A 13-digit ISBN, 978-3-16-148410-0, as represented by an EAN-13 bar code.

The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a unique[1][2] 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,[3] for the booksellers and stationers W. H. Smith and others in 1966.[4]

The 10-digit ISBN format was developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and was published in 1970 as international standard ISO 2108.[4] (However, the 9-digit SBN code was used in the United Kingdom until 1974.) An SBN may be converted to an ISBN by prepending the digit '0'. Currently, the ISO's TC 46/SC 9 is responsible for the ISBN. The ISO on-line facility only refers back to 1978.[5]

Since 1 January 2007, ISBNs have contained 13 digits, a format that is compatible with Bookland EAN-13s.[6]

Occasionally, a book may appear without a printed ISBN if it is printed privately or the author does not follow the usual ISBN procedure; however, this can be rectified later.[7]

A similar numeric identifier, the International Standard Serial Number (ISSN), identifies periodical publications such as magazines.


  1. Occasionally, publishers erroneously assign an ISBN to more than one title — the first edition of The Ultimate Alphabet and The Ultimate Alphabet Workbook have the same ISBN, 0-8050-0076-3. Conversely, books are published with several ISBNs: A German, second-language edition of Emil und die Detektive has the ISBNs 87-23-90157-8 (Denmark), 0-8219-1069-8 (United States), 91-21-15628-X (Sweden), 0-85048-548-7 (England) and 3-12-675495-3 (Germany).
  2. In some cases, books sold only as sets share ISBNs. For example, the Vance Integral Edition used only 2 ISBNs for 44 books.
  3. Gordon Fosters original 1966 report can be found at
  4. 4.0 4.1 History,,
  5. (PDF) ISO 2108:1978, ISO,
  6. TC 46/SC 9, Frequently Asked Questions about the new ISBN standard from ISO, CA: LAC‐BAC,
  7. Bradley, Philip (1992). "Book numbering: The importance of the ISBNPDF (245KB). The Indexer. 18 (1): 25–26.

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