An insight into ISBNs

What are ISBNs?

ISBN – An International Standard Book Number is a unique numeric commercial book identifier code which is assigned for every newly published book, and each edition of the same book. They were first introduced in 1970 and the main aim of assigning ISBNs is for booksellers, libraries, and distributors to track the title listing, various editions, book format and sales of a book. One organization per country is designated to assign ISBNs for the publishers and self-publishers in that country. Each published book has an exclusive ISBN code. The code is a 10-digit number if it was assigned before 2007 and a 13-digit number if it was assigned after January 2007. The ISBN becomes machine readable when it is transferred into an EAN-13 barcode. Generally the barcode will be printed on the book’s back cover.

ISBN – Is it mandatory?

An ISBN should be obtained for every new book published. It is not mandatory to obtain an ISBN for your book, but it is essential to get one if you plan to sell your book through standard book distribution channels. ISBNs are not only important for printed books, but also for online publishers. Many authors obtain a separate ISBN for each electronic edition of the book, although this is optional at present.

How much does it cost?

The costs for buying ISBNs depend on the agency in the different countries. In the United States a single ISBN at present costs $125, while 10 ISBNs cost $250, 100 cost $575 and so on. The price per ISBN drops the more you buy.

ISBNs - Bookselfpublishing

Applying for ISBNs

Publishers should contact your local national ISBN agency or its designated local bibliographic agency for applying for ISBNs. It is mandatory for the publisher to provide the required metadata about the publication like title, author, format etc. to which the ISBN is assigned. Publishers should also provide their complete contact details (name of publisher, mailing address, telephone, fax, email and URL). Most of the ISBN agencies will have application forms which are filled in right away for further processing. Forms may be available online or they’ll send them to you on request by mail. Your national ISBN agency customer service will guide you regarding the required metadata of your publication and how you should submit it to them.

In the United States, go to, the ISBN website run by Bowker, which is the only company authorized to administer ISBNs in the U.S.. Click on “ISBN Identifiers” and you’ll be taken to a page where you can buy however many ISBNs you require.

Is it possible to get a single ISBN?

In most countries it is possible for self-publishers to buy a single ISBN . But there are some exceptions. Please contact your area’s ISBN agency to find if this is possible.

Are different ISBNs used if a book appears in different languages?

When publishing a book, either through an online publishing company or if self-publishing, it is not possible to use the same ISBN for all language editions. Each different language edition needs its own ISBN.

Does a reprint or new edition of a book require a new ISBN?

A reprint means more copies of the book are being printed with no substantial changes and does NOT require a new ISBN. It could be that you only changed the cover of the book or fixed a few typos.

A new edition means that substantial changes have been made to the book such as altering or revising content, or adding a new feature. A new edition DOES require a new ISBN.