The 5-1-1 on ISBN

I suspected, and I was right, that the publishing world was running out of numbers, which is why the industry made the transition from 10-digit to 13-digit International Standard Book Numbers. What I did not suspect is that part of the conversion was to "fully align the numbering system for books with the global EAN.UCC identification system that is widely used to identify most other consumer goods worldwide."

Other fun ISBN-13 facts include:

Printing two ISBN numbers was encouraged during the transition period between 2005 and 2007. It was also expected that purchases, marketing communication pieces, lookup functions (like library catalogs and goodreads.com) and other transactions should include both numbers. After 2007, the 10-digit number was allowed, but discouraged.

ISBN numbers actually mean something about the book. The current 13-digit ISBN number can be broken down into five parts:
  • A prefix of "978";
  • A country identifier;
  • A publisher/imprint identifier;
  • A title identifier, which can also be unique for particular editions of a title; and
  • A single check digit used to validate the number
Some numbers end with an X because the "check digit" system is an 11-digit rotation (ranging from 10 to 0). It would, of course, totally defeat the system of a 10- or 13-digit number with one slot for the check digit, to have that digit be too big, so they cleverly use the roman numeral for 10.

ISBN-13 for dummies (seriously...is there a topic out there not for dummies?) should explain even more about the wonderful world of book industry standards. For further information (and, I know...there's a lot more to know!) another good starting place is ISBN.org, which is where I got my intel.

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