ISBN: What You Need to Know

Take a look at the back cover or copyright page of your favorite book. You’ll see “ISBN” followed by a series of numbers. Ever wondered what it means?

What is an ISBN?

ISBN is an acronym for International Standard Book Number. It’s a unique number that identifies the title and the publisher that handles distribution (selling) for that title. The ISBN is owned by either the self-publishing author or the publisher/publishing services provider.

ISBNs assist in the distribution of books. When a retailer looks up an ISBN registration they will see detailed information about the book, including the publisher, author, number of pages, etc.

Does the book I’m writing need one?

Your book should have an ISBN if:

  • You want book distributors or retailers/stores, such as Barnes and Noble and Amazon, to sell your book.

You do not need an ISBN if:

  • You don’t plan to sell your book at all.
  • You are planning to sell the book on your own only, and not through distributors, stores, or online retailers.

Should I get my own ISBN or use one belonging to my publishing services provider?

Your choice should be based upon who will handle the book’s distribution.

  • If you want to work with retailers/distributors yourself and be listed as the publisher, you should register for your own ISBN.
  • If your publishing services provider will handle distribution of the book, their ISBN should be used and they will be listed as the publisher.

An ISBN cannot be transferred from the publishing services provider to you, or vice-versa. A new ISBN should be obtained.

Will I need more than one ISBN for my book?

Different versions of your book may need a different ISBN. You will need a new ISBN if:

  • You make changes to the content after publication, other than correcting typos.
  • You release a second edition of your book.
  • You convert your book into an eBook, audio book, or other format, as they are considered different products. Note that each eBook file format needs its own separate ISBN.