ISBNs Made Easy

Do I Need an ISBN?

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If you are getting ready to self-publish your novel, you might be wondering if you need an ISBN and how many to purchase. Here’s an easy, no-frills breakdown of what you need to know.

What is an ISBN?

An ISBN is a unique number used to identify a book established by the company Bowker. No two books will have the same ISBN. In most instances, distributors require you to have an ISBN, and you can choose to purchase your own or have one assigned to you (more on that later).

How Many ISBNs Do I Need?

Each format of a book (audiobook, paperback, hard cover, .mobi, .epub, etc) will all have to have separate ISBNs.

How Can I Get a Free ISBN?

If you publish through Amazon KDP, they will assign you an ISBN. However, you cannot use this Amazon-issued ISBN to sell your book on other platforms yourself. The same goes for Barnes & Noble Press. When B&N gives you a free ISBN, it’s only to be used on their platform.

IngramSpark offers ISBNs for self-published authors in the U.S. if you purchase their service. ($49 for print+ebook or $25 for ebook only). Again, using this *free* ISBN, you are limited to only distributing the book through Ingram using the given ISBN and can’t take that ISBN to other distributors.

In all these cases, if you are using the ISBN they have generated for you, Amazon, B&N, and IngramSpark will be listed at the publishers of your book respectively. If you want to appear as your own publisher, you must purchase an ISBN separately and input your own ISBN when setting your book up through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or IngramSpark.

What Distributors Provide Free ISBNs and Barcodes?

Is there an Instance I Don’t Need an ISBN?

If you are ONLY going to make your book available through Amazon KDP as an ebook, then Amazon will assign you an ASIN instead of an ISBN. However, if you are going to distribute your book as paperback, you will need your own (or have Amazon assign you) an ISBN.

I Prefer to Buy My Own ISBN, Where Do I Get One?

There are a few ways. The way where you retain the most control and act as your own publisher is by purchasing through Bowker directly here.

Current Pricing:

1 ISBN = $125 USD

10 ISBNs = $295 USD

100 ISBNs = $575 USD

1,000 ISBNs = $1500 USD

Wow, That’s Expensive! Is There a Cheaper Option?

Yes. There are companies that resell ISBNs at discounted rates, however, there are also scams selling fake ISBN numbers that will end up being useless. So, you need to be careful and do your research. Once an ISBN is assigned to a book, it’s assigned to that book for the life of the book and cannot be changed. The safest way to ensure your ISBN is authentic and set up correctly is to purchase through Bowker itself.

There are discounted options to buy a single Bowker ISBN through Amazon ($99) and IngramSpark ($85). Click the company names for more info on each discount.

Is ISBN the Same as a Barcode?

No. The Barcode is a machine scannable graphic that is derived from an ISBN number. It is essential if you are going to sell your book in physical stores because this is what the cashier will scan at the checkout.

Are Barcodes Free?

You will need to purchase a barcode separately if you are purchasing your ISBN from Bowker.

Amazon, Barnes and Noble Press, and Ingram Spark will all generate barcodes for you based on your ISBN and don’t require a separate purchase.

Good Luck!

Now, that you’ve got a basic overview of ISBNs, you are one step closer on your self-publishing journey! If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment below!

*Disclaimer: This information should not be taken as legal advice. This site is not responsible for any products or services rendered by the companies discussed here and their terms and pricing may be subject to change.