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ISBN-10 vs ISBN-13 Difference

isbn 10 isbn 13 difference

International Standard Book Numbers, or ISBNs, are numbers that identify a specific type of book presented to the market by a specific publisher. Every type of book in every language published by traditional publishers or self-publishers qualifies to be assigned an ISBN. They are used for sorting purposes, book identification, and other needs by distributors, libraries, educational institutions, and more.

For more than 30 years, ISBNs were given a standard 10 digit number to identify the book to which it was assigned. This is referred to as the ISBN-10. Starting on January 1, 2007 the ISBN system was switch to a 13 digit format. This is referred to as the ISBN-13.

What If I Have Unused ISBN-10s?

When a publisher purchases ISBNs, they will generally purchase a block of numbers. Blocks of up to 1 million ISBNs or more are available if needed. This means that even though the transition happened in 2007, there may still be several unused ISBN-10s assigned to a publisher. You can still bank these to use when you have the need to do so.

Can an ISBN-10 Be Converted to an ISBN-13?

There is a process in place that allows an ISBN-10 to be converted to an ISBN-13. If a book is assigned a 10 digit ISBN, then a 978 code can be added to it to give it an ISBN-13 equivalent. According to Bowker, which is the US provider of ISBNs, numbers beginning with 978 will be issued until the current number of available 10 digit ISBNs are exhausted.

Once this happens, then 979 codes will be granted for new ISBNs. Once the 979 codes are issued, they will not have an ISBN-10 equivalent.

This makes it easier for books to be distributed and sold around the world because the 13 digit number corresponds with other industry standards. For new books, if you purchase an ISBN, you will be receiving a 13 digit number. It is only older assignments that still use the 10 digit code.

Here’s what you need to do.

  • Drop the check digit from your existing ISBN-10. This is the last digit of your number. When you drop it, you’ll be left with a 9 digit number.
  • Now add the 978 prefix to the beginning of your 9 digit number. This creates a 12 digit number.
  • You then must recalculate your check digit. You do this by using what is known as the “Modulus 10 Check Digit Routine.”

You will be notified if the 978 prefix is no longer valid for the ISBN-10s that are currently unassigned. If for some reason you need to transition an ISBN-13 back into an ISBN-10, then you would just follow these steps in reverse.

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What If I Have a Bar Code With My ISBN?

Although the transition between the ISBN-10 and ISBN-13 is affecting many systems within the publishing industry, one of the few things that is not changing is the bar codes that have been assigned. The numbers encoded into the bar code do not change at all. Books that are presently marked with an ISBN-10 bar code are considered to be correctly coded. There are no changes to the symbols of the bar codes happening now or in the future.

If there is trouble with the bar code for some reason when a book is transitioning between the two ISBN options, then a UPC bar code is considered the best secondary practice to use. Self-publishers, retailers, and others can use price-point UPCs or item-specific UPCs to identify books on their own systems for sales and then report that information to the ISBN-10 or ISBN-13 that has been assigned to that specific book format.

Don’t worry. If this is something you don’t want to deal with right now, you can let others deal with the issue. Bar code issues especially can be dealt with at the supplier level to have corrections made if necessary. Books can be stickered with correct codes to make sure they are ISBN compliant if necessary.

This ISBN-10 vs ISBN-13 issue is only a problem for books that were printed before 2007. Anything new is already compliant and you don’t have to worry about this issue at all. For all others, we wish you the best of luck.

Melissa G Wilson

Melissa has been a leader in the book writing, publishing and marketing arena for the past two decades. To date, she has helped more than 100 thought leaders write, publish and market their books. Her clients include executives such as Dan Weinfurter a seven-time Inc 500 winner and Orlando Ashford, President of Holland Cruise Lines.

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