Getting your own ISBNs

ISBNs for print books and eBooksOne of the things you’ll need to do as a publisher is obtain a block of International Standard Book Numbers (ISBNs) for your books. Some printers, print-on-demand publishers, and eBook vendors will offer to provide you with an ISBN for your book, but it’s better to get your own. Part of the ISBN includes a “publisher number” which is assigned to a specific publisher. Therefore, if you allow another company to provide the ISBN, then that company will be listed as the publisher of your book. ISBNs are easy to obtain online, and using your own numbers means that you’ll retain control over your books.

ISBNs are assigned by the ISBN Agency in your country. They usually come in blocks of 10 or 1,000, and you’ll need a separate ISBN for each edition of your book. If you’re publishing one book, be sure to get more than one ISBN as you’ll probably produce more than one edition (for example, a softcover edition and a Kindle edition). You might even have other editions, such as hardcover, ePub, and PDF.

Getting ISBNs in Canada
ISBNs are free to Canadian publishers and are issued in 10 days. Go to the Canadian ISBN Service System (CISS) where you’ll see the steps to register explained. Once approved, you’ll receive a user ID and password by email, together with instructions for using CISS. You’ll then be able to assign a unique ISBN from your block to each edition of your book through your online account.

Getting ISBNs in the US
Go to the U.S. ISBN Agency and click on the “buy your ISBNs today!” button to get to their purchase page. The prices for ISBNs in the US are:

  • $125 for 1 ISBN (don’t buy just one as you’ll need a unique number for each edition)
  • $250 for 10 ISBNs
  • $575 for 100 ISBNs
  • $1,000 for 1,000 ISBNs

Once you’ve purchased a block of numbers, you can assign the ISBNs to your books as they’re published.

Getting ISBNs outside North America
Go to the International ISBN Agency and click on the “select group agency” drop-down menu to see all the countries listed. Select your country and you’ll see information there on how to obtain your ISBNs.

Assigning ISBN numbersWhat do the numbers in the ISBN stand for?
In the United States, most retail products are marked with a UPC symbol. The corresponding bar code symbol in use in every other country aside from the United States is the European Article Number (EAN). Every EAN begins with a 2 or 3 digit prefix, which indicates the country of origin. EANs for companies registered in France, for example, might begin with the prefix 34; Japan’s prefix is 49. Since the book industry produces so many products, it has been designated as a country unto itself and has been assigned its own EAN prefix. That prefix is 978 and it signifies Bookland, that wonderful, fictitious country where all books come from.

The publisher number is a unique 7-digit number assigned to your publishing company. All the books you publish will have the same country prefix, country indicator, and publisher number. The only digits that will change from book to book are the title number and check digit.

You’ll assign a unique title number to each edition of each book you publish. And the check digit is produced automatically using an algorithm (it’s also possible that your check digit may be an X).

ISBNs—part of the publishing process
Getting your own ISBNs is easy to do online, and allows you to retain control of your books after they’re published. You might choose to get your books printed somewhere else down the road, or produce an updated version or Second Edition. When you have your own block of ISBNs, you’ll be in control of your books’ destiny.

I hope this has been informative and helpful!