A unique product identifier

International Standard Book Number has begun to mean a lot to me ever since I commenced my authoring and publishing career. I have used ISBN numbers before to search for my books on the internet and on top 20 online book retailers’ websites. Other than that, I had not given any thought to it until I chose this field for an assessment task and researched about it. It was interesting to learn that W.H. Smith, the largest book retailer in Great Britain, expressed his desire to have a standard numbering system in place in 1965 for his books which he was planning to move to a computerized warehouse in 1967. The British Publisher’s Association’s distribution and methods committee with the help of other experts in the U.K book trade came up with a Standard Book Number in 1966 which was implemented in 1967 and was approved as an ISO standard in 1970. Hence International Standard Book Number became ISO 2108.


Something that I did not know earlier is the five elements which an ISBN is made up of. The first element Prefix, is always three digits in length which can only be 978 or 979; the second element, Registration group, can be between 1-5 digits and is used to identify a particular country, geographical region or even language area to which the ISBN belongs; the third element, Registrant, can be up to 7 digits and is used to identity the particular  publisher or imprint; the fourth element, Publication, can be up to 6 digits and is used to identify the particular edition and format of a specific title and the fifth element called the check digit is the final number, which is calculated using a Modulus 10 system with alternate weights of 1 and 3, used to legalize the rest of the numbers. Used as a product identifier by publishers, booksellers, libraries, internet retailers and other suppliers for ordering, listing, sales records, and stock control purposes ISBN is regarded as the most accurate way to search for a book. ISBNs are assigned to monographic publications, however individual sections from a book or journals also can be identified with the ISBN. Even though ISBN is not a copyright protection, in some countries it serves as a copyright for it is a legal requirement.

ISBN is an access point and is useful for information retrieval, cataloguing, for information about the genre via the synopsis or reviews. It also gives information about related titles such as Science fiction and Fantasy, Science Fiction, Mystery and Suspense and thrillers. This product identifier also provides the user information about the author, the title, the publisher and the publication date the language, the number of pages, the number of words, the length, width and the height, the binding if the book has a hardcover, downloadable format such as EPUB 2 etc., if eBook, and the cost. Authors or self-publishers are required to purchase ISBNs from different sources. For example, Americans buy ISBN from Bowker, Australians from Thorpe Bowker, Indians from Raja Ram Mohan Roy National Agency or Pothi.com for free etc.

Another numbering system that can be used to identify a book is the International Article Number also known as European Article Number which is like ISBN with barcodes however is known as global trade identifier. For my third book, I purchased an EAN from Barcode Australia which I included in my e-copy and I was excited to see the Certificate of Authenticity. It is usually not used for books or magazines but on all types of retail products, especially if you are listing on Amazon.   

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