the Little Red Reviewer

Incredible Super Buttery Nuggat

Posted on: October 19, 2010



Incredible Super Buttery Nuggat?  I would so eat that.

Ikea’s Somewhat Burnt Nutella?  I would so NOT eat that.

International Superficial Blockbuster News?  Don’t we already have this?

Itty Snitty Bitty Numbers?  you’re getting close!

Or, something far less interesting, the International Standard Book Number.

Pick up any modern* book, look for the bar code on the back.  See the numbers above or below?  That’s the ISBN – 10 or 13 digits, and unique to that edition.  It’s a searchable field on Amazon, and is 100% percent required for any book that wants to be sold in any bookstore, online, or catalogued in any library.  You can thank our obsession with organization, computers, and the gazillions of books that are published every year for that.   

* Modern???   Maybe the book you picked up was printed before 1970 (I have a lot of these), or maybe it was printed outside the US/UK/Western Europe (I have a few of these), or it might be a newer,  uber-custom print. In that case, it may not have an ISBN.  Good luck cataloging that baby on Goodreads, Shelfari or Librarything.

ISBNs were envisioned in the late 60’s, and became fully standardized and required  in the 1970’s as a 10 digit code printed on the back of the book. Starting in the late 90′, ISBN’s became 13 digits. On the one hand, it was a way for booksellers, publishers, libraries and others in the book industry to codify, track, and identify books, as different parts of the ISBN code denotes publisher and language codes, along with other identifiers that computer systems really like. On the other hand, it forced independent publishers from around the world to invest in a mostly UK/US business model of publishing organization if they wanted to sell their wares in our stores. And Yes, it costs money to get an ISBN.  Not a lot, but something. 

These days, few people think twice about isbn’s.  Every publisher, big and small, has pre-purchased hundreds or  thousands of isbn’s, just waiting to slap them on the backs of books, comicbooks, textbooks, audiobooks, e-books, PODs, and other “book like” products.

Who cares about ISBNs?    Why am I even wasting your time and a portion of the internet on this post?

A little while ago, I posted about organizing and cataloging my books. I got a TON of great feedback, with Librarything and Goodreads topping the list of suggestions.  As I was eye-balling my personal library, I noticed something.  I have a lot of new books, which is pretty sweet (yay for disposable income!).  I also have a lot of older, pre-1960 books, a small handful of foreign stuff, and a growing collection of older and small publisher religious stuff, none of which have barcodes, isbn’s, or overly detailed publisher and copyright info that we’ve become accustomed to.

If I opted for an online library program, I’d get more social networking than I want or need, and I wouldn’t be able to enter a large portion of my books due to them not having isbn’s.  Sure, I could cheat, and just select a newer printing that’s got the isbn. . . but that’s cheating.

If you’re nerdy like me, isbn’s are pretty cool.  If you’re a regular not as nerdy person, isbn’s will let you search for a particular edition (maybe you want the original or the newer cover art?), a particular publisher (US or UK?), and generally find the exact version you want on Amazon.

Again, what’s the point of this post?  I’m a nerd, that’s the point.  I pulled the ISBN at the top of the post off the book I’m currently reading.

4 Responses to "Incredible Super Buttery Nuggat"

no no! it makes perfect sense!!! I use ISBN numbers all the time! that’s because I’m very OCD about my covers. I want the proper cover to show up that matches the book I’m reading and reviewing. I look at my bookshelf collection and get these ugly generic covers from older books because they couldn’t find the proper cover. It annoys me. It makes my bookshelf on shelfari/librarything/goodreads ugly. It makes me develop a dangerous tic near my eye and I wish there was a way to put in older editions of books.

I think I’m just as nerdy. Or just OCD. 😉


I’m not so concerned with my bookshelf on shelfari/goodreads/whateverthing looking ugly, because I own plenty of ugly books. I’m concerned with it not looking accurate.

Do any of those library things have an option to add a book that doesn’t have an isbn? or are they anti old books?


I’m not sure about Good Reads, but you can manually add a book to LibraryThing if it doesn’t have an ISBN and you can’t find a newer edition in any of the databases they let you pull from. It takes longer, but it’s totally doable. 🙂 You can also grab the cover image, if you can find it somewhere online, or you can scan in your own book.


When I used to work in a bookshop (a long time ago now) I got so used to typing in ISBNs that I could remember a lot of publishers by their ISBN prefix – now they’re 13-digit numbers I get confused. It certainly made ordering new books easier to use the ISBN, though I agree that working out which version one has of a book that was printed prior to 1960 is quite tricky.


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FTC Stuff

some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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