An ISBN is an International Standard Book Number, 13 digits long (prior to 2007 ISBNs were 10 digits long). It is a product number that is used by publishers, booksellers and libraries for ordering, listing and stock control purposes. It enables the book industry as a whole to identify a particular publisher and allows the publisher to identify a specific edition of a specific title in a specific format within their output.

Be aware though that an ISBN conveys no legal or copyright protection.

An ISBN is not compulsory. However, it will make your book look more professional, and – most importantly – if you want to sell your title through major bookselling chains, or Internet booksellers, they will require you to have an ISBN to assist their internal processing and ordering systems.

Other advantages are that the ISBN provides access to bibliographic databases, which are organised using ISBN as references. These databases are used by the book industry and libraries to provide information to customers.

Purchasing an ISBN

ISBNs are available from the Nielsen ISBN Agency (the UK and the Republic of Ireland only).  It’s important to note that ISBNs can not be transferred. For example, you cannot pass on unused ISBNs to other authors, or request an ISBN from a publisher to be transferred to yourself or your company.

Purchasing an ISBN – or more typically a block of ISBNs – effecitivelymakes you a publisher. Even if you don’t yet know anything about the publishing industry.

The ISBN is broken down into group identifier, publisher identifier and title identifier. This means that all ISBNs in the batch allocated to you will show your publisher identifier, and all products identified by ISBNs from your batch will be considered as being published by you.

However, some book publishers will offer ISBNs to you as part of their service if they are editing, proofreading, designing a cover or printing your book. If you only need one or two ISBNs, and/or you don’t want the hassle of dealing with wholesale book orders, working with an establised publisher such as us may well be an advantage (also, note that a single ISBN purchased via costs less than a single ISBN direct from Neilsen).

What about bar codes?

The ISBN bar code is a machine-readable version of an ISBN. As to whether you need a bar code, again it depends on how you plan to sell/distribute your book. Most bookshops have electronic point of sale (EPOS) systems, which enable them to keep track of their sales and to re-order books by scanning the bar code and many retailers refuse to accept books that are not bar coded.

So, unless you are convinced you won’t want to sell your book in shops now or in future, an ISBN and bar code is necessary. Your cover design should therefore be designed to accommodate the barcode, typically at the bottom on the rear cover.

Want to discuss your ISBN and publishing your book professionally? Contact us.