Can you rely on ISBN numbers?

Normally I am not particular when it comes to book covers. I like a beautiful cover and am glad to look at it, but if a slightly less attractive cover is considerably less expensive I go for that one. Even when it comes to series I am not fussy and just buy what is out there, not waiting for a specific cover or anything.

That being said I have set my heart on The Sunday Philosophy Club series by Alexander McCall Smith. I especially like, no, I love the Anchor issues with the illustrated covers (examples here). So I ordered a few of them on from marketplace (cheap, you see, I don’t mind used books) and made sure I ordered the right covers.

Now, a couple of days ago I got one of them and was totally disappointed when I received a cover (from now on called “Ugly”) that was not what I had ordered (that one would be “Pretty”). It was this one. Needless to say I immediately sat down to complain to the seller when I noticed that on Ugly’s spine it said “Anchor”. I checked its ISBN number and it was Pretty’s very number. Further investigation showed that on the real Ugly had a different ISBN number and was published by Canada Vintage. But my personal Ugly said Anchor and had Pretty’s number. What gives?

On they also sell Ugly, this time published by Anchor without an ISBN number, but with an ASIN. Is there something I don’t get?

Am I too anal? Do you particularly care what covers your books have? And if you have a series and there is on Ugly peeking out of between all the Pretties, what do you do?

12 Comments Write a comment

  1. I usually don’t really care about the covers and simply settle for the cheaper version of a book. On rare occasions though, or within a series, I might try to find matching covers. I have noticed before that even normal orders on Amazon won’t always get you exactly the cover they feature. While I only had this happen to me twice in all the years I bought books there, it fortunately never disturbed me all that much as non of the “other” covers were ugly.

    BTW have you checked out AwesomeBooks? If you buy more than one book you don’t even have to pay extra for postage, and book prices start at roughly € 2,90 (not bad for used books if you consider it includes shipping). They seem to go strictly by ISBN with matching covers. At least the ones I got from recent orders (my next IMM will be gigantic, hahaha) were exactly like the ones shown. And oh, I also got myself a copy of “A Week at the Airport” 🙂 as I’ve been really intrigued by it.
    Birgit’s last post ..Twelve very random thoughts on my first year of blogging


    • I keep forgetting about Awesome books. I got a few with their book bundles and they were not bad at all. It is just that when it comes to buying I always go to amazon first and then get stuck (not only books either).


  2. I understand you: you buy a book with a determinate cover and ISBN, no other one. If it wasn’t important, why didn’t publicite the book with the correct one in the first place?

    Bad for the seller.
    Kasumi’s last post ..Sonríe, es Lunes #41


    • Actually the seller’s info was correct as the book had the ISBN I wanted, just that the cover was not the one I wanted. That is what intrigues me. So I couldn’t even complain about the “false” delivery.


  3. I only care about covers when it comes to my favorite books, which as an addict, I have in different editions and languages 🙂
    It should bother you when you want a certain edition and they ship a different one, which is also their entire mistake, but, there are also people who may read our comments and “complaints” and think we are nuts :)))
    Ally’s last post ..The European Reading Challenge


    • Ally, I know, some people must think we are totally insane. We have no other things to worry about obviously, :).


  4. Yes, I do like to have the prettier cover but it depends really on the book. I’m not going to spend more on a book if I’m not sure I’ll like it, but if I’m looking for a book specifically or have a strong inclination I’ll like it I’ll fork out extra for a pretty cover.

    For instance, I much prefer the US version of 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami and so imported it from It actually cost less then buying the British versions would have which is an extra bonus. I generally do prefer US covers to UK ones and will occasionally go out of my way tog et hold of one.

    I avoid for the most part TV/film tie-in covers as they’re usually glossy and ugly, although cheaper.

    I think with the ISBN’s… they don’t always change them if they just update the cover design. I think the cover for the Ugly version of I Capture the Castle and the prettier version both have the same ISBN’s. They’re both Vintage covers, but one’s butt ugly and the other isn’t. I’m not sure how it all really works. I went out and bought myself the US hardback version which is green and leafy.

    I’ve been wanting to get a particular cover for Diana Wynne Jones’ Dogsbody. It isn’t the prettiest cover but it’s the cover I read when I first discovered it. But the ISBN is the same as a couple of others each time it was given an updated cover. It’s frustrating as of course I didn’t get the cover I want. I’ll have to keep trying.

    I do love the look of special editions of books and the covers but I haven’t bought any because they’re so expensive most of the time and rarely the books I’d actually want to spend out on.
    Fiona’s last post ..Book Review: Nocturnes & Preludes–Neil Gaiman


    • Those ISBN numbers are intriguing. But it seems you are right when you say they just give the same one to different updates of the same book.
      Those movie tie-in covers are awful. Not only have they the actors on them normally (always a bad idea). they also promote the book as if it was only worth reading because some studio made a film of it.


  5. If a book undergoes significant revisions and updates (30% new or different material), it gets a new ISBN. A cover isn’t a big enough change to warrant a new ISBN – in fact, if the content is otherwise the same (same trim size, same interior content) I’m not sure it CAN be changed just for a cover update!
    The Joy of Booking’s last post ..Mailbox Monday


    • Thank you for letting me know this. Interesting! So, just from the ISBN number you can never be sure.


    • Sabrina, I found this really weird, too. I will read the ugly one and then swap it. And THEN I will get Pretty!!!!


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