About ISBNs


The acronym ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. The acronym is internationally recognized and is used in both English and French.

An ISBN is a 13-digit number that is applied to, and uniquely identifies an edition of a book or book-like product. Book-like products include books, pamphlets, educational kits, microforms, CD-ROMs and other digital and electronic publications. They are distinct from serial or periodical publications that are published in successive issues, at regular or irregular intervals, usually with each issue bearing the same title. Serial publications do not receive an ISBN but instead are given an International Standard Serial Number (ISSN).

Publishers, booksellers, libraries and others in the book industry use ISBNs in order to identify, locate, track and manage publications. Many retailers will not stock an item that lacks either an ISBN or ISSN.

With the addition of the 3-digit EAN (European article number) product code, ISBN changed from a 10 to 13 digit number as of January 1, 2007.

This 13-digit number is divided into five parts of variable length; each part is separated by a hyphen or a space.

Government of Canada ISBNs

The Depository Services Program (DSP) has delegated authority to assign ISBNs to publications produced by Canadian government organizations.

It is a requirement of the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada that ISBNs must be assigned to all Government of Canada book-like publications.

Other considerations

An ISBN is also required for:

  • each issue in a series,
  • each revision or new edition,
  • each separate language edition,
  • each set of a work issued in more than one volume, and each volume in the set,
  • alternative formats.

The DSP does not provide ISBNs for publications in (X)HTML format.

The ISBN provided by the DSP for one format of a publication must not be applied to any other formats in which that publication is produced. Each format requires a unique ISBN. For example, the ISBN provided for a print edition must not be applied to the PDF edition.

The most common place for an ISBN to appear is on the verso of the title page, following the Crown Copyright statement and the Government of Canada Catalogue Number. For example:

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Health, 2013

Cat. No. H164-154/2012E-PDF
ISBN 978-1-100-20973-9

However if this is not possible or appropriate, the most important factor is that the ISBN appears accurately and legibly in the publication. The actual location can vary, for example the ISBN can appear on the face of a CD-ROM, or on the back of a kit or folder.