Guide to ISBN Numbers

The material on this page is drawn from the Thorpe-Bowker web site with the permission of Thorpe-Bowker. See the bottom of the page for more information on Thorpe-Bowker.

What is the ISBN?

The ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is a 13-digit number that uniquely identifies books and book-like products published internationally. Each number identifies a unique edition of a publication, from one specific publisher, allowing for more efficient marketing of products by booksellers, libraries, universities, wholesalers and distributors.

ISBNs are assigned by ISBN group agencies in 166 countries, coordinated by the International ISBN Agency in London. The Australian ISBN Agency (managed by Thorpe-Bowker) assigns ISBNs in Australia exclusively.

Advantages of the ISBN

    • The ISBN is a unique international identifier for monographic publications; assigning a number replaces the handling of long bibliographic descriptive records. Time and staff are saved, and copying mistakes are avoided.


    • The ISBN allows compilation and updating of book-trade directories and bibliographic databases, such as catalogues of books-in-print. Information on available books can be found easily.


    • Ordering and distribution of books is mainly executed by ISBN; this is a fast and efficient method.


    • The ISBN is machine-readable in the form of a 13-digit EAN.UCC bar code. This is fast and avoids mistakes.


    • The ISBN is needed for the running of electronic point-of-sale systems in bookshops.


    • Rights management is mainly done on the basis of the ISBN.


    • The accumulation of sales data is done by the ISBN. This enables the varying successes of different product forms and editions of publications to be monitored, as well as enabling comparisons between different subject areas and even different publishing houses.


  • The national lending right in some countries is based on the ISBN. Such schemes enable authors and illustrators to receive payments proportionate to the number of times that their books are lent out by public libraries.

Downloadable guides and forms

If you are involved in self-publishing, you may be interested to know that Thorpe-Bowker, the organisation that supplies ISBNs (International Standard Book Numbers), which all books should have, is now issuing a regular newsletter, designed to help the rapidly growing army of people who are choosing to self-publish their books. They have a website, https://australianselfpublisher.com, which has a significant amount of news and useful resources, as well as links to their monthly newsletter which you can subscribe to. We've found it quite useful, and wanted to be sure our customers are aware of it.

Click here to download the Complete Manual for ISBN Users

To obtain an ISBN number, you need to fill out the appropriate form online.

Thorpe-Bowker have completely changed the process for obtaining an ISBN. Click here to go to the starting point in the process for applying for an ISBN.

Filling in the application form

Publisher Details

Publisher: The person or organisation that is responsible for producing the publication — it is normally NOT the printer.

Address: Please supply a postal address, and a street address if separate.

Contact name: This is the person who will be responsible for receiving notification of the ISBN/s. If you are applying for a block, it is the person who will be responsible for the allocation of ISBNs to publications and for notifying the ISBN Agency of these allocations.

Title details:To be completed by those publishers who require a single ISBN. As some details may change between issuing the ISBN and publication, amendments can be made at any time after the ISBN is issued.

Subtitle (if any): a secondary title that appears after the title and usually is of an explanatory nature. In the following example, the subtitle is after the colon.

Olympic Fever: A Study of the Australian Mood in the Year 2000.

Contributors: We can only list up to two of each type (e.g., authors, illustrators); if there are more than two of each type (e.g., 3 authors), one will be listed along with the term ‘Others’. Editors should only be listed if they are mentioned on the imprint page; for example, in an anthology.

Multi-volume works/editions: see Frequently Asked Questions

Number of pages: The number of actually numbered pages; eg, a book has 83 bound pages, with an introduction paginated in roman numerals, and only 60 numbered pages from 1 to 60. The number of pages in this case is 60.

Illustrations: does not include the cover.

Price: recommended retail price, including GST

Envisaged date of publication: an estimated time (month & year) for when the publication will be made available.

Changed arrangements for CiP (Cataloguing in Publication) entries

Self-publishers should also be aware that the arrangements for a Cataloguing in Publication entry (the other more or less essential identifying element that should appear on the Copyright page of a book) changed recently. Applications are now processed instantly, eliminating the old ten day timeframe. A cataloguing statement has replaced CiP entries for publishers to print in the their books. You can read more about the changes and benefits at http://www.nla.gov.au/content/changes-to-the-cip-service.National Library of Australia Catalogue Record logo

About Thorpe-Bowker

Thorpe-Bowker, a division of R R Bowker LLC, is Australia ’s leading bibliographic information provider for book professionals. Founded in Australia as D W Thorpe in 1921 and becoming part of the international Bowker business in 2001. Thorpe-Bowker collects, aggregates and publishes information about the Australian and international book industries in a range of formats, including online and in print.

Thorpe-Bowker's core product range includes the Global Books In Print bibliographic database, Australian Books In Print, Bookseller+Publisher magazine and its supplements, the Weekly Book Newsletter, Syndetic Solutions and the recently acquired Australian Library News.

Thorpe-Bowker has been successfully operating the ISBN Agency in Australia since 1997.