ISBN are numbers used to identify editions of books. ISSN are used for serials (such as journals, magazines and newspapers). ISSN are assigned by the ISSN UK Centre at the British Library. You'll find more details about ISSN here.
How to get an ISBN (International Standard Book Number)
An ISBN is a 13-digit code which identifies a specific edition of a book title from one specific publisher and is unique to that edition. If you want an ISBN, please go to the Nielsen UK ISBN Agency.
How to get an ISSN (International Standard Serial Number)
You can apply online for an ISSN (UK serial publications). ISSN assignment is free of charge.
If you want to apply for an ISSN in advance of publication, please complete the ISSN application form (PDF format, 109 KB) and email or post it to us. We can't issue ISSN over the telephone.
We must see a copy of the first printed issue in order to validate our records. For online resources, we need access to the first available issue. Please send subsequent issues directly to the Legal Deposit Office in accordance with the Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003.
In the case of ISSN requests made for existing serials, please send us a completed application form along with:
- for print publications, a copy of a recent issue
- for digital resources, 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 (i.e. company name and the place of publication).
What's an ISSN? (ISO 3297)
The ISSN is an established international standard that uniquely identifies serial publications. The number is preceded by the uppercase letters ISSN followed by a space then two blocks of four numbers separated by a hyphen. The final digit is 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. The ISSN does not protect the title of the serial from use by other publishers. This can only be done by taking out a trademark. The UK Intellectual Property Office provides information on this. ISSN is not related to legal deposit. All UK publications and publications distributed in the UK must be deposited with the British Library whether they carry an ISSN or not. This includes all individual issues of serials.
Who uses an ISSN?
- Publishers who wish to identify their serial publications, including those who need to construct a barcode.
- 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 is an ISSN assigned to?
The ISSN UK Centre is responsible for assigning ISSN to serials published in the United Kingdom. ISSN are assigned to the titles of serial publications whether in print or digital formats in accordance with the following definition:
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.
Different editions of serials must have separate ISSN. This applies to different language editions, regional editions and different formats (e.g. CD-ROM, online and print versions of a journal title have separate numbers). However ISSN are not assigned to online 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. ISSN should not be assigned to: one-off publications, magazine specials, newspaper specials, finite publications, serials not intended for general circulation, calendars, diaries, posters or magazine packs. Depending on the resource, an ISBN or an article number from GS1 UK may be a more appropriate identifier for such publications.
When a title changes, a new ISSN is usually needed. ISSN can be assigned in advance of a title change. 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.
If a magazine is being re-launched 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.
Unlike the ISBN, ISSN cannot be issued to publishers in batches, as the Centre need to maintain accurate records on which numbers have been assigned to which titles.
ISSN and barcodes
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 element in the barcode. An ISSN is not affected by a change in price, frequency or size of a serial.
The ISSN UK Centre assigns the ISSN but it does not issue the barcode. If you have queries about the ISSN, then you should contact the Centre. If you have a query about magazine barcodes please contact the Professional Publishers Association (PPA). If you have a query about newspaper barcodes, please contact the News Media Association.
Magazine barcodes are represented in EAN format with a 2 digit add-on code. Publishers who use magazine barcodes will need to alter the sequence variant in the barcode to express price changes.
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 International Centre 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.
Display of 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 four digits
- then hyphen
- then four more digits.
The ISSN should be displayed in a prominent position on every issue of a serial. On printed serials, the ISSN should be displayed on the front cover (preferably in the top right-hand corner), or on the title page, caption, masthead, back cover, colophon, or editorial pages. On digital serials, the ISSN should be displayed prominently on the title screen or main menu. It may also be displayed in the web page footer, and in the header or footer of each article.
What's the difference between an ISBN and an ISSN?
The ISBN identifies editions of books. The ISSN is used for serials (such as journals, magazines and newspapers). The ISBN 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. 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 two systems are complementary and can be used together on the same publication. For example, on an annual, the ISBN will identify a specific volume (e.g. 2017 edition) whilst the ISSN identifies the title and stays the same each year.
ISBN should not be assigned to specific issues of serials or any title published more than once a year. The stem of the ISBN identifies the publisher whereas the ISSN contains no publisher identifier. The ISSN is a 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 national centres worldwide who are responsible for assigning ISSN to serials published in their own countries. The system is co-ordinated by the ISSN International Centre in Paris who also takes 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 should obtain an ISSN from the appropriate national centre or the International Centre. This is regardless of whether or not they are distributed in the UK.
The international ISSN database is available online and as a datafile. For subscription details and information on accessing the ISSN Register, please contact the ISSN International Centre.
ROAD, the Directory of Open Access Scholarly Resources comprises only those open access resources that have ISSN assigned by the ISSN Network. The UK ISSN Centre contributes records to ROAD which can be searched via the ISSN Portal.
ISSN UK Centre
The British Library
Boston Spa, Wetherby
Tel: +44 (0)1937 546959
Fax: +44 (0)1937 546562
Legal Deposit Office
The British Library
Boston Spa, Wetherby
Tel: +44 (0)1937 546267 (serials)
Tel: +44 (0)1937 546268 (books)