How can a book's ISBN be no good?

All right: I don’t want to give too many details, in case I’ve uncovered a major scandal and the publisher will send a squad to disappear me for squealing on them, but… I have been trying to buy myself a copy of a book that one of my friends owns; it’s a particular, recent edition of a well-known and oft-published 19th century novel, actually.

Except it doesn’t exist. The ISBN comes up no good, on and bookfinder4u and Amazon and bookcrossing and everywhere.

How can this book not exist? Yes, I have double-checked the number, and I am typing it in correctly.

It may be so long out of print that it has been deleted from bibliographic databases.

Have you tried searching by title on amazon? You may have to wade through editions, but that’s the only thing I can think of trying.

That is to say that the edition identified by this ISBN may be so long out of print…

Or it may be that the publisher has simply never submitted bibliographic data to the databases in the first place; they’re supposed to, but there are big gaps in the system that aren’t policed very tightly (simply because there is so much going on).
Publishers are alloted a range of ISBNs that they assign to their books as they choose (subject to rules and guidelines, which are often abused) - a book can have an ISBN without anyone other than the publisher knowing the specifics. The Article Numbering Association (or whoever is in charge of the numbers now) would be able to tell you what publisher’s number range that ISBN falls within, not that this necessarily helps.

No… as I said, it’s a recent edition. I would say it came out within the last two years. I have several other books from the same series–nice matched novels–and their ISBNs are no good either.

Is it possible you’re just typing/copied down the ISBN wrong?

Is it a nine-digit ISBN? Because if so you have to prepend a 0 sometimes. But those should be older books.

I just want to thank everyone in this thread for not saying “ISBN Number”. This drives me nuts at work.

Apparently, as you were typing this, Mangetout was submitting this

Did you see his post?

Do the databases you search require you to enter the ISBN with dashes? Some of them do, but that’s rarer now.

As for any other rational explanation, I’m stumped.

Did you try the check digit formula to see if the last digit is correct? That’s one way to see if you have a bad ISBN.

BobT: I specifically looked at the instructions for, and they say to enter the digits with no spaces or dashes–and I did. No dice.

The ISBNs are ten-digit; the first digits are all zeroes. Innnnteresting, if that really is a formula for old books…?

Tomndebb: I did see Mangetout’s second post, and want to thank him for generally being the most help with all of my questions (we must be kindred spirits). It upsets my orderly little soul that there can be ISBNs that aren’t reported to Seems like there should be a law…

Update: the check-digit formula works, so it is a valid ISBN combination. And according to that website, a zero for the first digit just means the book is in English.

Have I just discovered a major conspiracy?

Have you searched for the book by other more mundane methods, like, title and author?

The catalogers could have left the ISBN out of the record. It should appear in the 020 field of the MARC record.

If it’s a classic, then there’s a good chance the publisher in question is British – Oxford University Press or Penguin Classics, for examples. In that case, the ISBN might not be on because the publisher deposits copies with the British Library and not the (US) Library of Congress.

Have you tried punching the ISBN into to see if it works there? If it is a British edition, that could explain some of this.