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ISBN is the acronym for International Standard Book Number. This 10 or 13-digit number identifies each specific book, edition of a book, or book-like product. Since 1970 each published book has been assigned a unique ISBN. In 2007, assigned ISBNs changed from 10 digits to 13.
On most books, the ISBN numbers can be found on the back cover, next to the UPC barcode and number. If a book doesn't have the number on the back cover, open to the page featuring the copyright and publisher information and, the ISBN will be noted there.
Important note: ISBN numbers were introduced in 1970 and any book printed before 1970 will not have an assigned ISBN.
ISBNs are useful when looking for a very specific book. A student for example, can search by ISBN to find the correct edition of a textbook for university.
Books will have a different ISBN number for the softcover version than for the hardcover edition. The ISBN will also vary depending on the country of publication. A popular book that has been reprinted numerous times over the years will have many different ISBN numbers - one for each publication. If you are looking for a specific edition, binding or even cover art of a certain title, knowing the ISBN will be extremely helpful when searching for the book.
Here's a small example of different ISBN numbers associated with Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: