The value of identity of course is that so often with it comes purpose.—Richard Grant

Welcome to Compass Rose Horizons.
We offer expert proofreading, editing, book design, eBook conversion, and transcription services.

ISBN — International Standard Book Number


An ISBN broken down into its respective parts.

ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. It is a numeric code assigned to every published book in the marketplace. ISBNs make it efficient for libraries, booksellers, and others to order, distribute, and catalog books. ISBNs should be placed on:

  • printed books,
  • electronic books (e-Books),
  • DVDs, and
  • CDs and CD-ROMs.

The ISBN system was created in the United Kingdom in 1966 by the bookseller and stationer W.H. Smith and was originally a nine-digit code called Standard Book Numbering, or SBN (still used in 1974). It was adopted as international standard ISO 2108 in 1970. A similar identifier, the International Standard Serial Number (ISSN), is used for periodical publications such as magazines. As of January 1, 2007, ISBNs are now 13 digits long.


Each edition and variation (except reprints) of a book receives its own ISBN. The number is either 13 or 10 (before 1 January 2007) digits long, and consists of four or five parts:

  • if 13-digit ISBN, a GS1 Prefix, either 978 or 979;
  • the country of origin or language area code;
  • the publisher;
  • the item number; and
  • a checksum character or check digit.

The country field is zero or one for English-speaking countries, two for French-speaking countries, three for German-speaking countries, four for Japanese, five for Russian, etc. (The original SBN lacked the country field, but prefixing zero to a nine-digit SBN creates a valid ISBN.) The country field can be up to five digits long; 99936, for instance, is used for Bhutan.

The publisher number is assigned by the national ISBN agency, and the item number is chosen by the publisher. There is, in general, no requirement for a publisher to assign an ISBN to a book nor for that book to display its number. However, many bookstores will only deal with items bearing an ISBN.

Publishers receive blocks of ISBNs, with larger blocks going to publishers that are expected to need them; a small publisher might receive ISBNs consisting of a digit for the language, seven digits for the publisher, and a single digit for the individual items. Once that block is used up, the publisher can receive another block of numbers, with a different publisher number. As a consequence, different publisher numbers may correspond to the same publisher.

How to Acquire ISBNs

ISBNs in the United States are administered by R.R. Bowker, which charges a fee to process your application. At the time of this writing, ten ISBNs cost $269.95. Visit Bowker for more information.

If you are a self-publisher, you should be aware that Bowker is the ONLY authorized source in the United States for assigning an ISBN. This important warning is found on their Web site: “Only companies you designate as your publisher should assign ISBNs to your publications from their block of ISBNs. You may encounter offers from other sources to purchase single ISBNs at special offer prices. Companies that provide limited services such as distributing, retailing, bar code services, printing, and/or marketing should NOT assign ISBNs from their company to your publications unless you allow them to also hold publishing rights. If you use one of these reassigned ISBNs, you will NOT be correctly identified as the publisher of record in Books In Print or any of the industry databases, such as Barnes & Noble or Amazon, or in the databases of wholesalers such as Ingram. Discovering the consequences too late can lead to extensive costs to apply for a new prefix and reassign a new ISBN, and can potentially lead to the application of stickers to books already printed and in circulation.” It is worth reading the complete article regarding unauthorized sellers

ISBNs in Canada are administered by the National Public Library as a free service. Visit the library for more information or to apply on-line.

For more information on the ISBN system and how it works, visit

Are You Interested in Self-Publishing?

We have worked in publishing for over twenty years. E-mail us at if you are ready to explore your options in self-publishing.

About Us
Contact Us
Proofreading & Editing
Editorial Rates
eBook Conversion & Design
Typesetting & Book Design
Gift Certificates
Now Available
Upcoming Releases
Grammar Tips
Publishing-Related Articles
Style Guides
Compass Rose Horizons