The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman.
"ISBN" stands for "International Standard Book Number." An ISBN number is an ISO standard and normally is found in all books published in the United States since 1970 and on many books published in other countries as well. Technically, an ISBN number is not a requirement for any book; you may publish books without such a number. However, experience has shown that an ISBN number is required if you want the book to be listed in the many indexing and cataloging systems available. Also, an ISBN number is required for all books that are to be sold by Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and most any other major bookseller. These booksellers use the ISBN numbers to order, inventory, and track books. If your book or ebook includes an ISBN number, it will also be listed in Bowker Books in Print®, which is used by all the major search engines and most bookstores and libraries.
Only the smallest self-published and self-marketed books can survive without ISBN numbers.
The ISBN identifies the title of the book or other book-like product (such as an audio book or video) to which it is assigned, as well as the publisher to be contacted for ordering purposes. The original standard has been revised as book and book-like content has appeared in new forms of media, but the basic structure of the ISBN as defined in the original ISO standard has not changed and is in use today in more than 150 countries. Today the ISBN agencies around the world are administered by the International ISBN Agency, located in London, UK. Information on international ISBN numbers may be found at http://www.isbn-international.org.
As an ISO standard, one agency per country is designated to assign ISBNs for the publishers and self-publishers located in that country. In the United States, that agency is the U.S. ISBN Agency in New Providence, New Jersey, with a web site at http://www.isbn.org.
For more than thirty years, ISBNs were 10 digits long. On January 1, 2007, the ISBN system switched to a 13-digit format. Now all new ISBN numbers are 13 digits long. A 10-digit ISBN cannot be converted to 13 digits merely by placing three digits in front of the 10-digit number. There is an algorithm that frequently results in a change of the last digit of the ISBN. You can find an online tool that will convert a 10-digit ISBN to its equivalent 13-digit ISBN number at http://www.isbn.org/converterpub.asp.
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