About ISBNs


The acronym ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. The acronym is internationally recognized and is used in both English and French.

An ISBN is a 13-digit number that is applied to, and uniquely identifies an edition of a book or book-like product. Book-like products include books, pamphlets, educational kits, microforms, CD-ROMs and other digital and electronic publications. They are distinct from serial or periodical publications that are published in successive issues, at regular or irregular intervals, usually with each issue bearing the same title. Serial publications do not receive an ISBN but instead are given an International Standard Serial Number (ISSN).

Publishers, booksellers, libraries and others in the book industry use ISBNs in order to identify, locate, track and manage publications. Many retailers will not stock an item that lacks either an ISBN or ISSN.

With the addition of the 3-digit EAN (European article number) product code, ISBN changed from a 10 to 13 digit number as of January 1, 2007.

This 13-digit number is divided into five parts of variable length; each part is separated by a hyphen or a space.

Government of Canada ISBNs

The Depository Services Program (DSP) has delegated authority to assign ISBNs to publications produced by Canadian government organizations.

It is a requirement of the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada that ISBNs must be assigned to all Government of Canada book-like publications.

Other considerations

  1. In order to make serial publishing more manageable for author departments, we ask that:
    1. Departments obtain an International Standard Serial Number (ISSN) for all serial publications. This number is applicable to the complete serial and can be obtained by contacting Library and Archives Canada ISSN Canada.
      *Note: Serials that are published every three years would be considered serial publications but those published every 4 or 5 years would be considered a monograph and require an ISBN.
    2. Departments obtain a Government of Canada Catalogue Number for serial issues published at annual or less frequent intervals (such as Report of plans and priorities, Departmental performance report).
    For serials that are published at more frequent intervals such as quarterly, monthly or weekly, Publishing and Depository Services Directorate will assign GC Catalogue numbers post publishing.
  2. An ISBN is also required for:
    • each revision or new edition,
    • each separate language edition,
    • each alternative format.

Exception – Publications for sale

If you have a publication that you are expecting to sell, we ask that you always obtain an ISBN regardless of how frequently it will be published. The reason for this exception is that booksellers’ and distributors’ systems require books they distribute to have a unique ISBN.

The application of ISBNs in these cases differs; therefore we ask that you please contact us for additional information.

Important Information about Formats

The DSP does not provide ISBNs for publications in (X)HTML format but you are required to provide the DSP with a portable format such (PDF, EPUB, etc.) of every publication you produce.

The ISBN provided by the DSP for one format of a publication must not be applied to any other formats in which that publication is produced. Each format requires a unique ISBN. For example, the ISBN provided for a print edition must not be applied to the PDF edition.

The most common place for an ISBN to appear is on the verso of the title page, following the Crown Copyright statement and the Government of Canada Catalogue Number. For example:

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Health, 2013

Cat. No. H164-154/2012E-PDF
ISBN 978-1-100-20973-9

However if this is not possible or appropriate, the most important factor is that the ISBN appears accurately and legibly in the publication. The actual location can vary, for example the ISBN can appear on the face of a CD-ROM, or on the back of a kit or folder.