Monday, February 04, 2019

What is an ISBN and Why Do I Need it for My Book?


Blog post Updated: 31/07/2019.

What is an ISBN

ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number, each ISBN contains 13 digits about your format, language and publisher.  This enables your book to be entered into a database which is available to lending libraries, bookstores and wholesalers.  One of the important basics of publishing your book 
All ISBNs are created with a barcode so that each book can be easily identified the world over. Usually found on the back cover of a book, and also on the copyright page of the book.

Do I Need to Buy an ISBN for My Book?

If you're selling your book through your own platform you don't necessarily need an ISBN number.

An ISBN is required if you're selling through a major bookstore, such as Amazon.  Kindle Direct Publishing, which is Amazon's print-on-demand service, will automatically give you an ISBN barcode for free.

Other self-publishing companies will provide you with an ISBN to generate a barcode, usually this will be incorporated within your publishing package or at a small cost.  Like Kindle Direct Publishing, they become they publisher of your work.

When you print through a large publisher such as Amazon you don't need to deal with the registration and data management of your book. 


Hardcover books require a separate ISBN number than the paperback version, this is so the book can be easily identified as a hardcover in directories, catalogues, and databases.

Do I Need an ISBN for an Ebook?

No you don't need to worry about any kind of code for an eBook.  Kindle Direct Publishing has its own system known as the ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Number).  When you'll be given this number for free.

Other retailers such as Barnes and Noble and Apple's iBook, all like you to have an ISBN, but don't automatically require it. 

You don't need to waste your money buying an ISBN, but there's nothing stopping you if you want to go ahead and purchase one.

What you mustn't do is use the same ISBN number for different books you have in print.  Every format you have published requires a different ISBN code.  This means every paperback book you have published must have a separate ISBN number, even if it's the same title.

How Do I Buy an ISBN?

Anyone can purchase an ISBN, You can visit the International ISBN Agency ( to determine which of the 150 national agencies covers your region.  You're required to purchase from whoever supplies the country you live in. 

Depending upon your location, the cost varies, depending on government funding.  For instance, in Canada the cost is free, in the US prices can start from $125 for one ISBN number.

For citizens of the UK and Ireland, Nielsen Holdings is the distributor.  To purchase an ISBN, visit, you need to register as a user, and add the quantity required to your basket. It's currently £89 for registration and the purchase of one ISBN, or for a block of ten £159.

Registering Your Books Details

After you've bought your ISBN, you register your books details, such as publication date, genre, and number of pages.  This can be done at the same time of purchasing, or at a later date. 

All relevant book information is entered after payment, for ISBNs bought in the UK.  If you haven't got all of your book information, complete what you can as precisely as possible, because you may not be able to change it later.

Your book details are entered into a database for all book shops worldwide. You'll start seeing your book appear on websites such as Amazon, with the information you gave of the physical properties of the book and date it was published.
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