ISBN 101 For Self-Publishers

by Joel Friedlander on November 19, 2010 · 166 comments

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One of the parts of book publishing that seems to confound newcomers to the field is the purpose and use of the International Standard Book Number (ISBN). Usually the ISBN appears to be the same thing as the ubiquitous Bookland EAN scannable barcode that graces the back covers of almost all books printed today.

Not only that, but since the rise of companies that perform publishing services for authors, there has been even more confusion about whether you need to own your own ISBN, whether free ISBNs from these companies are “just as good” as getting your own ISBN, and if it’s a good idea to buy ISBNs from re-sellers who offer lower prices for a single number.

Let’s review the basics of this unique identifier and explain what is so important about it, how it benefits self-publishers, and when you can safely forget about it.

Created to Solve Real-World Problems

ISBN was created as a stock-keeping identifier. Originating in the United Kingdom, the concept of a unique identifier for each version of a published book became an international standard in the 1970s.

It was created to solve a real-world problem, and it worked well. The problem was that in the pre-internet age, it was often very difficult to identify a particular book, and more so when a searcher did not have the full title, author and edition information at hand. That’s usually the case when I go searching for a book.

How would you know whether the book you are looking for is the right one? Book titles are not exclusive or protected by copyright, and it’s not unusual for several different books to have the same title. And similar titles will quickly expand the number of possibilities. Add to this the necessity of knowing which edition you are looking for—hardcover, paperback, second edition—and it’s easy to see how identification mistakes are easy to make.

With the use of the unique identifier, one that is attached to each physical format of a book, this problem is basically solved. Every title, and every different edition or format has its own unique number for tracking and search purposes.

Coincidentally the ISBN came into use at the same time that computers were becoming common, and the two were meant for each other. It’s now possible to simply enter an ISBN into a Google search bar to get all the information you need on a particular title.

Who Doesn’t Need an ISBN?

Because the ISBN is used as a basic identifier throughout the book distribution system, any book that is intended to be sold through retail channels will need to have this identifier.

There’s no absolute need for books printed for private use, or for a closed distribution to have ISBN assigned. These might include:

  • Workbooks distributed at seminars
  • Company training manuals for internal use
  • Family histories, recipe collections or other “personal” publishing projects
  • Books that will be used only as premiums, incentives or giveaways

However even publishers of these types of books might make use of this identifier if they plan to someday convert their publication to a commercial use.

Self-Publishing Hits the Scene

You may not realize this, but for many years Bowker issued ISBNs to book publishers for a nominal administrative fee.

But once the self-publishing field began to expand in response to new digital printing technology, Bowker made the process of acquiring ISBNs easier, and a lot more expensive. Now ISBNs are sold like any other commodity by Bowker and a few authorized re-sellers. And to accommodate the needs of these self-publishers, they made individual numbers available for the first time.

However, the price Bowker set for individual identifiers (currently $125) has shocked many new publishers. (You can read an explanation of why the cost is so high in the interview I did with Andy Weissberg).

But keep in mind that it’s rarely a good idea to buy just one ISBN. If you intend to issue your book as both a printed book and an ebook, you will need two ISBNs right from the start, and the cost of buying two individual numbers is the same as purchasing ten numbers (currently $250).

In addition, Bowker is actually registering your publishing company when they issue you your numbers, not your individual books. This is a key step for many self-publishers and that’s a pretty good reason to get an ISBN as well.

The Problem of the “Free” ISBN

In order to mitigate the cost and the bother of registering your company yourself, author services companies started offering “free” identifiers to clients. How were they able to do this?

Bowker’s pricing for these numbers has huge volume discounts, that’s how. For $5,000 you can acquire 5,000 ISBNs. That’s only $1 each, a price at which it’s easy to give them away, saving individual authors quite a heap of money.

And many authors have made use of this savings. You are a good candidate for a free number if:

  • You intend to publish only one book
  • You have no interest in starting a “publishing company”
  • You’re on a very tight budget

But it’s not the right solution for everyone, because ISBN performs many functions for self-publishers.

Know Your Retailers

People who help authors get started in publishing often remind them that this is a business, and should be approached as such. You are manufacturing a product intended for retail sales. In this scenario it’s important for you to know the policies of the retailers who will be selling your book.

For instance, here’s what Smashwords, the big distributor of ebooks, says about ISBN usage:

Smashwords retailers such as Apple and Sony will not accept your Smashwords book unless you have a unique e-ISBN. It is the primary digital identification number that many major online retailers use to track and catalog your books, and to report your sales back to Smashwords.

(Editor’s note: Everything at Smashwords is an e-book, but there really isn’t such a thing as an “e-ISBN”. They are all just plain old ISBNs.)

The Many Roles of a 13-Digit Number

Smashwords also points out one of the other uses of this handy number. In fact there are three main ways these numbers can be of use:

  1. Stock keeping, for inventory purposes
  2. item identification to differentiate similar editions
  3. Metadata

It’s this last benefit of ISBN you should think about when deciding whether to use them, and whether you want to go to the expense of buying your own numbers, or to accept the “free” version.

SEO Title Card - Metadata for self publishers

2 Reasons to Own Your Own ISBNs

Most of the self-publishers I’ve worked with are setting up their own publishing companies and funding their project in the expectation of becoming profitable. In every case I’ve advised them to buy their own ISBNs. Here’s why:

  1. The ISBN contains within it a “publisher identifier.” This enables anyone to locate the pubisher of any particular book or edition. If you use a “free” ISBN from an author services company or a subsidy publisher, that company will be identified in bibliographic databases as the publisher.
  2. Owning your own ISBNs gives you the ability to control the bibligraphic record for your book. This is an important part of your book’s metadata, and is a key component in your book being discoverable by online searchers. This has a powerful influence on your efforts to attract search engine traffic to your title.

Now there’s no reason you can’t publish your books with a “free” ISBN from a reputable company, like CreateSpace. Having their identifier on your book doesn’t have anything to do with the ownership or copyright on your work, you still have complete control over your own content.

And you can be very successful this way, too. April Hamilton originally published Indie Author and several other books that way, and enjoyed great success. But like others who have committed to making publishing their business, she has said she would now buy her own ISBNs.

Part of the reason, as Hamilton explains, is the changing marketplace:

Distribution options offered by print and digital publishing service providers increasingly require that the author/imprint be the registered owner of the ISBN.

Echoing this is this explanation from the Smashwords ISBN guide:

An ISBN helps make your book more discoverable to readers and other book buyers. The ISBN gains you free inclusion in Books in Print, the world’s largest catalog of books, which is licensed to all major search engines and thousands of bookstores and libraries. Your ISBN record will also receive a free online listing at the online Books in Print bibliographic database that’s available on the open Web at

Takeaway: If you plan to sell retail you’ll need to use ISBN. For strictly private publications, you may not need it at all. And if you plan to continue in publishing, buy your own ISBN block from the start.

If you have questions about ISBNs or how to use them, please leave a note in the comments.


Bowker U.S. ISBN Agency site
Wikipedia entry on the International Standard Book Number
ISBNs Don’t Matter as Much as You Thought by Indie Author April Hamilton
About ISBNs from Smashwords
Twitter #ISBNhour discussion group link (moderated by @LJNDawson)
UK ISBN Information

TheBookDesigner Articles on ISBN
ISBNs for Self-Publishers: Answers to 20 of Your Questions
How to Create, Register and List Your New Publishing Company
Self-Publishing Basics: How to Read an ISBN

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    { 141 comments… read them below or add one }

    Michael N. Marcus November 19, 2010 at 4:33 am

    >>any book that is intended to be sold through retail channels will need to have this identifier.<>The ISBN contains within it a “publisher identifier.” <<

    A publisher may have several identifiers (a.k.a. "prefixes"). If you order blocks of ISBNs at different times you get different prefixes. I got 9816617 in 2008 and 9830572 in 2010. There is probably no disadvantage to having several prefixes, but it may bother anal retentive publishers.

    Some ISBN tips:

    (i) ISBNs are not returnable and are no supposed to be sold or transferred, so be sure that you will use them before you place an order.

    (2) Make a list of your books and their ISBNs so you don't assign the same ISBN to several books.

    (3) Bowker says that it can take up to 15 days to receive ISBNs and the company offers extra-cost faster processing. It's probably a waste of money. In 2008 it took two days with an extra fee. In September of this year, I got my numbers in a few minutes witout paying extra.

    (4) ISBNs are provided free by the ISBN agencies in some countries, but not in the USA.

    Michael N. Marcus
    – Create Better Books, with the Silver Sands Publishing Series:
    – "Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults),"


    Joel Friedlander November 19, 2010 at 7:53 am

    As you suspect, there is no downside to having more than one “publisher identifier” since both will point to you as publisher. The problems come in when the publisher identifier points to an author services company as the publisher, leaving you as a self-published author without a publishing company, a bit of an oddity. Thanks for the tips.


    Michael N. Marcus November 19, 2010 at 2:42 pm

    I just learned of another potential problem when authors don’t own their ISBNs.

    The IBPA Benjamin Franklin Awards are open to small and independent publishers. The rules say “The entity to which the ISBN was issued by R. R. Bowker is the publisher.”

    An author who does not own the ISBN for a book she wants to enter must provide a letter of approval from the publisher to enter the contest on behalf of the publisher.

    It’s possible that other awards programs have similar policies.


    SonnyGoten February 7, 2012 at 11:43 am

    You say in (4) that it is possible in some countries to get free ISBN. But is this only possible for those that are from that specific country or can others make use of this as well.


    Joel Friedlander February 7, 2012 at 6:57 pm

    No, you have to be a resident or a publisher located in the country. It would be pretty chaotic otherwise.


    SonnyGoten February 9, 2012 at 6:26 am

    So, even if I write in a language different than my own country’s, I still need to use the ISBN from my country? Say, for example, if I were French and I wanted to write in Japanese? I would still have to use a french ISBN?


    Joel Friedlander February 9, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    Sonny, it’s not about the language, but where the publisher is located that dictates where you get your ISBNs.

    SonnyGoten February 12, 2012 at 4:31 am

    I see. But what if two self-publishing authors of different countries decide to publish something they made together? Then which country should the ISBN be from? Or what if the publisher in question is web-based and prefers to keep an international image? Does he still need to use the ISBN from his home country? And what if the publishing author is an immigrant? Which country would he/she need to ask ISBN from? I know I may be asking too many difficult questions, and sorry if I do, I’m just trying to figure out how ISBN is working. Thank you for the answers you’ve given me. :-)


    Joel Friedlander February 12, 2012 at 11:30 am

    Sonny, you can keep asking but the answer is always going to be the same: the publisher is responsible for ISBNs, it has nothing to do with authors and the languages they speak. A publisher is a business and operates as a business entity. The country in which the publisher does business is where they will acquire the ISBNs.

    R Thomas Berner November 19, 2010 at 5:55 am

    Very clear explanation. Thank you, Joel.


    R Thomas Berner November 19, 2010 at 5:58 am

    Just remembered a question. I got an ISBN for a book and went online and found a software package that created ISBNs. Fortunately, I could use the trial version for free. But I was wondering if my Avery label software, which enables one to create a barcode for the zip code, doesn’t do the same thing. Avery converts five- and nine-digit codes into bar codes. Isn’t that the same thing as an ISBN. Numbers converted to a barcode?


    Joel Friedlander November 19, 2010 at 7:55 am

    Thomas, I’m assuming you mean software that creates bar codes. The ISBN is simply the number itself. There are a number of software packages for creating bar codes but be careful that the specific barcode you create is in the Bookland EAN format. Many book designers will provide a bar code free of charge if they are working on your project, and some printers provide them also. This is not the same as using an author-services company’s ISBN—the barcode is simply a scannable representation of the number.


    Rima November 19, 2010 at 7:41 am

    Joel – another fantastic and helpful article. I was just wondering if I should purchase an ISBN for my book, in the event it doesn’t get published traditionally, because I want to see it in print.


    Joel Friedlander November 19, 2010 at 7:57 am

    Rima, thanks. There’s no real reason to buy ISBNs until you decide whether you want to publish it yourself. There will be plenty of time to get ISBNs at that point and in the meantime you can avoid the expense. Thanks for reading.


    Roemer McPhee November 19, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    Joel, this question is tangential, about a self-publishing co. providing ISBNs.
    What do you think of Author House?



    Joel Friedlander November 19, 2010 at 1:07 pm


    I think there are better alternatives. Check out CreateSpace for one.


    Mo Skiie August 22, 2014 at 1:38 pm

    Thanks. This article in general is very helpful and the CreateSpace link. I never heard of them before but just checked their site and looks like something I could use. Thanks.


    Mike Perry, Inkling Books November 19, 2010 at 2:23 pm

    It’s at the low-quantity end where ISBN prices have risen enormously. In 2000, I picked up 1000 for Inkling Books for $600. Now that many costs $1000. It’s still a large increase, 67% more than the 2000 price in a time of low inflation, but not that outlandish.

    It’s the low end where the increase has been outlandish and where Bowker’s scarce-concealed hostility to small publishers is most evident. I seem to remember ISBN’s costing about $4 each in quantities of ten or $40 total. Now it’s $250, a more than 600% increase.

    It’s difficult to image that’s a result of any increase in processing costs. With Bowker, the customer does the data entry work. Bowker merely runs the servers and cashes the checks. Ten or ten thousand doesn’t make that much difference. And if you’d like a apt comparison, Internet web page assignments in quantities of one cost $10 or less, a tiny fraction of the $125 Bowker charges for a quantity of one. There’s no way prices have to be that hight.

    Service at Bowker is also less than impressive. Most business give their clients a monthly statement. I’ve tried to get Bowker to create a script that would generate a PDF listing all assigned titles from their data and email it to their clients each month. That’d cost them almost nothing and would be far easier for clients to use than wading through data screen after data screen checking each title. No luck. If I don’t like the service Bowker provides, where can I go?

    Sadly, Bowker has become a typical monopoly. Their prices are too high and their service is weak at best. I suspect it wouldn’t be that hard to given them some competition. I once tried to interest Google in that, but no one seems interested. Someone who once worked with Amazon’s databases told me that Bowker price rises aren’t the result of rising costs. They’re an effort to get the profits up, so those who own it can sell it for a handsome profit.

    The sad thing is we shouldn’t even be using ISBNs for ebooks. A better scheme would replace ISBNs with something actually designed for the ebook market. ISBN is a 70s-era scheme for bar-coding physical books in an era when only large corporations owned computers. It’s woefully inadequate for the complexity and variety of digital books in the Internet age.

    The new International Digital Document Code (IDDC) could, for instance, contain character groups that clearly identify an ebook’s content, format and DRM. As a customer I could look for a title I want using the content coding to locate identical content, the format coding to find the best price for the device I’m using, and the DRM coding to suit my preferences. With the sadly antiquated ISBN, none of that is in the number itself. Customers, many of them technically illiterate, have to somehow locate and fiddle around with any number of 13-digit number strings. Not good.

    A note to the author. It’s OK to explain ISBNs to those who are new to publishing, as you’ve done, and you’ve done a good job of that. But we don’t have to keep using ISBNs any more than in the days of the Model T the new automobiles needed to include buggy whip holders. Any discussion of ISBNs should point out their many flaws and encourage the development of something better.

    And it’s difficult to imaging how there could be anything that wouldn’t be better and cheaper than Bowker’s overpriced and woefully buggy-whip era ISBNs.

    I got my ISBNs when the getting was cheap, so this isn’t an issue with me. But I feel sorry for those new to publishing who have to pay much, much more and to digital book customers who must contend with a numbering system that wasn’t designed for what they are buying.


    Joel Friedlander November 22, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    Mike, as you can tell from my article I remember the days when ISBNs were basically free, as they are in other countries, and you just had to pay a $30 “admin” fee to pay for the people who printed out the green bar paper in New Jersey.

    It’s also interesting to compare the low end and high end of these prices. The 125-to-1 ratio is astonishing, and I can’t think of another product with that kind of volume pricing spread.

    I haven’t kept up with the IDDC developments, but it sounds interesting.

    With the way the market is right now, and the distrust of self-published books that persists, I continue to advise my self-publishing clients to use ISBN. Many retailers require it and there doesn’t seem to be any good reason for them to cripple their own sales potential. But the 1-book publisher has different needs than the indie press, and that makes sense.

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment.


    Jai Baidell December 2, 2013 at 8:46 pm

    Mike, there are many other identifier schemes out there as digital objects proliferate, for example Digital Object Identifiers and ISNI for people, Yes, people exist in the digital world too. It’s very important for any bit of data, like a book or a data set or a web page, to be uniquely identified, although constructing identifiers to contain meaning as you suggest makes the system much more fragile. With books, though, as long as we are relying on computer systems designed for print books (trade catalogues, distributors, publishing systems, library systems) ISBN is the identifier scheme we will need to use.


    Nikki November 21, 2010 at 1:32 pm

    Another GREAT article!! I will be sure to share your blog and this article with a group of budding authors. Thanks!!


    Joel Friedlander November 22, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    That’s so nice of you Nikki, thanks!


    C. Michael McGannon November 28, 2010 at 10:58 am

    Great article, Joel. I’m trying to research and get into the self publishing market right now for two books, and this answers a lot of questions.
    You mentioned that Bowker will sell you 10 ISBNs for the same price as two, and that they register your publishing company when you buy your ISBN. Let me ask then if you can buy 10 ISBNs and “store” them to assign books at a later time?
    For instance, I have two books written and ready to print, but I’ve got many more in the works, some in the sames series. Would I be able to buy 10 ISBNs and use them as I need them?
    Again, very insightful article. Thanks and keep up the good work.


    Joel Friedlander November 28, 2010 at 11:07 am

    McGannon, yes, that’s exactly right. If you have quite a few books and plan to issue some of them in print and ebook editions, you should consider bumping up to the package of 100 ISBNs, which costs today $575, or $5.75 for each ISBN, quite a reduction from $125 (single ISBN price) or $25 (each for 10). Bowker actually assigns you only the publisher identifier, it’s up to you as publisher to assign the individual numbers to your titles.

    I have ISBNs I bought in the 1980s and I’m still assigning them. They don’t go out of date.


    C. Michael McGannon November 28, 2010 at 9:27 pm

    Wow. That’s extremely encouraging! This whole business is a little intimidating going in. Thanks so much for sharing your expertise, I’m sure I speak for a lot of people when I say you’re positively heroic.


    Joy July 7, 2014 at 3:48 pm

    I purchased a block of ISBNs back in 2001 and have only used one of them. I am getting ready to self-publish another book and am ready to use some of the others, but I have no paperwork on them. How do I locate these numbers?


    Don Yarber March 24, 2011 at 4:01 am

    Can you give me any insight as to how to “print” my barcode? I bought the ISBN from Bowker and also the barcode. I dowloaded the barcode in a zipped format, expecting that I could open it, make a photo copy of it, and insert it on the back cover of my book. Bowker tells me that all I need to do is email the zipped barcode to the printer. I want to give the printer a complete PDF file of the book, cover, and everything, including the barcode.
    Any suggestions?


    Joel Friedlander March 24, 2011 at 10:10 am

    Hi Don. The ZIP undoubtedly contains a graphic image of the barcode. These are usually supplied in EPS format. Just unZIP it and you’ll have a new folder. Look inside the folder and you should see the EPS file, which can be placed into your layout like any other graphic. Hint: don’t resize it.


    Marc-Andre Renaud April 15, 2011 at 10:19 am

    Just stumbled upon this article while looking into book promotion. Being from Canada I found your very well written article to be akin to an anthropological study of international differences in book publishing. The whole notion of paying for ISBNs is just such a foreign concept here. As Mr. Friedlander mentioned in an October 22nd comment, ISBNs are indeed free in other countries (such as Canada) and it’s astonishing to read how some companies are making a profit by leveraging their monopoly position to gouge customer for a service that for all intents and purposes should be free.

    Thanks for the fascinating read.


    R Thomas Berner April 15, 2011 at 11:11 am

    Mr Renaud:

    We are a nation of gougers and profiteers and monopolists. Why do you think we’re in such economic difficulty now? :-)


    Joel Friedlander April 15, 2011 at 11:17 am

    Bowker has always charged for ISBNs, but years ago it was a flat fee for administration. The move to sell individual ISBNs for $125 each looks, from the outside, like a calculated move to pull down large profits from individual self-publishers who are, ironically, the ones least able to afford that fee. This alone has pushed some authors into the arms of author service companies who, since they buy in bulk, can wave the “free ISBN” flag in front of the undercapitalized prospective authors. For that reason alone, I think it’s a shame that Bowker continues to pursue this pricing scheme. If you are curious, I put this question to Andy Weissberg, at the time a SVP at Bowker, and you can read his response here:
    Bowker’s Andy Weissberg on ISBNs and the Future of the Book


    Marc-Andre Renaud April 15, 2011 at 2:59 pm

    Andy Weissburg’s interview, while providing a great run-down of the Bowker fee structure and great information regarding the benefits of obtaining an ISBN, fails to provide any type of explanation for the increase in prices. The exponential growth in cost for smaller and smaller batches of numbers (basically the price jumps in exponents of 5 per step) merely reinforces Mr. Berner’s views that you are living in “a nation of gougers and profiteers and monopolists”.

    Case in point, looking at Canada again, registering for ISBNs is free, online or offline. Once submitted to the National Library, new books get entered into databases and advertising registries much like the services offerred by Bowker. The big difference is that it’s free. I guess there are some advantages to having a much higher tax rate when the government channels some of the funds in useful ways such as this.

    I’m all for free market capitalism but sometimes, such as say managing the cataloguing of a Nation’s cultural output, corporations need to stay away and the society as a whole handle things in a more democratic and freely available way. Charging 125$ per publication is a clear argument to support the idea that corporations need to either revise their methods, at least from the small publisher’s point of view.


    Eduardo May 9, 2011 at 5:08 am

    Hi Joel:
    I am ready to self-publish a book in Spanish (i.e. to be read mainly in Spain and Latin American countries) I am Italian, but resident in Switzerland. Where should I buy my ISBN? Is this anyhow related to my residency or nationality? (for example I have seen that Lulu only offers ISBN service to US residents)
    Once I have my own ISBN what self-publishing service would you suggest (i.e. creativespace, unibook, lulu, etc.) or should I rather try to identify a similar service in Spain or Latinamerica?

    I look forward to your kind answer.


    Marc-Andre Renaud May 9, 2011 at 9:32 am

    Hi Eduardo,

    While I don’t know anything about the online self-publishing services (since we do our layout and design in-house and thus only need printing services), I can help you regarding ISBN numbers.

    Typically, you would obtain an ISBN in your country of residence. You would then follow up with doing a legal deposit in your country’s National Library.

    After a quick online search, it seems that Switzerland, much like Canada, does not charge for ISBN. Only in the US do you get gouged for what should be a free service.

    Once your book is registered in the National Library and you have an ISBN you are free to publish your book in your country of choice.

    Hope this helps,


    Eduardo May 9, 2011 at 9:38 am

    Thanks for the immediate answer. Very useful indeed!



    Joel Friedlander May 9, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    Thanks, Marc-Andre for your informative answer. I would suggest you look at Lightning Source because you can sign up for both US and UK services at the same time, and the UK facility will distribute in Europe.


    Kelly September 9, 2011 at 12:40 pm

    Very informative, thanks. I have a few questions: if I’m only planning on selling my book as an ebook then does that diminish the importance of owning my own ISBN? Also, can you explain the difference between a free and $10 ISBN at Smashwords? It’s not clear to me from reading their explanation. What do I get for $10? Do I then own the number?

    As I understand it, if I then decided to publish a print version of the book it would need a different ISBN from the ebook version anyway, so I could buy my own ISBN at that point.


    Scath September 13, 2011 at 11:08 pm

    Kelly, the way I understand it, when you purchase the $10 ISBN at CreateSpace or Smashwords, you are listed as the publisher, and they are listed as the distributor.

    The free one, they are listed as your publisher.

    But I have a question about those as well: if I pay for the ISBNs at Smashwords, and am listed as the publisher, why don’t those ISBNs show up in my Bowker account?


    Joel Friedlander February 7, 2012 at 6:55 pm


    That’s because Smashwords bought the ISBNs and no matter how they position it, that’s whose account they are under with Bowker, the ISBN agency for the U.S. To get yourself actually listed with Bowker as a publisher, you need to buy your own ISBNs.


    Gerhi Feuren October 4, 2011 at 9:11 am

    In South Africa ISBN’s are assigned by the National Library. It requires merely an email and you get your ISBN normally withing 24 hours. It is also a legal requirement to supply copies of books to the legal deposit libraries, of which there are 5.

    I obtained an ISBN for my Epub Smashword short story Grizzle and Bone. Requested it yesterday, got it this morning and updated my details at Smashwords. I am still unclear how to submit my copies to the legal deposit libraries.

    Contact me if you’d like to see the documentation and the contact details at the National Library.


    Sally October 9, 2011 at 9:08 pm

    Hi, I am a self publisher and bought 10 IBN numbers, all that is in storage as I am in another country now, one book was published and now I need my other ISBN numbers for the 3 books i am printing now, is there any other place to look for the other ISBN I bought, I have the book with the ISBN number but not the others 9. The internet does not tell you how to find that and I goit them in 2006.
    With blessings


    Joel Friedlander December 28, 2011 at 12:48 pm


    Sorry I missed this when you posted it. I had this same problem, and since the explanation of how to solve it is a bit complicated, I’m writing an article about it.


    Sally Huss December 12, 2011 at 4:39 pm

    Gad! The ISBN thing is very confusing. I have a number of children’s books to put up and I’ve started with Smashwords, as they indicate that they can put my works in the formats required for all the devices. And, they say that by using their ebook ISBN numbers I still retain all rights as a publisher. Is there any problem with this? Will Smashwords actually do as they claim? Are my works in any jeopardy? Is there a better solution? Does anyone recommend Smashwords? Are there authors doing well with Smashwords or am I better off just putting my works up on Amazon and Barnes and Noble directly? I would appreciate some help. Many thanks.


    Joel Friedlander December 28, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    Sally, remember that ISBN has nothing to do with copyright or your ownership of your own work. Smashwords is an excellent solution for many thousands of authors. Their service is free up front, they convert your book for you and take a small percentage when you make sales. At present they do not distribute to the Kindle store, so you would have to do that yourself. If you use the free Smashwords ISBN, they will be shown as the publisher. If you buy your own, you will be shown as the publisher.


    Carol Newman Cronin December 28, 2011 at 5:54 am

    Joel, thanks for all the great info. In your Self Publishing guide you mention needing two separate ISBNs for MOBI and EPUB… the first I’d seen of this. Is this really true, and if so why? It’s the same book as far as everyone but the e-readers are concerned.

    Again, thanks for all the great info.


    Joel Friedlander December 28, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    Carol, this is a thorny question. Amazon does not require an ISBN for Kindle e-books since they use their own ASIN to identify the books. However, they allow you to assign one if you want to. I recommend to my clients that they assign an ISBN to their Kindle version because you never know what will happen tomorrow, but it’s not required and it’s not necessary. You do need a separate ISBN for each different edition or format. Otherwise there would be no way to identify which version a buyer was looking for.


    Carol Newman Cronin December 28, 2011 at 2:06 pm

    Thanks Joel. This is quite timely since I’m about to post an updated Kindle version of Game of Sails. Currently it has the same ISBN as the Smashwords/EPUB version… but I’ll make sure to give it a new one this time around.

    The reason I’m posting a new file is that the Kindle version has some weird formatting… in spite of a careful Smashwords prep. This time I’m going with a file prepared specifically for the Kindle. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Amazon is where most of my sales have been.

    Thanks again for all the great info!


    Kimberly January 8, 2012 at 9:57 am

    Thank you for your very informative website Joel.
    I live in France and am planning to self publish a book, only one, in the United States in a couple of months. (I will be using a printing company in the US.) ISBN and bar codes are free of charge in France. In your opinion, if I use an ISBN and a bar code from France, this will not cause any problems for bookstore retailers in the United States?
    Thank you in advance for your response.


    Joel Friedlander January 9, 2012 at 2:53 pm

    Hi Kimberly,

    You definitely should NOT use a French-issued ISBN with a book published in the U.S. In your situation it might pay to get a free ISBN from the company you are using to publish the book. For instance, CreateSpace will issue you one at no charge, although it will then show them as the publisher. This seems like a good compromise since you don’t have a U.S. address.


    Ian Anderson March 15, 2012 at 3:02 am

    Oh oh! Thanks Joel. I had no idea about the ISBN being linked to the publishers location. I am a Brit living in Norway, so now I am pondering where to register my new ‘publishing arm’……

    It looks to cost £118 ($177) for registration and 10 numbers in the UK through Neilsen, knowing Norway it will cost about the same as a small car!

    More research needed me thinks!


    Peg Conway May 9, 2012 at 7:40 pm

    I’m planning to publish my nonfiction book with CreateSpace. I’d like to get my own ISBN(s), but am I understanding correctly that I can’t use the Expanded Distribution channels if I have my own ISBN, that it has to be a CS-issued number?


    Sandy Bornstein July 3, 2012 at 8:16 am

    Like Peg Conway, I’m also questioning what I should do if I publish with CreateSpace. According to their written policy, you cannot subscribe to their Expanded Distribution if you have your own ISBN number. Which is more important- having your own ISBN number or taking advantage of Expanded Distribution?


    Joel Friedlander July 3, 2012 at 9:17 am

    Peg and Sandy,

    This is a conundrum. Some publishers I know have stepped around the problem by using two print on demand vendors. So they will put the book at CreateSpace and not sign up for expanded distribution, then also place the same book with another vendor, like Lightning Source, to take advantage of Ingram’s wide distribution. This gives you immediate availability on Amazon and excellent customer support of CreateSpace, while allowing you to maintain your own ISBN assignments. This may not be very important at the moment, but if your publishing enterprise grows and prospers, you’ll undoubtedly want to have full control of your ISBNs down the road.


    Peg Conway July 3, 2012 at 9:48 am

    A recent review of the site through my project dashboard at CS now shows a $99 option that allows your own imprint, expanded distribution (but not libraries and academic institutions) and the ability to use the IBSN with another publisher.


    Sandy Bornstein July 3, 2012 at 11:04 am

    I spoke with a CS representative and learned the following: Baker and Taylor will not distribute CS books to libraries and academic institutions if the ISBN number is not a CS number. In my case, I would like to have access to that market. Ingram will distribute to their entities.

    If a person has the book copyrighted and works with a reputable company such as CS that acknowledges that the writer has the rights to the book, does the fact that the ISBN number is in CS’s name matter?

    What is the potential downside?


    Leon July 26, 2012 at 6:27 pm

    Is there any way to reach the libraries and academic institutions outside of CS? Thanks.

    Joel Friedlander August 2, 2012 at 11:04 am

    Sandy, the only downside is if you decide to move to a different supplier you will need to get a new ISBN, which will leave records of the same book with 2 different ISBNs. It has nothing to do with copyright or your intellectual property.

    Ru August 2, 2012 at 8:50 am

    I just wrote my first book. I publish it myself. I have a ISBN nr but dont know how to list the ISBN nr on the internet or on a database. Can you please direct me?


    Joel Friedlander August 2, 2012 at 11:03 am

    Ru, go to to manage your ISBN account and list your book.


    Simone August 28, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    I’m looking to publish my own book (s). I am looking at Bowker and want to buy 10 ISBNs instead of just 1. I want to make sure I understand first. When I buy the block of 10, is that for use for only 1 book with multiple editions, or is it for additional titles I publish down the road?



    Joel Friedlander August 28, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    Hi Simone,

    The ISBNs you purchase from Bowker can be used for different editions, different books or anywhere you need an ISBN. As the publisher, you assign them. I’ve got ISBNs obtained in the 1990s and still using them today, they never go out of date.


    Simone August 28, 2012 at 1:50 pm

    Thanks for the information. Now, I find myself in a pickle like some of the other authors above. I want to use CS, but with my own ISBNs. Since my first publication is non-fiction and I want expanded distribution, I’m not so sure it’s a good idea. My audience is the US military and those associated with it world-wide. What would your advice be between the two options?


    Joel Friedlander August 28, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    Simone, I would advise in almost all cases to buy and use your own ISBNs, since that will give you the greatest control over the long term, and you will always be listed as the publisher. You might consider using CreateSpace for sales to Amazon and Lightning Source instead of the expanded distribution for other retailers, since their discount returns substantially more to the publisher.


    Nicole August 31, 2012 at 9:03 am

    I’ve read through the blog and you’ve explained ISBNs perfectly, but what if I want to self publish through multiple sources like amashwords and kindle. If I use the free one from one site can I use the same ISBN on another site? Reading through comments that smashwords gives publishing rights for $10 ISBN can I use that though Kindle or any other online source?


    Joel Friedlander August 31, 2012 at 11:26 am

    Nicole, the ISBNs purchased in bulk by author services companies and distributors like Smashwords are registered to them as the publisher. I’m not familiar with the “publishing rights for $10″ idea, but I doubt it will change the registration information at Bowker, who issues the ISBNs, or in the Books in Print database, maintained by Bowker. The “free” ISBNs that I know about are not tranferrable for those reasons to another party.


    vicky November 6, 2012 at 2:59 am

    Reading all these comments has been an eye opener for me! Thanks so much to all!
    I still have a questio, and it relates to the one asked by Kimberby.
    Like her, I have french issued isbn numbers. I’m a french national amongst other things ( I have 4 passports), and they are free in France so I got them, but I do plan to publish my book on kindle and also use smashwords using them as the US is where my target audience is, and I write in english. I so not understand why you recommended she DOESN’T do it? why exactly? they are valid numbers.
    Also, I plan to use a diffent pen name than my legal one- which I mentionned to the french office who delivers these isbn numbers and they were fine with it. I do have a US ITN number,as amazon and smashwords require for tax purposes, so I’d like to know if I’m going to be ok to use these isbn I got?


    Joel Friedlander November 29, 2012 at 10:29 am

    Hi Vicky. The basic idea with ISBNs is that they are issued to a geographic (or language) region, to be used in the country in which the publisher is located. They have nothing to do with pen names, tax filings, or anything else.


    vic November 29, 2012 at 11:03 am

    Thank you, but considering I live between 4 countries ( France-australia,singapore and US), my location differs every 3 month, and it’s been like this for the past 10 yearss. And you fail to explain why a french isbn is not recommended to use in the US as you previously insisted. I really would like to know why you capitalized the word NOT.


    Jacqueline November 28, 2012 at 7:03 pm

    I hope this question isn’t too silly. What I am understanding, is that it is safest to purchases your own ISBN numbers and to purchase them in bulk. I currently have one book and am looking to do several more. I would like to try and go the self publishing route to cut costs but don’t know how hard it will be. Now, if I purchase ISBNS which list myself as being the publisher, will anything be affected if I decide to use an actual publisher down the road?


    Joel Friedlander November 29, 2012 at 10:31 am


    The ISBN is simply a way to track retail products, in this case books. It has nothing to do with copyright (yes, I know you didn’t mention that). If you publish a book that’s subsequently picked up by another publisher, they will issue their own edition with their own ISBN to identify it, and this is very standard in the publishing business, so I wouldn’t worry about it at all.


    J.Y. Blind December 17, 2012 at 10:10 pm

    Great post Joel!
    What would you say are the first steps to dethroning Bowker and it’s ISBN monopoly?


    Joel Friedlander December 18, 2012 at 10:28 am

    J.Y. thanks.

    There are no “steps” since Bowker is the sole agency empowered to administer the ISBN for the U.S.

    However, if ISBN does not adapt to the changing publishing environment it will become increasingly irrelevant, sidestepped by publishers and eventually replaced by something else.

    But I don’t expect that to happen. Retailers still need a way to track products, and it’s the best thing we have.


    Karen December 23, 2012 at 3:27 pm

    Joel, with apologies, I’ve read all comments on this thread and am still unclear on one thing. If I were eligible to acquire my isbn’s from the U.S. as well as through Canada – where they are free – I think (?) you are saying I would be better off getting them here in the USA.
    Is that correct – and if so, can you tell me why that is? As always, many thanks in advance!


    Joel Friedlander December 26, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    Hi Karen, as I mentioned above, the ISBNs should be issued by the agency for the country within which the publisher’s business is located.


    Karen December 26, 2012 at 3:53 pm

    Many thanks Joel! I wanted to clarify my question a bit. If you are married to a Canadian, spend approximately half a year there, sometimes a bit more than half, own / rent homes in both countries and write from whichever location you are in at the time, is there any tangible benefit to choosing to register your isbn’s in the USA rather than Canada?
    The one thought that comes to mind is which awards or competitions you might be eligible to enter – but are there any other benefits you might know of to choosing to register your isbns in the usa? Again, many thanks for your great blog – and this incredibly informative thread!


    Tina January 8, 2013 at 12:56 pm

    Hi Joel
    Thank you for your incredibly helpful information – at last I understand ISBN’s! One question I have is that I want to get an ISBN ASAP, mainly so I can apply for a Foreword review, but although I have made the decision from your advice to buy my own block of 10 ISBN’s I have not yet made the decision whether to set up my own publishing company. However, I already have my own consultancy company – can I at this stage buy the ISBN’s through that company, or as an individual, and then transfer them at a later date? Or does it not matter that they are registered to me as an individual? I want to avoid looking like a self-publisher, and also do not want my personal details ie name and address available on the web. Many thks in advance for any help you can give me.


    Joel Friedlander January 8, 2013 at 1:20 pm


    Glad I could help. I would suggest you acquire the ISBNs under your company name. You could then set up the publishing as an imprint of your consultancy (if the subject matter is congruent) or change the name at a later date but before you actually publish anything.


    Markess March 2, 2013 at 7:45 pm

    Just curious is it possible to use an ISBN # from a bar code generator Program? I know some of then will create ISBN # but can they be use just the same? Especially for eBooks…

    Is Bowker and others like it the only official way to get one?



    Joel Friedlander March 4, 2013 at 12:18 pm


    You can only get an ISBN from Bowker or one of their designated agents, or from a POD vendor who may supply one of their for your use. The barcode is simply a scannable version of the ISBN, and you can get them many places, but you’ll need the ISBN before you can get a barcode.


    Markess March 5, 2013 at 2:34 pm

    So I can NOT just randomly make up a number with my bar code creator and have them register that? Even for eBooks?

    Of course not how would them make any money.

    I was hoping with eBooks it may be a little different since they’re sold virtually and not on the book shelves.

    OK, then let me also ask this please. I have ISBN #’s from 1999 when I wrote my 1st book and I have 9 left are they still good?

    Thank you for your time,


    Markess March 5, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    Great, great site I found the answer to my second question about old ISBN’s.

    I’ll just convert them all over with the converter.

    Great info here I’m now a fan thanks,


    Kathy Brandt March 5, 2013 at 1:13 pm

    If I buy my own ISBN’s then I am listed as the publisher, correct? Could that be a disadvantage as it screams self-published? Or should I be coming up with some publishing name for myself which seems kind of strange?

    I am publishing a memoir, which I hope will sell for a long time both as e-book and POD because of it’s subject matter. It’s also possible that it wil come out in a 2nd edtion. I plan to put it on Barnes & Noble Nook, use Createspace (Amazon physical and ebook), Lightning Source (for wider distribution of physical copy) Smashwords(wider distribution of ebook)

    What makes the most sense? Buy my own ISBNs or go with the “free” one.


    Markess March 5, 2013 at 2:36 pm

    So I can NOT just randomly make up a number with my bar code creator and have them register that? Even for eBooks?

    Of course not how would them make any money.

    I was hoping with eBooks it may be a little different since they’re sold virtually and not on the book shelves.

    OK, then let me also ask this please. I have ISBN #’s from 1999 when I wrote my 1st book and I have 9 left are they still good?

    Thank you for your time,


    Joel Friedlander March 15, 2013 at 3:12 pm


    Yes, your ISBNs never expire, go ahead and use the ones you have.


    Michael N. Marcus March 18, 2013 at 1:19 pm

    It’s important to make your book seem like a book published by one of your huge competitors, so it’s important to have an appropriate business name on the book.

    “Stevie’s Bar” implies personal attention and friendliness. “Stevie’s Books” implies an amateur enterprise.

    You don’t have to have words like “press,” “books” or “publishing” in your business name. “Simon & Schuster” has done just fine for nearly 100 years.

    Unless you’re very famous, don’t use your name in the name of your publishing company. Try to let the world think that there are at least two people working at your company.

    Remington Steele was the name of a detective agency on television in the 1980s. The agency was owned by a woman who had trouble getting clients, so she invented the fake Mr. Steele to be her boss. Pierce Brosnan became the body behind the name.

    Don’t choose a name that limits the type of books that can be published and promoted, like “Intergalactic Press” or “Heartfelt Publishing.”

    Don’t pick a name like an existing publisher, such as “Random Home” or “Simon & Shoestore.”

    from my new book: 1001 Powerful Pieces of Author Advice,


    June Jewell March 15, 2013 at 1:30 pm

    Can anyone tell me if I need a separate ISBN for Kindle and ePub versions?


    Joel Friedlander March 15, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    Hi June,

    You don’t need an ISBN for your Kindle edition, since Amazon doesn’t require it, using their own ASIN instead.


    June Jewell March 18, 2013 at 5:41 am

    Thanks. So what do you put as a reference on the copyright page or the bar code area of the “back cover?”


    Tony Qwade March 18, 2013 at 10:59 am

    Good info and a great way of demystifying the whole process? My question is about buying isbn’s from a source other than Bowker? There are a couple of online companies advertising a cheaper price per #. They are very nebulous about whether the purchaser actually owns the isbn or if they own it as the publisher. I don’t think that’s intentional, but as with any business purchase the cost vs ROI is always a factor to consider. If there is a company that sells at a price point lower than Bowker that you are aware of, could you recommend or post?
    Thanks Mate!


    Michael N. Marcus March 18, 2013 at 1:07 pm

    Publisher Services ( ) says it is an authorized agency of Bowker. It will supply one ISBN and barcode for $55, two for $46.50 each or ten for $28 each. At these prices the publisher is identified as “Independent Publisher.”

    If you want one ISBN that identifies your company as the publisher, you’ll pay $129. That’s a little bit more than the $125 that Bowker charges, but it includes title info submitted to Bowker’s Global Books in Print database. With any ISBN purchase you’ll get a free copyright registration form and information packet.

    from my new book: 1001 Powerful Pieces of Author Advice,


    Joanna Celeste March 18, 2013 at 11:05 am

    What if you have a family business that’s already set up, and two of the family members get published under the umbrella company? Would that still qualify as “owning your own” or would it basically be the same as having CreateSpace own it?

    I figure if it’s in the name of the family business, then it belongs partially to us but doesn’t require two people to set up their own company, and it uses existing resources.


    Joel Friedlander March 22, 2013 at 2:46 pm

    I agree, Joanna. It’s your business, so go ahead and use it.


    Jim H. March 22, 2013 at 6:11 am

    Very helpful info and discussion, Joe. Thanks so much. I still have a few questions, if I may:

    1. When I register with Bowker to buy my ISBN directly from them, I will be listed as the publisher to contact about my book. Will retailers contact me then if they want to order my book? If I do my book with Create Space but use my own ISBN, how do I direct retailers to order directly from CS and not from me?

    2. you suggested using CS for Amazon and Lightning Source for extended distribution, using the same ISBN for both. Does that mean I have to set up the complete POD process with both? Let’s say I do my book with CS first and distribute it through Amazon. Do I now sign up with Lightning Source and start from scratch with them to create an identical new book? Or how do I carry my book (production files?) from CS over to LS? Can I save any steps here with LS?

    3. Another wrinkle here, too. If I paid CS for services such as book cover design and book formatting, do I own these things (the final book cover and the final formatted interior) and can I take these to LS, or can CS prevent/prohibit me from doing that?

    Thanks for any clarification here, Joel, or anybody else. It’s the nitty gritty detail that I can’t find answers to, and I feel so stuck!!

    Thanks so much again, Joel, for all the help you’ve provided to us novice self-publishers.


    Joel Friedlander March 22, 2013 at 2:49 pm


    1. No retailers will contact you if they don’t know about your book, so it’s your responsibility as publisher to market both to the retail channels as well as buyers.
    2. Yes, you do it twice, once for each vendor. Your LS file interior file will run fine at CreateSpace. Covers need to be adjusted for spine width variations.
    3. I believe the files created for you by CreateSpace belong to you, but you’ll need to check with them to be certain you can take them with you.


    Jim H. March 22, 2013 at 3:06 pm

    Thank you, Joel. That was very helpful.

    I just need a little clarification on No. 1.
    I understand I’ll have to do all the marketing/hard sale myself, but I was just wondering about the ordering process. Say if a supportive friend of mine tries to order my book through a retailer, the retailer will have to look up ordering info from my ISBN. When I register my ISBN/book with Bowker BooksinPrint, is there a space where I can specify how to order my book (e.g. through CreateSpace with whom I did my book) so that the retailer knows to contact CS instead of contacting me (as publisher of record) directly to place the order?
    I’m just very green in all this, and my head is spinnging round chasing one detail after another :-)

    Thanks so much, Joel.


    Kathy B March 22, 2013 at 3:19 pm

    People will be able to order your books on Amazon if you use CreateSpace. And if you use Lightning Source, your books will be available on Amazon, B&N, as well as with other distributors. Though I haven’t done it yet, I think you choose the distribution package you want. Of course, Amazon is the biggy.


    Kathy B March 22, 2013 at 9:31 am

    Hi Jim,

    Like you, I’m in the trenches trying to figure out all the details and minutae in order to get my book out in the next couple of weeks. I’ve found this site Joel’s site enormously helpful. Thanks Joel!! And Joel led me to Aaron Shepard’s website. He gives very detailed information about stuff like filling out the Lightning Source form for example.. I’ve just gotten his book, POD for profit in which he discusse Lightning Source in depth. I believe he includes much of that information on his website as well.


    Jim H. March 22, 2013 at 2:29 pm

    Thanks, Kathy. I still am not able to find the answers to my questions anywhere, including on Aaron’s blog. My questions were about the complications, overlap, and possible conflict of pursuing both CS and LS at the same time, as suggested by some experienced folks. Not so much about the process for each path individually.


    John April 13, 2013 at 12:58 am

    Hi Joel, thank you for the very insightful article.

    If you plan to publish a paper version of a book in different countries (with different currencies), do you require to use one ISBN by “currency”, even if the content book is exactly the same in all other regards? Typically, I would use different printers for the US/Canada, the UK and Australia.



    Joel Friedlander April 16, 2013 at 4:49 pm

    No, the ISBN is determined by the where the publisher’s business is located, and the books can be sold anywhere.


    Nicolette April 26, 2013 at 9:23 am

    Hello – I live outside of the US and plan to use Create Space to print these books under my own publishing imprint. Logically, I should be using ISBNs that are issued in my country of residence, even though it’s specifically stated that ISBNs issued by my local agency should only be used for books produced locally.

    I won’t use the free CS-assigned ISBN because in that case, my imprint won’t exist. My partner in the US can buy ISBNs and register our imprint, but I’m the one who owns the account on CS (the $ is managed by me) and my address is outside of the US. Would this be a problem?


    Tami May 5, 2013 at 12:11 pm

    Hi Jim! Thank you so much, I know I’m repeating what others have said. But this has been wonderful for me!

    I have a question for you: I have been looking at Bowker for my barcode and ISBN. However, I understand that there is a site that offers these things cheaper. Is there any difference between this site and what Bowker is offering? I would like the cheaper options, but I feel safer with Bowker for some reason.

    Thanks again!


    Thurman Phillips June 11, 2013 at 10:49 am

    I,m interested in how an isbn works. My reason is, I,m trying to do my first book writing and publish, to make a profit of course. I read where I can get a free isbn, as broke and poor as I am, that will serve me perfect. Can I actually do that. Please respond let me know.

    Thank you very much


    Joel Friedlander June 11, 2013 at 11:43 am

    Thurman, if you print your book at you can get a free ISBN from them.


    S. J. Pajonas June 20, 2013 at 5:03 am

    I realize this post is old, but I have a question as well. If you’re a self-publisher and want to buy your block of ISBNs, do you put your own name as the publisher? Or can you put a publishing name that you want to use indefinitely? Does that publishing name need to be a legal entity, like an LLC or corporation? Thanks for your site! It’s so helpful and informative.


    Joel Friedlander June 20, 2013 at 2:58 pm


    The post may be old, but the conversation goes on. If you plan to continue publishing books, not just doing one, I recommend you establish a publishing company name or an imprint, and register your ISBNs in that name. Your name does not have to be a legal entity in itself, but if you plan to open accounts and cashier checks, you’ll at least need to file a fictitious business name statement or whatever is used for the same purpose in your local area.


    Stephen June 22, 2013 at 12:48 am

    Joel – I’d really like to echo some previous comments by saying that this is a fantastically helpful piece. Thank you!

    Quick query, if that’s okay:

    I’m in the UK, and plan to buy a block of UK ISBNs and make up my own publishing brand name. There are a few UK-based POD options over here, although I’ve yet to select a specific one. One or two of them have sister companies in the USA which can POD for customers on the other side of the Atlantic who make an order (rather than sending copies from here). If I used this, I’m assuming that they won’t be identical books because they’re coming from two different printers (one in the UK, and one in the USA), although they would be coming from the same PDF, etc. I also understand the fact that ISBNs are related to publisher location, although I haven’t quite sussed out if that would be the UK or not if a sister company was being used to POD in the USA. Same ISBN for all the books in this instance, or not . . . ?


    KathyF February 25, 2014 at 12:24 pm

    Hi Stephen, Like you I’m also in the UK but I’m planning to move to the US in the next few months. I had a similar question so I called the folks at Neilson, the equivalent of Bowker in the UK. They answered the phone right away and I was able to talk to a real person. She answered all my questions, and then some. From what she said, I think you’d be better off using the Neilson (and cheaper) ISBN, and then you can sell your books abroad with the same ISBN. Perhaps you’ve already figured this out, though, since your question was a few months ago.


    Karen June 25, 2013 at 4:29 pm

    This is such a great thread. It seems no one will ever run out of questions about ISBN’s – least of all me!
    When you fill in your short & long descriptions on your ISBN numbers, can you go back and tweak that or is it a one shot deal?
    I ask because the metadata info I’ve been reading about is a little hard to understand and I’m worried that I may actually come to understand it more than I do – but I won’t be allowed to go back and update it.
    Many thanks for all the help!


    Ollibor July 10, 2013 at 1:30 pm

    Very informative and followed your guidelines and worked very well. I have my ISBN in Bowker database and shows in thier online database. But when I search the ISBN through other resources it does not show up? Do I need to register anywhere?



    Joel Friedlander July 10, 2013 at 1:52 pm

    Ollibor, you should be set. If your book isn’t listed by any retailers yet, it won’t show up in a search. But once it’s online, it will take a week or two for the information to flow through the information channels and you should then be able to search for it and see where it’s for sale.


    Ollibor July 15, 2013 at 1:03 pm

    Thanks, Joel. I forgot to mention that I am self publisher and so I could not access Bowker Books in print. However, it shows online in the Is it enough to flow into the other ISBN search so that I can put it in Amazon and other sales channel?


    Kirkland Bailey July 26, 2013 at 9:16 am

    Thanks for the article Joel. It is very informative. I am a first-time author who will be self-publishing and purchasing a block of ISBNs for reasons you’ve stated, and because I have a number of books to write and I will need them all.

    But my question to you is, about whether or not I need to purchase barcodes, or is safe to use the so-called offered by places like the following site: ?

    I appreciate your time and help.


    Joel Friedlander July 26, 2013 at 6:42 pm


    I don’t know that specific solution, but there have been bar code generators, both paid and free, around for quite a while. At one time they were not always reliable, i.e. there were problems when they were scanned, so I used to buy mine at This one at looks quite good, but I haven’t used any of the bar codes they generate. Some POD vendors also supply barcodes in various ways, like Lightning Source with their free cover template generator.


    col July 28, 2013 at 3:53 am

    Thanks for the article – very well put together.

    Was wondering if you know of, or have a link to, the process re ISBNs for UK and Irish nationals living (and working/paying tax etc.) in foreign countries (Asia region) and wanting to self-publish online. I’ve searched a lot and can’t get any concrete information.

    Thanks for your time and good luck.


    Ian July 28, 2013 at 5:33 am

    It depends on your residency Col. If you are resident abroad then your work is deemed to have been published there, hence needing numbers from your new home.

    If your only temp. abroad then maybe you have access to a UK address? If so, you can apply for the numbers as normal.

    At least, that’s how I understood it when I got mine here in Norway (thankfully free, although I do have to lodge 7 copies with them in return)



    Sunny September 4, 2013 at 7:42 pm

    Thanks Joel.
    I read all of the questions and answers here, because like everyone else, I’m starting out.
    I have no questions because you patiently answered them all.
    It is pretty clear to me that this was a convoluted subject that needed one such as you to step up and make it clear.
    You are appreciated.


    Johnnie October 16, 2013 at 6:48 am

    As I understand it, living in the Netherlands, I would need to request an ISBN from a Dutch authority. CreateSpace would then have no problem verifying the existence and validity of this ISBN? And would I still be able to retain royalties in US as non-foreign rights sales? So, although my publishing company is Dutch, the book is printed and sold in US for domestic margins?

    My other question is about book information. ISBN would need to be registered with correct binding type and page number etc, isn’t this a back and forth until I have the final proof worked out?


    Joel Friedlander October 16, 2013 at 12:27 pm

    Johnnie, I can’t advise you about the needs of authors outside the U.S. I suggest you try Joanna Penn’s website for that info.

    ISBNs are issued to you as the publisher, then you assign the specific ISBN to a particular book. They are not “registered” individually, although at publication you can go into the title record for the book on and input the final information to keep the record up to date.


    Jeremy November 25, 2013 at 5:06 pm

    Hi Joel. I have a question about registering my ISBNs. I’ve established an LLC in home state as well as registered an assumed name under which my publishing company will operate. But at, to register the ISBNs I will purchase for my book, I have to create an account, and to create an account, you have to search for and click your publishing company name. But my company name not surprisingly doesn’t appear! How do I get Bowkerlink to index my company name so I can create an account to register my ISBNs?


    Joel Friedlander January 7, 2014 at 12:08 pm

    Jeremy, when you set up your account originally you enter your publisher name at that point. Then, when you go to register the ISBNs the company name you registered with Bowker (not with your local agency) should be on their list.


    Jeremy January 8, 2014 at 12:54 pm

    Thanks, Joel! I figured that was how it worked, but it’s comforting to get confirmation before going through the payment process and shelling out the $250. Much appreciated! Now onward with my publishing adventure…


    Azlan March 27, 2014 at 8:48 pm

    I enjoyed renidag your very informative article content. It seems we think a lot alike. I am very impressed with your well-written content. You must truly enjoy being a writer.


    Jake Fratkin January 7, 2014 at 11:46 am

    Joel – thank you for your information. I registered for an ISBN 12 years ago, and received a bunch of numbers to I could publish subsequent books under my main ISBN group-number. How can I find out what those other numbers are? Thanks.



    Joel Friedlander January 7, 2014 at 12:07 pm
    Ronald Walker January 23, 2014 at 10:56 am

    I have several novels ready to publish in Word format but need help with cover .. Do you have recommendations for new authors?


    Joel Friedlander January 23, 2014 at 4:11 pm

    Ronald, check out the dozens of cover designers and their work featured in our monthly ebook cover design awards


    AVS March 15, 2014 at 9:35 am

    I am ready to self-publish a book and think it’s wise to buy my on ISBN. Does this require that I officially register and create my own publishing company? I’m ready to promote and market this book for the long haul but I’m not sure I will self-publish again( I will try the traditional route for subsequent works) and do not plan on publishing for other authors.


    John March 27, 2014 at 11:14 pm

    Good articles are hard to find. At least until now. Yours is a uiqnue article with a lot of original thought and well-researched information. Thank you for your vast insight.


    Danielle Bernock March 17, 2014 at 10:54 am

    I am working on the final things for my book to be published. Have you heard of ?
    They have ISBN’s for less ($18.99 and $99.99) but that makes me suspicious. Can you advise on this company?


    Joel Friedlander March 17, 2014 at 11:59 am

    Yes, the cheap ISBNs will show their company as the publisher of your book. The $99 version is a regular ISBN, but the company will do all the data entry at Bowker on your behalf. To take control of your own ISBNs and the metadata being entered about your publishing company and your books, (and if you plan to keep publishing) I advise you go to and open an account for your publishing company and buy the 10-pack of ISBNs for $250, dropping the price for individual, owned-by-you ISBNs to $25 each.


    Bill March 30, 2014 at 10:40 am

    I just went to Bowkers, last time I looked it was $250 for ten, which I think was not very long ago, today it is $295 for ten. Nice business model. Now $29.50 per book.
    Is there any disadvantage of starting out with a free IBSN on Creative Space and when you are ready to launch your second book, buying your ISBNs and assigning them to your original book as well as your new book?
    My intention is to continue to pursue a traditional publisher. My first book A Signal Waves is on Kindle/Amazon and I have finally gotten the cover work done for the paper copy, LOL, so now I am sitting her thinking whether I should hold off on the IBSNs until both books are on Kindle and my second one ready for print. Five months out on the second one. I want to write a little article on a couple of writers blogs that I participate on as well as my own author’s web site about this experience, so I have read through these comments and everything here seems to point to just holding your nose and paying the increasing tariff, $29.50 per book…
    Can you summarize any down side to that?
    Thanks, great discussion, Bill


    Wendy Anderson April 11, 2014 at 12:55 am

    Thank you for the info; I am real new like, just; I have a manuscript with First Editing currently to be made “Perfect” and am trying to sort out my steps from here! Appreciate any comments thanks. 1. There’s BoobkBaby for an e book and maybe print book option? Then Maybe Smiths publicity deal for Book/fair/Trade 29th May New York; a book as physical presence and a listing in the catalogue. I am doing it cheap so I guess I accept an Isbn from BookBaby? What I don’t know is can you then sell your book elsewhere if they are your publisher’s and I am finding it difficult to get info and are now wondering if to consider Create Space for print book/ self publishing and or Smashwords for e book, as these guys are on the good list of publisher’s I found? Help would be appreciated please; it’s a mine field out there for the uninitiated. My true story fits in the inspirational/religious niche, full of drama and funnies and miracles and I am intending to write another true story too. I am not a writer/ maybe one day! Wendy Anderson


    Alex April 13, 2014 at 11:02 pm

    Hello, thanks for the article, i’ve asked specific question in another thread, but here i want to clarify: for me as the author, it doesn’t matter if my book is printed by a “publisher” company or “self-publisher” company, because it’s still will be shown as a company that published my book with my name and title on it? And the only difference is in the listings that the book was published by a company?


    Dean April 29, 2014 at 1:46 pm

    I’m doing POD through LS, and have my own ISBNs. My book was written in American English, because that’s where I live. But I am also doing a version for UK/Australian/NZ markets, with “correct” spelling and punctuation. Do you think I need different ISBNs?


    Pretty May 5, 2014 at 2:04 pm

    I am still in the process of working through my book and finalizing the printing press to print my book. I will be marketing my book by myself , So I will be using my name as Publisher when purchasing ISBN?


    Joel Friedlander May 25, 2014 at 2:37 pm

    Each separate book within the series will need its own ISBN. The only exception would be if you will only ever sell the entire set together, as one item, but even then I don’t think it’s a good idea because the books will get separated from the set eventually.


    Dear Joel July 14, 2014 at 6:16 am

    Great, clear article, Joel!

    So tell me if I got you right. If someone wants to write and self-publish an anonymous book and sell it anonymously on the Internet, then she should not get herself an ISBN, because that would identify her as the publisher and also the country where she lives. Right?


    Dana Woodard July 22, 2014 at 9:07 pm

    If you’re in Canada, you can get your own ISBN for free. Just apply at

    …I love my country!


    Meredith August 18, 2014 at 1:58 pm

    Hi Joel,
    Great article! I am helping a Canadian author friend become self-published. He has registered for an ISBN and he has a consulting company that relates to the content of his book. Can his consulting company be the publisher or does he need to establish a separate LLC to serve as the publisher? I saw where you stated earlier that “leaving you as a self-published author without a publishing company, (is) a bit of an oddity.” I’ve heard that self-published authors do just publish under their own names, but I am having difficulty verifying this. What would the pros and cons be?

    Many thanks!


    Joel Friedlander August 18, 2014 at 2:26 pm

    Meredith, it’s preferable if you plan to continue publishing to have an imprint or publishing company name, and there’s no reason not to use his existing business structure to do that.


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