A lot of my readers ask me what an ISBN is and why they need one. It’s actually a very important part of your preparation to publish. An ISBN puts your book on to lists and into data bases. It makes sure your book doesn’t get lost in the millions and millions of books in the world. It is used by booksellers and libraries to find, identify and order books.
The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) identifies your book as a unique publication worldwide. Each book, as well as each edition of a book, has its own ISBN. The ebook and audio book should also have their own ISBN. There might be other books in the world with the same title or another author with the same name as you, but the ISBN is as unique as a fingerprint. The thirteen-digit number allows booksellers to order books accurately and efficiently. Since computers are so commonly used in business, the ISBN has become essential. Most booksellers use some kind of database program and books are entered by their ISBN rather than their title.
ISBN in Canada
In Canada the ISBN is free. You order it from the National Library of Canada website at www.collectionscanada.gc.ca. You can only order one number at a time for each book format unless you are a major publisher. At one time we could order blocks of 10 or 100, but the National Library no longer allows it. The form is online and easy to fill out. Make sure you receive your ISBN before you have books printed or upload your ebooks.
ISBN in the USA
In America you have to purchase your ISBN from R.R. Bowker at https://www.myidentifiers.com/identify-protect-your-book/isbn/buy-isbn. It costs $125 for one ISBN and $295 for ten ISBN. You book will be listed in Bowker Books in Print™, which is used by all major search engines and most bookstores and libraries. If you use a subsidy publisher or Amazon KDP, they will offer you an ISBN “for free.” The downside is that the ISBN is for their publishing company and not yours. If you want to put your book on another platform, you have to purchase one for yourself.
Where you put the ISBN
The ISBN goes on the Legal Page or Copyright Page. That is the verso of your Title Page. Anyone who formats book interiors should know how to design the Copyright Page. The ISBN goes under the copyright blurb so it is near the top of the page and readily visible.
The ISBN should also be on the back of the book imbedded in the barcode. The type of barcode you want to use is the Bookland EAN barcode. Cover designers and printers will normally put this on the back of the book. It is normally in the bottom right corner of the back cover.
Order your ISBN at 4-6 weeks before you plan to publish your book. It takes time to arrive in your Inbox and you don’t want to have to put your publishing project on hold because you did not plan ahead. Remember, an ISBN makes your book look professional and gives you an edge when competing with the big guys. It’s a very useful tool, so be sure to use it.
Coming up: Changes to American ISBN Prefixes
The United States ISBN Agency will soon begin assigning ISBNs starting with the prefix element 979 (in addition to the ISBNs with prefix element 978 we currently assign). This is necessary because the inventory of certain ISBN block sizes starting with 978, such as 10,000, 100,000 and 1,000,000, are dwindling.
What does this mean for publishers, libraries and retailers?
Prior to 2007, the ISBN was 10 digits in length. In January 2007, the 13-digit ISBN launched to increase the capacity of the ISBN system. To date, 13-digit ISBNs assigned by the U.S. ISBN Agency include the 978 prefix, which allowed systems to contain both 10- and 13-digit ISBNs for all books. However, a 13-digit ISBN starting with 979 does not have an equivalent 10-digit ISBN. Once this change takes place, only 13-digit ISBNs starting with 978 or 979 should be used to identify a book.
Bowker will continue to assign ISBN blocks starting with 978 until our inventory of a specific block size has been exhausted and replaced with 979. Based on current assignment trends and inventory, it may be years before ISBN blocks of 10, 100 and 1,000 starting with 979 are issued.
Changes to country classifications
Currently, the U.S. ISBN Agency assigns ISBNs starting with either 978-0 or 978-1. The 0 and 1 indicate assignment by an ISBN Agency in an English-speaking region. The 979 assignments will start with 979-8. The 8 will be unique to the United States. Of course, as with the 978-0 and 978-1, an ISBN starting with 979-8 will allow U.S. publishers and self-publishers to market their books anywhere in the world.