Click here to skip to content

ISSN 40th Anniversary

ISSN UK Centre

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

ISSN UK Centre contact details

Apply ONLINE for an ISSN (UK serial publications)

What is an ISSN?

The International Standard Serial Number (ISSN) is an internationally accepted code which identifies the title of serial publications. It is an eight digit number consisting of seven digits plus a check digit which enables a computer to recognise when the number is incorrectly cited. The check digit may be an X, otherwise the ISSN is fully numeric.

The ISSN is not connected with ownership of the journal, nor does it confer copyright or protect the title of the serial from use by other publishers. The ISSN is not related to legal deposit. Under the Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003 and the Copyright and Related Rights Act 2000, all publications, including individual issues of serials, must be deposited with the British Library whether they carry an ISSN or not. Please see Legal Deposit in the British Library.

Who uses an ISSN?

Publishers who wish to identify their serial publications and incorporate a barcode on the magazine, journal or newspaper for sale via the major retailers.
Libraries which use the ISSN as a fundamental identifier for distinguishing between identical serial titles and facilitating checking and ordering procedures, collection management, legal deposit, interlibrary loans etc.
Catalogue databases which use the ISSN as a record control number and can make use of the records on the ISSN register.
Documentation centres and databases which handle bibliographic references and use the ISSN for more accurate serials citation, abstracting and indexing services etc.
Subscription agencies who act as intermediaries between publishers and their customers use the ISSN to ensure the correct serial publication is ordered.
Academics who wish to cite in full details of publications for research purposes.
Retailers / wholesalers who use ISSN based barcodes within their own internal systems in order to assess and control magazine/newspaper circulation.

What are ISSN assigned to?

The ISSN UK Centre is responsible for assigning ISSN to serials published in the United Kingdom alone.

ISSN are assigned to the titles of serial publications in accordance with the definition below:

A continuing resource in any medium, issued in a succession of discrete parts [and having a common title], usually bearing numbering, that has no predetermined conclusion. Examples of serials include journals, magazines, electronic journals, ongoing directories, annual reports, newspapers, and monographic series.

ISSN may also be assigned to online journal titles, CD-ROMs and diskettes which are intended to be issued on a continuous basis. Different editions of serials must have different ISSN. This applies to different language editions, regional editions and different physical formats (e.g. CD-ROM, online and print versions of a journal title have separate numbers). However ISSN are not assigned to Internet resources consisting predominantly of links, nor individual or company home pages including Weblogs.

When separate ISSN are assigned for different physical formats of a serial, a linking ISSN (ISSN-L) is designated from one of these ISSN. See What is ISSN-L? below.

ISSN should not be assigned to one-off publications, magazine specials, newspaper specials, finite publications including partworks, serials not intended for general circulation, calendars, diaries, posters or magazine packs.

ISSN and barcodes

The ISSN was developed by the International Standards Organisation (ISO) because of the need for a brief unique and unambiguous identification code for serial publications. An eight digit number was considered by ISO to be sufficient as the basis for numbering the entire population of serials.

When the barcoding system was set up for serials, it was realised that the ISSN as a unique identifying number for the title could be used as part of the barcode to identify the serial. The ISSN is therefore the title identifier in the barcode.

Magazine barcodes are represented in EAN format with a 2 digit add-on code. The bar code is constructed in the following way:

Image of ISSN barcode

It should be remembered that the ISSN UK Centre is concerned with the titles of serials, and their identification. The Centre issues the ISSN not the barcode. If publishers have queries about the ISSN, then they should contact the Centre, but if they have a query about the barcode itself they should contact the Professional Publishers Association (PPA).

What is ISSN-L?

When a serial is available in more than one physical format and a separate ISSN has been assigned to each format, the ISSN Network designates a linking ISSN (ISSN-L) from one of these ISSN. The ISSN-L will be available for use when there is a need to identify and link to a continuing resource without regard to format, for example in services such as OpenURL, library catalogues, search engines or knowledge bases.

Printing the ISSN

The number should be printed thus: ISSN 0000-0000

  • it should be preceded by the initials ISSN followed by a single space;
  • then the first four digits;
  • then a hyphen;
  • then the last four digits.

This form of presentation has no particular significance but it is intended to make the ISSN easier to read and to recognise internationally. The ISSN should preferably be printed on the top right-hand corner of the cover of a printed journal. However, if design, binding or other considerations mean the cover is unsuitable the number may be printed in some other prominent position, for example along with other bibliographical information such as the name of the publisher. In electronic resources the ISSN should appear on the title screen or main menu and, if applicable, on any labels permanently affixed to the publication. The printing of the number is voluntary, but is recommended in order to gain the full benefits of the ISSN system.

What is the difference between ISSN and ISBN?

  • The ISSN identifies the title of a serial and stays the same from issue to issue unless the title changes, at which point a new ISSN needs to be assigned.
  • The ISBN (International Standard Book Number) represents a single volume such as a novel, a monograph, a specific title within a monographic series or a specific issue of an annual or yearbook. ISBN are issued by the UK ISBN Agency.

The two systems are complementary and can be used together on the same publication. On an annual, for example, the ISBN will identify a specific volume (e.g. 1996 edition, 1997 edition) whilst the ISSN identifies the title and stays the same each year.

ISBN should not be assigned to specific issues of periodicals and should not usually be assigned to any title published more frequently than once a year.

A fundamental difference between the two systems / numbers is that the stem of the ISBN identifies the publisher whereas the ISSN contains no publisher identifier. The ISSN is a purely arbitrary number that remains linked to the serial even when the responsibility for the serial passes from one publisher to another.

The ISSN system

The ISSN network consists of more than eighty national centres worldwide who are responsible for assigning ISSN to serials published in their own countries. The system is co-ordinated by the International Centre in Paris who also takes the responsibility for assigning numbers to serials published in countries that do not have their own ISSN National Centre and to serials published by International Organisations.

The ISSN UK Centre, which is part of the British Library, is responsible for assigning ISSN to serials published in the United Kingdom. Serials published elsewhere, regardless of whether they are distributed in Great Britain or not, should obtain an ISSN from the relevant foreign ISSN Centre. Information concerning the other ISSN National Centres can be found at the website of the ISSN International Centre.

Obtaining an ISSN

ISSN numbers can be issued in advance of publication via the application form which can be completed and sent online, or printed out and faxed / posted to us. The form is also available in PDF format 109KB which can be emailed to you. It is not possible to assign ISSN over the telephone. The basic information required is:

  • Proposed title (working titles / project titles are not sufficient);
  • Frequency of publication;
  • Proposed start date (month / year);
  • Publisher name and address.

The Centre will also need to receive a copy of the first issue on publication in order to validate our records. This copy will be passed through to the Legal Deposit Office and subsequent issues can be sent directly to them.

In the case of ISSN requests made for existing serials, we will need to receive an application form completed with the information as above, together with:

  • For print publications, a copy of a recent issue;
  • For on-line journals, either the URL and any passwords required (as requested on the form); or a printout of the title screen, and any screens giving publisher information (ie. company name and the place of publication).
  • For CD-ROM or diskette journals, a sample copy or a printout of the title screen together with copies of the labelling, documentation and packaging;


ROAD, the Directory of Open Access Scholarly Resources, provides free access to a subset of the ISSN Register. This subset comprises bibliographic records which describe Open Access scholarly resources which have been assigned an ISSN by the ISSN Network. These resources include journals, conference proceedings and academic repositories. The ISSN UK Centre is a contributor of ISSN records to the ROAD directory.

For further information please contact the ISSN UK Centre, or visit the ROAD website. A presentation about ROAD is available here.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I obtain a batch of ISSN?
Unlike the ISBN (International Standard Book Numbers), ISSN cannot be issued to publishers in batches, as the Centre needs to maintain accurate records on which numbers have been assigned to which titles.

How much does it cost to obtain an ISSN?
ISSN assignment is currently free of charge.

Why do some ISSN have an 'X' at the end?
The ISSN is composed of eight digits, the eighth being a check digit. Normally the number consists of Arabic numerals, but occasionally, due to the formula used to calculate an ISSN, an upper case 'X' appears as the check digit.

How do I obtain a magazine / newspaper barcode?
A magazine / newspaper barcode comprises a number of elements of which the ISSN expresses the title information. ISSN are issued by the ISSN UK Centre, however it is the responsibility of the publisher to construct the rest of the barcode and arrange for the barcode film to be drawn up. The typical steps in the process are as follows:

  1. Apply to the ISSN UK Centre for an ISSN;
  2. Construct the rest of the barcode (Best Practice Guidelines are available from the PPA (Word format));
  3. Order a bar code symbol from a film master supplier;
  4. Incorporate in artwork for front cover and send to printer.

Do I need a new ISSN if the price / frequency / size of the serial changes?
ISSN are not affected by any of the above. Publishers who use magazine barcodes will need to alter the sequence variant in the barcode to express price changes.

Does a serial need a new ISSN if the publisher changes?
The ISSN is not related to ownership of a journal and does not confer copyright. A new number will be required if the change of publisher results in a change of serial title.

Does a serial need a new ISSN if the title changes?
An ISSN is assigned to a specific title. A new number is usually needed if a title changes. ISSN can be assigned in advance of a title change. Please complete the online application form indicating 'Change of title'.

Do I need to send your Centre all the issues of my serial?
The ISSN UK Centre only needs to see one copy in order to assign / validate an ISSN. Subsequent issues should be sent directly to the Legal Deposit Office in accordance with the Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003.

How can I obtain an ISSN for an online version of my serial if the print version already has an ISSN?
Separate ISSN are needed for serials published in different physical formats. If your printed serial already has an ISSN and an online version is being produced for the first time, the online version is considered to be a new serial. Please complete the online application form indicating 'Brand new title'. In Section 3 Year and month of first issue provide the date that the online version will be/was first published (not the date that the print version began); in Section 8 Other related title provide the details of the existing print version. Section 15 Comments [etc] can be used to provide details of a previous publisher, if applicable.

The title of my serial is changing. Can the ISSN for the new title be used in connection with the online issues originally published under the former title?
The new ISSN only applies to the issues published under the new title. An ISSN is assigned to a specific title so the ISSN assigned to the former title should continue to be used to identify the issues published under the former title. If earlier titles lack ISSN, it is usually possible to assign ISSN retrospectively to ceased titles in print or electronic formats.

The National Information Standards Organization (NISO) in the United States has produced guidelines for the presentation and identification of e-journals (PIE-J) which give information on title presentation, accurate use of ISSN, and citation practices.

Do I need a new ISSN if I want to relaunch my magazine?
If a magazine is being relaunched with the same title then the existing ISSN is still valid for use, even if there has been a publishing gap. No new ISSN should be assigned in this circumstance. If a serial reverts to a title that it has held previously a new ISSN will need to be assigned. The publisher cannot revert to using the previous ISSN.

How do I protect the title of my serial?
The ISSN will not protect the title of the serial. This can only be done by taking out a trademark. Information on this can be obtained from The UK Intellectual Property Office.

How can I obtain access to the ISSN register?
The international database of serials carrying ISSN is available online and as a datafile. For subscription details and further information please contact the publisher at the following address:

ISSN International Centre
45, rue de Turbigo
75003 PARIS
Tel: +33 1 44 88 22 20
Fax: +33 1 40 26 32 43

Contact Details:

ISSN UK Centre
The British Library
Boston Spa, Wetherby
West Yorkshire
LS23 7BQ
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)1937 546959
Fax: +44 (0)1937 546562

Legal Deposit Office
The British Library
Boston Spa, Wetherby
West Yorkshire
LS23 7BY
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)1937 546267 (serials)
Tel: +44 (0)1937 546268 (books)
Legal Deposit Office webpage


UK ISBN Agency
3rd Floor
Midas House
62 Goldsworth Road
GU21 6LQ
Tel: +44 (0)1483 712 215
Fax: +44 (0)1483 712 214


Intellectual Property Office
Concept House
Cardiff Road
Newport, South Wales
NP10 8QQ
Tel: 0300 300 2000
Fax: +44 (0) 1633 817777



Professional Publishers Association (PPA)
Second Floor
35-38 New Bridge Street
Tel: +44 (0)20 7404 4166
Fax: +44 (0)20 7404 4167
Best Practice Guidelines


News Media Association
292 Vauxhall Bridge Road
Tel: +44 (0)20 7963 7480

Article Numbers

Hasilwood House
60 Bishopsgate
Tel: +44 (0)20 7092 3500
Fax: +44 (0)20 7681 2290

For further information please contact:

ISSN UK Centre
The British Library
Boston Spa, Wetherby
West Yorkshire
LS23 7BQ
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)1937 546959
Fax: +44 (0)1937 546562