will change in future. When that happens, ISBN will have the prefix EAN '979'. ISBN which begin with '979' cannot be produced by a converter ( i.e. by adding the prefix to a 10-digit ISBN and recalculating the check digit). These ISBN cannot be converted to a 10-digit ISBN.

This change will not affect you immediately. Please visit Library and Archives website in 2007 for '979' EAN updates.

6.  Who is affected by this change?
Everyone in the book trade supply chain. While publishers, distributors, retailers, and libraries are the main groups affected by these changes, everyone in the book trade supply chain who currently uses an ISBN is affected by this change. Everyone who records, stores or exchanges ISBN data in an automated system or manual system will have to ensure that those systems can accommodate the 13-digit ISBN format.

7.  What is affected?
Every system, manual and electronic, that accepts an ISBN. All organizations that use the ISBN, in any capacity, should review their existing systems - manual and electronic - as soon as possible to ensure that those systems can accommodate the new 13-digit ISBN.

The 13-digit will affect software applications such as automated ordering systems, inventory control systems, point-of-sale systems, and library databases. If you're using a turnkey system, you should contact the vendor to ensure they are prepared for the 13-digit ISBN. If you're using a system that was developed or customized in-house, you should inform your IT staff that the ISBN will be changing to a new 13-digit format and ask them to check and make changes to your automated system. Systems will need to accept two different EAN prefixes over time (978 beginning in 2007 and in the future, 979).

While the change primarily affects computer and other automated systems, it may also affect editorial processes, sales and marketing, design and production departments, royalty and accounting functions, and catalogue systems. Organizations making system changes to handle ISBN-13 are encouraged to anticipate the future need to accommodate (store, view, and exchange) any of the EAN-UCC product identifiers which can be up to 14 digits long.

Booksellers will need to review:

  • ordering systems;
  • stock control;
  • point of sale systems;
  • accounting.

Libraries will need to review:

  • acquisitions systems, including transaction messages with trading partners;
  • cataloguing and other bibliographic data entry systems;
  • Inter-Library Loan (ILL) systems;
  • system routines for importing bibliographic records, including matching algorithms;
  • barcode scanners;
  • local catalogues/OPACs;
  • information portal / metasearch systems;
  • interoperability and system links with remote information sources and clients.

8.  How can publishers prepare?
All publishers should review and undertake the steps listed above, as soon as possible.

Publishers should also review the following, among others:

  • ISBN request and allocation functions;
  • product information records;
  • editorial management;
  • Cataloguing-in-Publication submissions;
  • production systems;
  • e-book supply systems;
  • order fulfillment;
  • warehouse management and inventory control systems;
  • rights and contracts;
  • royalty and accounting systems.

9.  Will new ISBN have to be assigned to products that have already been published?
No. Publishers should convert existing ISBN from the 10-digit format to the 13-digit format (prefixed by 978) by 1 January 2007. This applies to their records for any title for which commercial transactions may occur and should therefore include out of print titles as well as those currently in a publisher's catalogue.

The ISBN and bar code on books will not need to be changed until the book is reprinted as the bar code already represents the EAN13 which is identical to the new 13-digit ISBN.

10.  Where do publishers obtain the new 13-digit ISBN?
Canadian publishers (excluding French language publishers located in Quebec or outside of Quebec) can obtain an ISBN from the Canadian ISBN Agency, Library and Archives Canada. French language publishers located in Quebec or outside of Quebec can obtain an ISBN from Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec.

Publishing and Depository Services (Public Works and Government Services Canada) has delegated authority to assign ISBNs to publications produced by Canadian government organizations. Applications for ISBNs may be submitted online by departmental publishing staff at: http://publications.gc.ca/site/eng/home.html

  • Registered Publishers with 10 ISBN
    After January 1, 2007, registered publishers with 10 ISBN will receive 13-digit ISBN from the Canadian ISBN Agency.
  • Registered Publishers with 100 or more ISBN
    Registered publishers who have been assigned 100 or more ISBN numbers, and have been sent a paper or electronic logbook of ISBN numbers from the Canadian ISBN Agency, must convert their remaining 10-digit ISBN to 13-digit ISBN that begin with '978' using an online converter. Please visit the International ISBN site,
    www.isbn-international.org/converter/converter.html.
  • New Publishers
    Starting on January 1, 2007, all new publishers who request a block of ISBN from the Canadian ISBN Agency will receive 13-digit ISBN.

11.  How has Library and Archives Canada prepared for
ISBN-13?

Library and Archives Canada and the Canadian ISBN Agency is informing all Canadian publishers of this important change. In addition, we have upgraded all catalogue and information technology systems to handle both the 10-digit and 13-digit ISBN. These changes will minimize difficulties in accepting and cataloguing publications with 13-digit ISBN.

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