Video: Bowker Publisher Setup and ISBN

by | Nov 22, 2011

This very quick video shows you the current version of the Bowker ISBN portal and shows you how to set up a new account and then buy your very own ISBNs.

If you’d like to watch it while you set up your own account, you’ll have to be prepared. You’ll need:

  1. About three and a half minutes to watch the video
  2. Your credit card
  3. Your publisher metadata:
    1. Publisher name
    2. Street address
    3. Telephone

That’s about it. It really is easy and that’s why the video is only 3:23.

This is the first, and necessary step that many self-publishers take when they decide to publish their own books. We all do it some time.

After your book is finalized, you’ll be back entering metadata about the book, but that’s a subject for another time. Here’s the video: (If it doesn’t show up at first, please refresh your screen.)

Mentioned in this video:
Bowker,, ISBNs, Publisher metadata, book metadata

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Mgon

    While I truly appreciate all of your great help, and now you explaining to us how to get an ISBN, what I would really like to know:

    Why is Bowker allowed to have this monopoly on ISBNs?

    I am new to all of this, so I just found out what is really going on, and it sickens me. I don’t understand how this is even legal. Why is Bowker the only one allowed to sell ISBNs in the USA? Where’s the competition? Their price was already obscene, but now they raised it! Talk about price gouging. They are sticking it to us authors. It’s abhorrent!

    Seriously. How is Bowker getting away with this?

    • Joel Friedlander

      Mgon, the international treaty that established the ISBN assigned one entity in each country to administer ISBNs for that country. In many countries, this is a national library or other government agency. In the U.S., it’s Bowker. No competition is possible under the terms of the treaty. However, Bowker has authorized a few people to issue ISBNs, and if you print with some of the larger print on demand vendors, they will often give you an ISBN for nothing, although it won’t show you as the publisher.

      • Mgon

        Joel, thanks for your quick reply and easy explanation. I had no idea it came about from an international treaty. You would think that all my searching would have turned that up. LOL. Again, thank you… for all of your awesome help in so many things. I read your articles and share them all the time. You rock! :-D

  2. Jean Wong

    Hi Joel:

    What about the SAN number–Standard Address Number—it seems really pricey at Bowkers–do you consider it important. Also when you say we can buy a barcode from Do they just give you some kind of sticker that you give to your book designer to slap it on the book?

    Thanks–your stuff is always so clear!….Jean

    • Joel Friedlander

      Jean, the barcodes come as .eps files, which your designer will place on the artwork for your cover, and the barcode will be printed—not stuck on—the book.

  3. Carol Brill

    Hi Joel, I feel like you’ve answered this question before, but I seached your site and can’t find it.
    What’s the downside of not buying my own ISBN and using the free ones, provided by CreateSpace or Bookbaby?? thanks

    • Joel Friedlander

      Hi Carol,

      There are 2 potential issues with using a “free” ISBN. First, it will show the owner of the ISBNs (CreateSpace, Smashwords, etc.) as the publisher of record. Second, if you ever want to move your book to another vendor, you will need to use a different ISBN and deal with the metadata issues that that implies.

  4. SE White

    If I do not need all of the 10 ISBNs and want to sell them to another author or two, will all mail, queries, etc. come to my registered address?

    Is there any way to record those ISBNs so that the eventual owner gets the mail instead of me?

    Sue Ellen

    • Joel Friedlander

      You are not authorized by Bowker to re-sell the ISBNs you bought from them and, anyway, it’s a really bad idea since whoever buys them from you may not realize that you will be shown as the publisher of their book. Hold onto the ISBNs, they never expire or wear out.

  5. Pamela DuMond

    Joel –

    Incredibly helpful information. Thanks!

    Pam DuMond

  6. Deborah

    Joel, great info and easy to follow so I now have my ISBN’s thanks to you. What’s your spin on bar codes?

    I appreciate all the info.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Some printers supply them, or you can buy one for $10 from It’s a scannable version of the ISBN.

  7. carol brill

    thanks Joel. You are so helpful carol

  8. carol brill

    thanks for the Bowker tour. a few questions. The registration asks for Publisher. It never occured to me that I might need a publisher name if I self-publish – do I?
    and why the package of 10 ISBN numbers? Is that 10 differenct numbers as in enough for 10 books? thanks carol

    • Joel Friedlander

      Hi Carol,

      When you self-publish you can either use your own name or set up a publishing company. If you use your own name, you have your book, written by Carol Brill, published by Carol Brill. Some authors don’t want to present themselves that way so, if you form a publishing company (basically you, “doing business as”) it will be written by Carol Brill, published by Brill Books or CB Books, or Three Trees Books or whatever you call it. It’s a different way of presenting what you’re doing and doesn’t take much to set up.

      You’ll need one ISBN for each different edition of your book, so people and retailers can tell them apart. So if you do a paperback and a hardcover, that’s 2 ISBNs. If you do a paperback and an ePub version for sale on the Nook and in the iBookstore, you’ll need 2 ISBNs. So it just depends on your plans. 1 ISBN costs $125, making it a spectacularly bad deal. 10 cost $250, or $25 each, still high but more palatable.


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