Book Terminology

FAQ: What is an ISBN?

A definition and explanation of the ISBN system for book identification, and tips on using them in online book searches.

ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number and it is a unique identifying number for a book. It refers to a specific edition. Publishers, libraries, and booksellers both in retail stores and online find ISBNs invaluable.  A book shopper can also find them very helpful.

For example, paperback and hardcover versions of the same title will have different ISBNs. A textbook will have a separate ISBN for each edition. International Edition textbooks have a different ISBN than the standard edition. If a book is reprinted by its same publisher without any changes or revisions, it will keep the same ISBN. 

Here’s an example of an ISBN above and below a bar code on the back of a book.

What about 10-digit vs 13-digit ISBNs?

All books published since 1970 (1974 in the UK) have 10-digit ISBNs.

Since 2005-2007 books also have a 13-digit number which begins with 978.

To find the ISBN of a particular book, just turn it over and look on the back. If the number is not identified as ISBN, then look in the bar code area for a 13-digit number beginning with 978.  The ISBN can also be found on the copyright page in the front of the book.

Tips for using an ISBN for a search:

  • You can use either the 10-digit or 13-digit ISBN to search in the keyword field on Biblio.
  • You do not need to include dashes, just the number, with no spaces between the numbers.
  • An ISBN refers to a specific edition of a book.  If you need a particular edition or format for a book, the ISBN should guarantee to get the book you expect. This is particularly relevant with textbooks and other books that have been updated.
  • Paperback editions and hardcover editions will have their own ISBNs.
  • If you are looking for a book with specific formatting such as large print, or possibly an edition printed in the U.K. instead of the U.S., then the ISBN can be very useful.
  • If you want to read a book but are not particular about the edition, then don’t limit yourself to one ISBN. Search with the title or author information.
  • Keep in mind that books published before 1970 will not have an ISBN unless they have been reprinted.

Biblio offers a unique multiple ISBN search that allows you to enter one or more ISBN numbers to be searched for simultaneously. Biblio’s ISBN Search helps you find the right title, every time.

9 Comments

  • i have a few collectabe books i want to sell hope you can help.some are first editions.by earnest hemingway,charles dickens,robert l.stevinson,edgar allen poe,pearl buck,mark twan,thats a few and most are first editions.i want to know if you can get me a good price.thanks,barbara

  • I HAVE A LOT OF BOOKS PULBISHED IN THE EARLY 1900 TO LATE 1800. WHAT CAN I DO WITH THEM BESIDES DONATING THEM. WHO DO I CONTACT ABOUT SELLING THEM AND WHERE CAN I FIND INFO ABOUT HOW MUCH THEY ARE WORTH. MANY ARE FIRST EDITIONS

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  • I need a textbook for a class. It needs to be the 8th edition. I currently have the 8th edition, published in the correct year as specified by my instructor. However, the ISBN number he gave is different. It needs to be the same because I need to have access to the interactive online website linked with the book. The book I have also has access to it, but I have no way of knowing if it’s the right book. Is it the same book?

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