About ISBNs

An ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is a 13-digit number that uniquely identifies each specific edition of a book or monograph. Eligible Canadian publishers may request free ISBNs for printed books, ebooks, audio books and educational or instructional DVDs to distribute their works. Publishers use the same ISBN in each country where their books are sold.

Canadian publishers that publish in French only should contact Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ) at isbn@banq.qc.ca to get an ISBN.

Government of Canada departments and agencies must apply for an ISBN from Publishing and Depository Services Directorate for their publications.

Eligible publishers

  • make a publication available in Canada
  • publish from an official office of business within Canada (The main headquarters of a publishing company must be located in Canada. Self-publishers must reside in Canada)
  • have at least 75% of their employees based in Canada
  • are authorized to reproduce publications or productions and control the content

Eligible publications

Books or monographs (that stand on their own as a product) in print, audio or electronic format are eligible, such as:

  • audiobooks
  • books
  • brochures, pamphlets
  • DVDs (educational, documentary)
  • E-books (digital books)
  • graphic novels, storybooks, picture books
  • maps
  • posters (educational)

Non-eligible publication

The following formats are not eligible for an ISBN.

  • Art prints and posters
  • Board games
  • Calendars
  • Cards (greeting cards, playing cards, post cards, tarot and oracle cards)
  • Colouring books (with no text)
  • Comic books (periodical format)
  • Customizable products
  • Digital applications
  • Individual pictures or photographs
  • Low-content products (e.g., diaries, journals, logbooks notebooks, planners, sketchbooks)
  • Music CDs
  • Objects (e.g., clothing, jewelry household items, mugs, etc.)
  • Office supplies and stationery (e.g., agendas, bookmarks)
  • Periodicals (e.g., journals, magazines, newspapers)
  • Personal documents
  • Search engines
  • Sheet music and music scores
  • Websites

Parts of an ISBN

The 13-digit ISBN starts with "ISBN" and is divided into five parts, with each part having a specific meaning. The parts of an ISBN are as follows and are written separated with hyphens:

  • EAN (European article number) product code: the first three digits
  • group identifier: a single digit that represents the country or language area in which the book is published
  • publisher prefix: a number that identifies a particular publisher
  • title identifier: a number that identifies a particular edition of a work
  • check digit: a single digit that verifies that the previous digits are correct by using an algorithm

Until December 31, 2006, ISBNs were 10 digits. You may use both the 10-digit and 13-digit ISBN on a publication issued during that time.

Obtaining barcodes

The Canadian ISBN Agency does not provide barcodes. We advise publishers to contact their printer or graphic designer to discuss barcodes, as some of them offer a barcoding service. Please visit the GS1 Canada website for more information.

About copyright

The ISBN does not provide copyright protection. Contact the Canadian Intellectual Property Office for questions about copyright.