What Is an ISBN and Why Does It Matter?

If you’re in college, have been to college, or have had to do any type of research, chances are you’re familiar with the term ISBN. But, do you really know what the term means and why an ISBN is important? Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about ISBNs.

What Does ISBN Mean?

ISBN is the acronym for International Standard Book Number. An International Standard Book Number is a 10 or 13 digit number that is used as a product identifier for publishers, booksellers, libraries, internet retailers, and many other entities. Most ISBNs that can be found these days are 13 digits.

According to the International ISBN Agency, each ISBN consists of 5 elements and is calculated using a specific formula. The 5 elements that make up an ISBN are:

  1. Prefix Element – this element will either be 978 or 979.
  2. Registration Group Element – this element is used to identify the particular country, geographical region, or language area.
  3. Registrant Element – this element identifies the publisher or imprint.
  4. Publication Element – this identifies the edition and format of a specific title.
  5. Check Digit – the final single digit that validates the rest of the number mathematically.

The International ISBN Agency is located in London and is known as the registration authority for the ISBN system worldwide. However, each country has its own agency that is responsible for issuing ISBNs. Bowker is the official agency for the United States.

During the publication process, either the book publisher or the publishing author will go through the ISBN application process to obtain an ISBN.


Where Is the ISBN Located?

The ISBN number can be found on the back cover of a book in the lower portion above the bar code. It can also be found on the copyright page.

Why Does ISBN Matter?

The ISBN is important because they are used to establish and identify one title or edition of a title from one specific publisher and is unique to that edition. The ISBN makes it easier for booksellers, libraries, universities, and wholesalers to market and sell products. 

ISBNs are also beneficial for consumers because it makes it easier to search and locate the exact product you’re looking for. For most required materials in college, a professor will provide you with an ISBN number, in addition to a book title and author, to ensure that all students have the correct materials. If an ISBN is provided to you, it is recommended to shop by searching for that ISBN to make sure you are purchasing the exact version of the publication that you need.

How Can I Shop for an ISBN Online?

Since an ISBN identifies a specific product, it can be as easy as entering a single ISBN into the Google search bar to find what product you are looking for. However, this method will usually yield thousands of results that might be overwhelming to sort through.

If you need to look up the product information for a specific ISBN, check out this free ISBN Lookup from eCampus.com

What Products Need an ISBN?

According to ISBN.org, each format or binding of a publication needs to have a separate ISBN. This includes printed books, hardcover, paperbound, VHS video, laserdisc, e-book format, etc. Essentially, every product form or title must have a unique ISBN for all versions and formats. 

For more helpful tips and FAQs, be sure to connect with us @ecampusdotcom on Twitter, Instagram, & Facebook for more resources, tips, and some great giveaways! And when it’s time for textbooks, eCampus.com has you covered for all your course material needs at savings up to 90%!


  1. https://www.archwaypublishing.com/en/faq/10-things-you-should-know-about-isbn
  2. https://www.editage.com/info/book-editing-services/articles/10-faqs-on-isbn-every-self-publishing-author-must-know.html
  3. https://www.isbn-international.org/content/what-isbn
  4. https://www.isbn.org/faqs_general_questions