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ISBN is the abbreviation of International Standard Book Number, an international code number to uniquely identify books. ISBNs are frequently found in barcode form on the back of books. The "dashes" within ISBNs are for essentially decorative. LibraryThing strips all ISBNs of their dashes.

Publishers are not obliged to use the ISBN code but most book retailers avoid carrying books without an ISBN. This is why books published by, for example, the Folio society do not carry an ISBN.

Strictly speaking, the ISBN relates to the interior content of a book. If the interior content changes, the publisher must get a new ISBN. But publishers may issue the same ISBN with different covers over time. This is why a given ISBN on LibraryThing can be mapped to an unfamiliar cover.

Problem ISBNs

Occasionally, the ISBN on the back of a book will not match the title of the book. The correct ISBN can often be found inside.

Very occasionally, an ISBN is reused, intentionally or unintentionally, causing extensive confusion in data up and down the book world. A partial list of some issues is collected at [ISBN problems].

ISBN10 vs. ISBN13

ISBNs can be either 10 or 13 characters. ISBN-10 was in use between 1970 and 2006. Books published from 2007 on carry an ISBN-13, often in conjunction with an ISBN-10.

ISBN-13s come in two flavors, those starting with 978 and those starting with 979.

All ISBN-10s have an equivalent ISBN-13 form, which involves adding 978 to the front and recalculating the final "check" digit. And all ISBNs starting with 978 have an equivalent ISBN-10 form, which involves removing the 978 and recalculating the final "check" digit. 979s, which remain rare (as of 2015), do not have an equivalent ISBN-10 form.

Two ISBN10/13 conversion tools:


Some books between 1966 and the mid-1970s have 9-digit SBNs (Standard Book Number). Convert to ISBN by adding a zero to the front.

Be aware that some early editions do not have the SBN recorded inside the book. They can usually be found on the spine of the book. Some also have the price of the book added as a 3-digit number to the end of the SBN, resulting in a 12-digit number. You can usually check this by comparing the last three digits to the price (e.g. 050 equals 50¢)


Amazon Standard Identification Numbers (ASINs) are the system Amazon uses to track its products. They are a ten-digit code. For most paper books, the ASIN is the same as the ISBN-10. These are sometimes called ISBN ASINs. Increasingly, however, Kindle books generally have ASINs, not ISBNs. Amazon has more about ISBNs and ASINs (and UPCs) at http://www.amazon.com/gp/seller/asin-upc-isbn-info.html .

UPC to ISBN conversion

Some US and Canadian books have a UPC barcode on the back rather than an ISBN. This can be converted to an ISBN using the following UPC vendor code to ISBN vendor code translations. (This list is incomplete.) Cuecats can capture the UPC values, which can be converted to ISBN for LT entry (if you're a whizz with MS Excel - Patentnonsense describes his efforts in this thread).

First Number - Country of Issue (0 = US, 1 = UK) Second Number - Publisher's house Third Number - publication order number of book Last digit - check number

UPC vendor code ISBN vendor code
018926 0445
027778 0449
037145 0812
042799 0785
043144 0688
044903 0312
045863 0517
046594 0694
047132 0152
051487 0816
051488 0140
060771 0002
065373 0373
070992 0523
070993 0446
070999 0345
071001 0380
071009 0440
071125 0886
071136 0451
071149 0451
071152 0515
071162 0451
071268 0821
071831 0425
071842 0843
072742 0441
076714 0671
076783 0553
076814 0449
078021 0872
079808 0394
090129 0679
099455 0061
099769 0451
034057 093187
034057 155560
037145 0765
050694 0345
076714 0743
077434 0743
645573 1595


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