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International Standard Book Number (ISBN)

International Standard Book Number or ISBN is a unique ten or thirteen digit numeric identifier that is given to every published book as part of an international registration system. It is usually found on the back cover of the books over barcodes.

ISBNs are commercial identification numbers for books that the publishers have to buy from the International ISBN Agency. Books can be searched on the internet by this unique number, nowadays.

Types of ISBN Numbers

There are basically two types of ISBN Numbers depending on how many digits there are. The two types are -

  1. 10-digit Number (older practice)
  2. 13-digit Number (standard practice nowadays)

The 10-digit ISBNs used to be the norm but now ISBNs have 13 digits in general. ISBNs for older books need to accommodate by adding “978” before the original barcode given at the time of registration

Under these circumstances, the older books end up having two ISBNs while the newer ones only have one 13 digit code. One can turn the 10 digit numbers into 13 digit ones but not vice versa. The 13 digit ISBNs primarily registered are not convertible to 10 digits.


For example, the hardcover gift edition of Paulo Coelho’s bestseller novel, The Alchemist had a ten digit ISBN number - “0060887966” but now has a 13 digit one as well. This number will tell people the title of the book, the name of the publisher etc. 

The ISBN-13 - “9781538728628” on the Nicholas Sparks novel, The Wish tells the decoder when it was published, in which country or region, by which publisher as well as the title of the book.


Use of the Term in Sentences:

  • The books published in the English-speaking regions of the world have a distinct code in the ISBN of 1 or 0 in them; the 1 determines USA and 0 for the rest of the English-speaking countries.


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