Up until the end of 2006 the ISBN was a 10-digit number, but from 1 January 2007 all ISBN numbers are 13-digits.
An ISBN is a product number, used by publishers, booksellers and libraries for ordering, listing and stock control purposes. It enables them to identify a particular publisher and allows the publisher to identify a specific edition of a specific title in a specific format within their output.
ISBNs were 10-digits long until 2007, when a new global standard, using 13-digits, was introduced. Under the system which started on 1 January 2007, the 13-digits are always divided into five parts, separated by spaces or hyphens. The four parts following the prefix element can be of varying length and are as shown below.
Prefix element: for the foreseeable future this will be 978 or 979
Registration group element: identifies a national, geographic, or national grouping. It shows where the publisher is based
Registrant element: identifies a specific publisher or imprint
Publication element: identifies a specific edition of a specific title in a specific format
Check digit: the final digit which mathematically validates the rest of the number.
Following the change on 1 January 2007 existing 10-digit numbers must be converted by prefixing them with "978" and the check digit must be recalculated using a Modulus 10 system with alternate weights of 1 and 3. The ISBN Agency can help you with this.
There is no legal requirement in the UK or Republic of Ireland for an ISBN and it conveys no form of legal or copyright protection. It is simply a product identification number.
If you wish to sell your publication through major bookselling chains, or internet booksellers, they will require you to have an ISBN to assist their internal processing and ordering systems.
The ISBN also provides access to bibliographic databases such as Nielsen BookData Online, which uses ISBNs as references. These databases help booksellers and libraries to provide information for customers. The ISBN therefore provides access to additional tools which could help sales of your product.
ISBNs are assigned to publishers in the country where the publisher's main office is based. This is irrespective of the language of the publication or the intended market for the book.
The ISBN Agency is the national agency for the UK and Republic of Ireland and British Overseas Territories. Publishers based elsewhere will not be able to get numbers from the UK Agency (even if you are a British Citizen) but can contact the Nielsen ISBN Agency for details of the relevant national Agency.
Any publisher who is publishing a qualifying product for general sale or distribution to the market. By publishing we mean making a work available to the public.
The publisher is generally the person or organisation taking the financial and other risks in making a publication available. For example, if a product went on sale and sold no copies at all, the publisher loses money. If you get paid anyway, you are likely to be a designer, printer, author or consultant of some kind.
From the Nielsen ISBN Agency the Standard service time is 10 working days. This excludes weekends, UK Bank Holidays and days when the office is closed. There is also a Fast-Track service, which is a 3 working day processing period. The processing period begins when a correctly completed application is received in the ISBN Agency - not when it is posted. We now also offer a Super-Fast Track Service: ISBNs are supplied in 1 working day, provided the application is received before 13.00.
The current prices are as listed on the "Buy ISBNS" page.
ISBNs can now be bought individually or in blocks of 10.
Any publication that is without a defined end should not be assigned an ISBN. For example, publications that are regularly updated and to continue indefinitely (such as journals, serials, magazines, newspapers, updating loose- leafs, updating websites) are ineligible for ISBN.
Some examples of products that do not qualify for ISBN: