ISBN is for books. Is it a standard procedure to assign an ISBN for a Ph.D. thesis?

  • 5
    Can you be more specific about your location? In Sweden, most (all?) PhD theses do have an ISBN, whereas the current answers suggest that this is not common in other places.
    – valderman
    Jan 11, 2020 at 16:50

4 Answers 4


Some institutions publish each PHD thesis as a book, and then they assign ISBN to each. E.g., theses done at CWI, Amsterdam. To my knowledge, this is quite uncommon throughout the world, but does exist in certain places.

  • 2
    ProQuest publishes dissertations. I am not saying they publish them all, but a lot of them. I have a hunch the ones they publish have ISBN's.
    – Chozang
    Jan 11, 2020 at 16:59
  • 3
    It seems that ProQuest's search tool is misleading, I found my (british) thesis on their search tool with a link to order it, but attempting to proceed to the checkout process gives the message " The dissertation or thesis you requested is not available for purchase at this time. ". There is a number listed in the search, but said number has the wrong number of digits to be an ISBN. Jan 12, 2020 at 16:49

I suspect it largely depends on whether the PhD is expected to be printed as a book. In some countries (like the Netherlands) it is. Many printing services offer ISBN registration as a freebee. This is likely how most dissertations end up with an ISBN (I know mine has one because of this).

Other than this, I doubt many graduates go through the trouble of registering manually for a PhD. I don't know of any place that explicitly requires it. So in short, it's not expected, but it's not that unusual for a thesis to have one.

  • +1 Exactly the same for my PhD thesis and probably the main reason to get an ISBN. Jan 11, 2020 at 18:11

No, it would be unusual for a thesis to have an ISBN. It would be an unnecessary expense.

Edit: The Astrophysics Data System says my dissertation has an ISBN. However, the ISBN provided cannot be used to find my dissertation.

  • 6
    The expense is unlikely to be the reason : ISBN are free in France, yet French thesis usually don't have one. Jan 11, 2020 at 22:30
  • 1
    @SkippyleGrandGourou They are not free in general. Jan 12, 2020 at 2:09
  • The expense is small enough to be irrelevant, it would be 3 euro for me as an individual for a single ISBN, publishers get volume discounts and pay much less.
    – Peteris
    Jan 12, 2020 at 2:15
  • @Peteris I'm seeing prices closer to 8 USD. That would be $400,000 USD per year for the united states alone, for useless numbers. Jan 12, 2020 at 2:18
  • 3
    Okay, there does seem to be a huge price discrepancy between official country registrars - according to isbn-information.com/cost-of-isbn-numbers.html USA seems to have very expensive ISBN numbers ($125 per single, $6-$8 at volume), which can make the price something to care about; but I get 3 euro single and 0.50-1.20 eur at volume, so local publishers just add it for free to anything book-like printed in many copies, as part of the default cover design, there's no real reason not to do it, it's not like we'll run out of numbers, and libraries like ISBNs to index the thesis.
    – Peteris
    Jan 12, 2020 at 2:28

What is an ISBN? It's not for books, it's for published, commercial books. So this question is effectively "are PhD dissertations usually published commercially?" The answer to that is, of course, no. That's not to say that there are no PhD dissertations with ISBNs, but they would be in the minority.

  • 7
    Actually not quite right. You need an ISBN if a library or bookstore wants to carry even a self-published book. It is a supply chain and identification system, actually. Individuals can buy ISBNs for their own books to make them available.
    – Buffy
    Jan 11, 2020 at 20:24
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    @Buffy those would be commercial books then, no?
    – Allure
    Jan 11, 2020 at 20:32
  • 10
    Not really. They needn't be. The ISBN is needed for inventory, not because there is money involved. It also disambiguates books that might have the same title (rare, but it happens).
    – Buffy
    Jan 11, 2020 at 20:36

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