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International Standard Book Number

The ISBN is a clear identification number for books, and applies to any monographic publication in printed, non-printed and mixed media formats

Ephemeral material is excluded, as well as unchanged impressions or unchanged reprints of the same title in the same format by the same publisher. The ISBN system is administered on an international, national and publisher level. It is a structured number, consisting of four meaningful groups of numbers, and is printed in easily legible type on the item itself. It is assigned to every title, or edition of a title, by each publisher. Publishers participating in the ISBN system contribute to practical ISBN uses in the publishing sector, distribution centres, bookshops and libraries.

An international standard, ISO 2108:2005: Information and documentation - International Standard Book Numbering, specifies the ISBN. The traditional 10-digit ISBN will become a 13-digit number, by including the three-character EAN product code for books, and the recalculation of the check digit. Please contact GS1 South Africa in connection with bar code creation for your books.

Once the international standard is accepted, it will also become a South African national standard, administered by the Standards South Africa (StanSA), SABS.

Practical guidance in the application of the ISBN is provided in the ISBN Users’ Manual. Should you quickly want to know if you can reassign an ISBN, or if a reprint needs a new ISBN, or what ISBN prefix to use when you are taking over another firm, then consult the FAQ section of the Manual.

For any South African publisher, help with your ISBN is at hand. The national ISN Agency, situated at the National Library of South Africa liaises with South African publishers and the International ISBN Agency in the national administration of the ISBN system in South Africa.

Are you a South African publisher who wishes to identify and list your publications worldwide in directories and on the Internet? Then send an email to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it to apply for an ISBN. This service is rendered free of charge by the ISN Agency to the publishers of the South Africa. Your publisher details will also be included in the publication, Directory of South African Publishers (DSAP).

The ISN Agency supports open communication between itself and South African publishers, and with the International ISBN Agency. Do you have questions for us to answer, but also want to share your ideas and knowledge about ISBN with us? Please contact us! The ISN Agency will keep in touch and inform you of newsworthy developments, such as ISBN-13 and items.