ISBN : Java Glossary


ISBN (International Standard Book Number). A unique number given to each book published. If you publish your own book, you can get an ISBN through Lulu, a self publishing house. You can set yourself up as a publisher, or register Lulu as the publisher.

13-digit ISBN numbers

The world is converting to the new Bookland EAN-13, 13-digit, bar-code ISBNs (International Standard Book Numbers). There is a program online to convert 10 to 13. All it does is prepend 978- to the old number and recompute the check digit, e. g.
0-915972-22-0 becomes 978-0-915972-22-7.
0-13-625666-X becomes 978-0-13-625666-3.

My own ISBN online applet converts ISBN-10 ⇐⇒ ISBN-13 inserting/removing dashes and lets you know if they are valid.

The new Bookland EAN-13 checkdigit is computed in an unusual way with mod 10 and weight 3. This means the 13-digit ISBN numbers are always purely numeric. There is never an X checkdigit as there is sometimes with the mod-10, 10-digit ISBNs. 10-digit ISBNs and 12-digit UPCs (Universal Product Codes) are being unified as 13-digit EANs (European Article Numbers).


ISBNs are a remarkable political achievement. All the book publishers, book sellers and libraries had to agree on a common identification system for books. It would have been nice if, given an ISBN for a paperback, you could directly deduce the ISBN of the corresponding hard cover, or other revisions of the same paperback. Presumably that was too complicated to permit consensus. With huge computer databases, this cross linking can now be handled outside the numbering system. Consider that if you want to buy a TV, hard disk, kitchen appliance etc. there no corresponding universal product number or product classification scheme (e.g. for 1 TB (Terabytes) hard disks). Every manufacturer has their own part number scheme and every vendor has their own scheme. It makes comparison shopping difficult.


9-digit ISBNs were introduced in 1966. Books published prior to 1966 will usually not have ISBNs, though it is possible to assign them retroactively. 10-digit ISBNs were introduced in 1970. 13-digit ISBNs were introduced in 2007. Currently nearly all 13-digit ISBNs begin with the digits 978. The 979 and, 976 and 982 prefixes have been added which have no ISBN-10 equivalent. When all the 13-digit ISBNs are used, they say they will go to 14 digits but I suspect they will go to something huge like 128 bits that will never again need to be changed. They cannot use all prefixes other than 978 and 979 because they are already assigned GS1 codes. You would have expected there to be 1000 times as many codes from going to ISBN-13, but because of GS1 integration, it only doubled.

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