Friday, February 15, 2008

Want to Find a Book Quickly? Use Its ISBN.

To ISBN or not to ISBN.
By Alan Eggleston, Writer, Editor, Bookseller

I just got into an interesting "conversation" on LinkedIn, the online network for professionals. On LinkedIn you can ask all the other professionals around the world any question you want, and this gentleman -- from Chicago -- is about to self-publish a book and wanted readers' opinions whether he should bother to get an ISBN (International Standard Book Number).

It reminded me of when I was a bookseller in a bricks and mortar bookstore and people would come in looking for books but wouldn't have a title or author's name. They would have seen it somewhere, perhaps even browsed it on one of our shelves the week before. However, they assumed we would be able to figure it out from their general discription. (It had a yellowish cover and it was on that display table over there ... four weeks ago!)

Ladies and gentlemen, bookstores have tens of thousands of books on hand. Most are shelved according to author and then, if the bookseller has time, alphabetically by title -- otherwise, by author in the order he takes them off the book cart. Sometimes in sections like Biographies, they're shelved alphabetically by subject. In the computer section they're shelved alphabetically by title. In every case, it's section by section, so everything in Mysteries is shelved together... everything in Science Fiction is shelved together, and so on.

Believe it or not, I'm heading for a conclusion here.

Your best friend when looking for a book is the ISBN. When you find a book you like -- in the store, at a friend's house, online, at a used book sale, in the library, in someone's hand, lying on a table, buried under piles of papers, in your daughter's backpack -- wherever, and you want to get a copy for yourself, take down the ISBN. Give the ISBN to the bookseller. He or she will be able to immediately locate the book with it. No questions of how to spell the author's name, no questions of whether words in the title are one word or two, no wondering if your author was the main author or the author listed second, he will be able to locate it quickly with the ISBN. Anywhere in the world! Even on your laptop through,, or

Find the ISBN number of any book with the copyright and library catalogue information, usually at the front of the book. It will be either a 10-digit or, nowadays, 13-digit number. See the ISBN Web site for more information on this system.

My new colleague on LinkedIn got a lot of advise from readers about whether to bother getting an ISBN. The one that made the most sense to him, he said, was from this bookseller who explained how much easier an ISBN would make it for consumers to find his book.

Are you a professional? Take a look at LinkedIn for professional networking.

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