An ISBN is not a bar code; “ISBN” stands for “International Standard Book Number” and is a 13-digit number that uniquely identifies the title of a book or similar product such as audio books and electronic books. This number identifies information about the author, the book, the price, the publisher and ordering information. This number is also used by booksellers and libraries to contact the publisher. The U.S. ISBN cannot issue ISBNs to publishers or agencies that are outside the U.S. and its territories. To sell your book through booksellers, an ISBN is needed, whether online or offline. If you are selling different editions of your book, a separate ISBN is needed, including hardcover, paperback, electronic books, audio and other electronic versions. ISBNs are assigned based on the geographical location of the publisher.
Where is the ISBN located?
The ISBN is located on the copyright page, if there is no bar code or on the back cover.
How to purchase an ISBN?
ISBNs can be purchased online through R.R. Bowker, a U.S. ISBN Agency. The number can be purchased individually or as a block of ten, plus processing fees. If you are publishing multiple editions of your book, such as paperback, hardback, audio or electronic, it may be cost effective for you to purchase the block of ten. To date, 2011, individual numbers can be purchased for $125 each. A block of ten, which is the smallest block package, can be purchased for $275. Two or more editions can easily succeed the cost of $275.
Do you need an ISBN?
According to the R. R. Bowker, ISBN agency website, “an ISBN is required if you want to sell your book in bookstores and placed in libraries.” If the book is going to be sold independently and not placed in stores, libraries or with wholesalers, then an ISBN is not required.
If your book is published by a traditional press or a self-publishing company, then your book will be covered under their ISBN blocks. Most publishers purchase in blocks. The publisher is the purchaser and owner of the ISBNs and is responsible for assigning the ISBN to each licensed edition of your book. Most publishing and self-publishing companies do not allow authors to purchase their own ISBNs.
Be sure to register your book in the R.R. Bowker Books in Print database. There is no fee to do so. More information about ISBNs and purchase options can be found online at http://www.isbn.org. For more information about International ISBNs, contact your National ISBN agency: http://www.isbn-international.org/agency.