What is an ISBN and how can you get one?

Every book you can buy in a bookstore will have a barcode. This is not only needed to be able to pay for it, the barcode also contains the identification of the book. By means of this system, every book will be registered with an ISBN number. In this article, we will tell you more about the origin of the ISBN and the added value it could have for your dissertation.

What is an ISBN?

ISBN is short for International Standard Book Number, which is curious, as we always talk about an ISBN-number and never about an ISB-number. Only publishers are able to apply for an ISBN, so it is not possible for PhD students to apply for an ISBN themselves. However, often it is possible to do this via your printing company or university. Since 2007, an ISBN consists of 13 numbers which form a series of subsequent codes which will tell you more about the content, language and publisher. To clarify this, we will show you how this works exactly by means of an example.

An ISBN might be for example 9789027439642. Although most experts will be able to distinguish the five different elements in this long number, the ISBN is often written as either 978 90 274 3964 2 or as 978-90-274-3964-2. Within this number, the separate codes are:

  • 978 the EAN-code for an ISBN
  • 90 the group number for the language ‘Dutch’
  • 274 the indication for the publisher ‘Uitgeverij Het Spectrum’
  • 3964 the specification for the ‘White Book, first press, 2006’
  • 2 a check digit

Since the 13-digit ISBN was introduced, this code has been equal to the barcode. If you provide your dissertation with an ISBN, your thesis can be found in 166 countries.

Why would you want an ISBN?

If you apply for an ISBN, you will automatically label your dissertation as belonging to a certain category which is expressed in the NUR-code. Because of this code, your thesis can be found worldwide in this category. Which means that your dissertation will be suggested if someone searches for books on a specific subject. This could be either in a bookstore, a library or via a different provider.

The costs for an ISBN vary between 20 and 30 euros, the specific price is dependent on the publisher. If your university is registered as a publisher itself, the costs will automatically be lower. Most doctoral students will choose to apply for an ISBN for their thesis. The most common motivations are: “Why not?” and “At least it will look official”. Providing your dissertation with an ISBN does not necessarily mean that you will have a barcode on the cover. This is only necessary if you would like to sell your thesis. Otherwise, the ISBN will only be mentioned in your colophon.

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