Guest Post: Why Forgotten Books purchased 500,000 ISBNs

Forgotten Books

By Elisabeth Forsythe – Head of Media and Public Relations, [Forgotten Books]

International Standard Book Numbers, or ISBNs, are an important part of book publishing. They help with book discovery, and are used with each edition of a book. Elisabeth Forsythe explains why Forgotten Books, the world’s largest online library, recently purchased 500,000 ISBNs, and what that means for readers.

So why did we buy half a million ISBNs? It is because Forgotten Books is doing something extraordinary – we are in the process of resurrecting millions of books, most of which are currently out of print. In order to do this we’ve been diligently collecting scans of these texts (some of which were originally published as early as the 1600s) and restoring them to their former glory using purpose-built, specialist software developed in house.

Before After

Forgotten Books focuses on republishing old, hard to find or out of print texts. We reconstruct scans of these ‘forgotten’ works, removing the blemishes, reviving them and returning them to an authentic state using our restoration software (which we’ve affectionately dubbed ‘Frankenstein’). Rather than merely collecting and reprinting these books, we are adding value in terms of quality, readability and discoverability.

But, to be returned to the marketplace and made available worldwide they must have an ISBN.

Just What Is An ISBN?

If you don’t know what an ISBN is then you might be a little confused. Even if you do know what it is, you probably don’t know what it means for a publishing company to have purchased so many in one go.

An ISBN is an ‘International Standard Book Number’ – the long number you see under the barcode of any book you buy. Companies and publishers use it to uniquely identify their books so they can sell them in bookstores around the world.

Normally publishers gradually accumulate ISBNs as their catalogue increases over time, however we have hundreds of thousands of books ready and waiting to go – this purchase allows us to publish all of them as soon as possible and make them available, in print, around the world. This is just the beginning of our quest to publish many millions of titles, so that rare and out of print books can be rediscovered and enjoyed once again.

What It Actually Means

It means that we can now offer physical access to this incredibly extensive and ever growing resource, both educational and recreational, to public libraries, universities and high street bookshops the world over.

We know that e-readers are items of much sought-after convenience. We know that in this fast paced world we live in it is sometimes hard to find the time to just sit and be still. But we also know that really, what so many booklovers truly desire, is the happy, weighted feeling of a good book in their hands. There are some things that technology cannot replace.

So the next time you are searching for a classic work of fiction, a historical text, or to rediscover a lost empire; be it browsing through the shelves of your local library or ordering a book online, you might just find a ‘Forgotten Book’.

Elisabeth Forsythe is the Head of Media and Public Relations at Forgotten Books, a publisher based in London, England, that focuses on both digital and print content. Forgotten Books’ purpose is to digitally restore and rejuvenate aged texts so that they are accessible for generations to come. Using in-house expertise and custom built technology more and more texts are being restored every day. For more information please visit our website at


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