08 Feb

Of all the barcodes, the ISBN is one of the most frequently asked questions. Perhaps one of the main reasons they are looking for so much information about this particular code is because their children have been sent a textbook at school with a particular ISBN.

On the other hand, the reasons for wanting to know what it is and how it works may be unrelated to that specific one. In any case, in this post we want to answer any questions you may have.

What is the ISBN?

ISBN is a barcode used to identify a book in a sales context. In no case is it indicative of intellectual property, it is simply one more barcode, but for specific use and must follow a specific generation process.

A book needs an ISBN so that it can be sold and marketed, so that publishers, booksellers, or stores can properly identify it for inventory or business transactions.

The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) system, established in 1967, was introduced to Hong Kong in 1976. ISBNs allow efficient and accurate identification of book titles, publishers, and places of publication. They are widely used by publishers, booksellers, and libraries for book ordering and stock control. The original 10-digit format has expanded to 13 digits since 1 January 2007.

ISBN update

In 2007 there was a change in the ISBN coding system. Until then the ISBN was made up of ten digits, but for different reasons the number of digits was increased to 13, thus functioning as the EAN code system.

Elements of an ISBN

The elements that make up an ISBN number and, therefore, its coding follow a pattern similar to that of the rest of barcodes.

  • The prefix: an element always limited to three digits and that, at present, can only be 978 or 979.
  • Registration group: the element that identifies the country, region or linguistic area to which it belongs. The length of this element ranges from one to five digits.
  • Element that identifies the owner of the book: in this case the editor or publisher; and can have an extension of up to seven digits.
  • Next comes the publication number, which specifies the edition and format of the work. This element can be up to 6 digits long.
  • And, finally, the control digit, the last digit and the one that serves as validation in case it has to be entered manually.

Elements of an ISBN What is it for?

Thus, we can establish that the ISBN serves to identify a product, as well as its owner, the edition to which it belongs and the format of the work.
However, this utility is a means to an end, having a very different real result. Thanks to the ease with which the ISBN identifies a book, this code streamlines and speeds up the management of the book. Either for your purchase-sale or for donations to libraries.

What types of publications use an ISBN?

ISBNs are applicable to:

  • printed books and pamphlets
  • atlases and maps Braille publications
  • mixed media publications
  • electronic publications
  • microforms educational
  • videos or movies
  • microcomputer software

(please refer to the guidelines extracted from ISBN Review)

Who requests the ISBN

As a general rule, it is the publishers and publishers who ask for and pay for the ISBN code that corresponds to the book. But if you are a writer who intends to self-publish the work, you will have no problem applying for the number yourself.

By having to pay, the cost is normally assumed by the publishers since they are the ones who market the book. There are countries and regions where government funding provides this number for free. 

Obtaining the ISBN code does not mean that it is legally protected in situations of intellectual property, since they are two very different issues. The ISBN is necessary when exercising the exploitation rights of the work, but in no case can it be used as evidence that the publisher also has the intellectual property rights.

What are the advantages of buying textbooks by ISBN?

Buying a textbook through the ISBN has two clear advantages: precision when buying and comparing prices.
The most important issue falls into the fact that there are a large number of textbooks that have similar names or, in many cases, the same book has different editions and all of them are in circulation. Having the ISBN of the book helps to have accurate information about the book and the necessary edition.
And, on the other hand, there are ISBN comparators that allow the user to compare prices in different stores of the same book thanks to its ISBN.

ISBN books. Frequent questions

Doubts about the ISBN do not end there, so now we are going to spend a little time answering the most frequently asked questions that users like you have been asking. Here are questions that will serve both bookstore customers and those who need to publish a book and still don't know exactly what to do.

Is the ISBN mandatory?

The ISBN is not required to publish a book or obtain Legal Deposit, and it is not exactly required to be able to sell the book.
But you need to be aware that without ISBN most book stores and department stores will turn down the opportunity to sell your book, as the absence of that barcode makes it difficult to identify the product and slows down the fulfillment process.

How to buy ISBN for a book?

The assignment of ISBNs to published books is not a statutory requirement in Hong Kong, nor is it related to or associated with copyright ownership. You can go to the Hong Kong Public Libraries (Government Agency) by clicking HERE to register a book.

No application fee is required. ISBNs have no expiry dates, but they cannot be reused.

According to the guidelines of the International ISBN Agency, ISBNs are assigned based on where the publisher operates its business. The ISBNs issued by the BRO are for use by publishers operating in Hong Kong only and should not be assigned to books published outside Hong Kong, including the Mainland and overseas.

Where to put the ISBN on a book

According to the international ISBN agency, the code must be placed on the credit page, that is, on the back cover. In case there is no space in this place, you should place the ISBN at the bottom of the title page.

And, in the event that the ISBN does not have a barcode, it must be on the bottom right of the back cover.

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