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ISBN is coming to Little White Crow!

July 26, 2012

When we first set up our book business, the thought of recording each title’s ISBN hadn’t crossed our minds. It didn’t seem likely to us that anyone would bother searching for a book via this method.

Two years later it became apparent how naïve we had been. In 90% of cases, a book’s ISBN will uniquely identify that edition. For example, if someone were trying to track down a copy of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Lost Prince published by Penguin under their Puffin imprint, entering the ISBN 0140304975 would locate it instantly.

Much like collectors of long playing records will jot down an album’s catalogue number, book collectors will do the same with an ISBN, in order to ensure that the copy they’re acquiring is the one they really want.

Currently, we have recorded the ISBNs and SBNs (more on the latter in a moment) of precisely 500 books. Soon we will introduce an additional function to our search facility which will allow you to locate a book using either the standard 10-digit ISBN, the newer 13-digit ISBN, and the rarer 9-digit SBN.

The SBN, or Standard Book Number, was first introduced in 1966 by W.H. Smith – the famous British stationer and bookseller – but not widely adopted by publishers until the end of the 1960s.

Four years later, in 1970, the SBN became international, and the ISBN was born. In Britain, most publishers switched to the new 10-digit system, although several continued to use the old 9-digit SBN until 1974. Whilst ISBN-13 is credited as being an invention of the past 3 years, it was actually introduced far earlier. The first barcoded 13-digit ISBNs appeared in 1982. On rare occasions, it was even possible for a book to contain all three identification methods: the old SBN plus the 10-digit and 13-digit ISBN.

There are, however, a number of caveats regarding the International Standard Book Number. As we have mentioned earlier, there is a 10% chance that an ISBN will not pinpoint the exact edition of a given book. This is because publishers tend to retain a book’s ISBN even if the cover has changed. The ISBN will only be revised if the book is published in a different format or if some alterations have been made to the text and/or illustrations. For this reason, both the 1995 and 2004 editions of Roald Dahl’s The Magic Finger share exactly the same ISBN – despite being almost 10 years apart and with different cover artwork – because the illustrations are still by Quentin Blake, and the text has not been abridged.

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