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Understanding ISBN Codes

June 23, 2010

When we set up Last Light Studio last year, we knew that we were going to be dealing with ISBN 13 codes; you know: those nifty little bar codes that you find in lower right hand of the back cover of most books? (Go check on your book shelf if you don’t believe us. We’ll wait for you to come back).

But little did we realize how weirdly fun the whole ISBN experience would be (Yes, we are aware that describing ISBN codes as fun makes us big publishing nerds. We’re happy being big publishing nerds, thanks very much.) and that these nifty little codes which, at first glance, seem to serve the sole purpose of making it easier for the person at the register to scan your sale actually have a lot more going on.

In light of this, we thought it would be fun (there’s that word again) to use today’s post to highlight the 13 digits of a book’s ISBN code and explain what they mean. Let’s use Bringing Ararat as an example. Bringing Ararat’s ISBN code is: 978-0-9827084-0-8. But what does it all mean?

978 is the standard prefix for books. This three digit code is assigned by industry. In this case, 978 is generally used for book publishing.

0 is a language/country designation. In this case, zero stands for US / English.

9827084 is the designation for Last Light Studio. Interestingly, the bigger the publisher, the smaller their ISBN publisher code. For example, the ISBN code for Penguin books is just 14. Last Light, however, being the tiny studio it is has a very looong code.

The next 0 is a book value assigned specifically to Bringing Ararat. It is book zero for our studio.

Finally, the 8 at the end is a validation number which (and we’re not even going to pretend to understand this) allows computers to generate some sort of algorithm that makes sure the rest of the code is a correct.

Put them all together and you get the 13 digit code.

We’ll have a quiz on this tomorrow!

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One Comment leave one →
  1. December 22, 2014 6:00 am

    Thanks for your introduction of ISBN codes,i learned a lot .There is a lot of very useful knowledge in your post .I enjoy reading it and hope to see more.
    Word Barcode

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