Scope and Assignment of ISBN

Eligible products

In principle, publications that are monographic (i.e. one-off publications not periodicals or serials etc), text-based (or predominantly text-based) and available to the public are considered eligible within the scope of the ISBN Standard.

Some examples of the types of publication that qualify for ISBN are:

  • Printed books and pamphlets
  • Individual chapters or sections of a publication if these are made available separately
  • Braille publications
  • Publications that are not intended by the publisher to be updated regularly or continued indefinitely
  • Individual articles or issues of a particular continuing resource (but not the continuing resource in its entirety)
  • Maps
  • Educational/instructional films, videos and transparencies
  • Audiobooks on cassette, or CD, or DVD (talking books)
  • Electronic publications either on physical carriers (such as machine-readable tapes, diskettes, or CD-ROMs) or on the Internet
  • Digitised copies of print monographic publications
  • Microform publications
  • Educational or instructional software
  • Mixed media publications (where the principal constituent is text-based)
  • Print on demand publications (print on demand is just a method of very short run printing) 

Publishers should contact their national ISBN agency for advice as to whether or not a specific product is eligible for ISBN.

Ineligible products

Any publication that is without a defined end should not be assigned an ISBN. For example, publications that are intended to be regularly updated and to continue indefinitely (such as journals, serials, magazines, newspapers, updating looseleafs, updating websites) are ineligible for ISBN. 

Some examples of products that do not qualify for ISBN are:

  • Journals, periodicals, serials, newspapers in their entirety (although single issues or articles where these are made available separately may be assigned ISBN as well) (see http://www.issn.org)
  • Abstract entities such as textual works and other abstract creations of intellectual orartistic content (see http://www.istc-international.org)
  • Ephemeral printed materials such as advertising matter and the like    
  • Customised print on demand publications (Publications that are available only on a limited basis, such as customised print on demand publications with content specifically tailored to a user’s request shall not be assigned an ISBN. If a customised publication is being made available for wider sale, e.g. as a college course pack available through a college book store, then an ISBN should be assigned.) 
  • Printed music (see http://www.ismn-international.org)
  • Art prints and art folders without title page and text
  • Personal documents (such as an curriculum vitae or personal profile)
  • Greetings cards
  • Music sound recordings
  • Software that is intended for any purpose other than educational or instructional
  • Electronic bulletin boards
  • E-mails and other digital correspondence
  • Updating websites
  • Games

Sometimes, other types of items are produced such as stationery items or toys that are based on characters in particular books, etc. These types of materials cannot be identified by ISBN but should be numbered by other systems such as EAN UPC bar codes. Modern scanning equipment reads and processes the different kinds of bar-coded numbers.

For further information including clarification about whether or not a particular type of product may qualify, please contact your national ISBN agency.

Principles of assignment

Displaying the ISBN on publications 

When an ISBN has been assigned it should always be displayed on the publication concerned. This is important for easy identification and, when the ISBN is displayed in bar code format, libraries and bookshops for example will be able to process incoming stock and outgoing sales quickly and accurately.

There are particular places on a publication where the ISBN should be displayed:

  • On a printed book an ISBN should be included on the copyright page (also called the title verso page) or at the foot of the title page if there is no room on the copyright page. If there is no bar code, then the ISBN should also be on the back cover or jacket preferably on the lower right.

  • In the case of digital publications (such as compact discs, online publications, etc.), the ISBN must appear on the title display, that is the first display page or on the screen that displays the title or its equivalent (e.g., the initial screen displayed when the content is first accessed and/or on the screen that carries the copyright notice). For more information on using ISBN with digital publications, click here.

  • For eligible educational/instructional films, videos, and transparencies, the ISBN must appear on the credit titles.

  • If the publication is issued in a container that is an integral part of the publication (e.g., a compact disc, cassette, or diskette), the ISBN should be displayed on any labels included with that container. If it is not possible to display the ISBN on the container or its label, then the ISBN should be displayed at the bottom of the back of any permanent packaging for that container (e.g., the box, sleeve, or frame).

 More detailed information about how to assign ISBNs and when a new ISBN is required is available here.