How to purchase an ISBN for your book

Every book that is printed for sale needs an International Standard Book Number, aka an ISBN. This is a 13-digit number given to each book; no two books have the same ISBN. You can find it near the barcode on the book’s back cover and also on the title page.

ISBNs used to be 10 digits long, but since 2007, all are 13-digits long.

To sell your book, you must have an ISBN. All paper, audio and ebooks should have an ISBN so retailers can more easily track book inventory. The advantage to you as an author is that an ISBN allows book sellers or anyone doing an online search to quickly find your book.

If you a print a book that isn’t for sale – such as a gift for family members or as a free giveaway – you don’t need an ISBN. Should you later change your mind and decide you want to sell the book and have bookstores or online sites distribute your book, you always can go back and get an ISBN.

There are three ways to get an ISBN for your book:
• Buy one online from Bowker, the official ISBN Agency for the United States and its territories (this means you are the book’s publisher).
• Allow the self-publishing company to buy one for you (they then become the publisher).
• Buy elsewhere – but while the cost may be less expensive than Bowker, most self-publishing companies won’t accept these ISBNs, and so you end up buying from Bowker anyway or allowing the self-publishing company to be your publisher.

The least expensive option is to let the self-publishing company purchase an ISBN for you; typically this is free. It also means that KindleDP, Lulu.com or whoever your self-publishing company is will be listed on your book as the publisher. Alternatively, Bowker sells them for $125 each, but you can buy as many as 10 for $250, at least as of this blog’s publication.

You’ll need to include the ISBN in two spots on your book, First, it must be placed on your title page. Secondly, it needs to be next to the barcode that goes on your back cover. Usually you don’t need to worry about getting the ISBN on the barcode because the self-publishing company will take care of that for you.

As a final note, you typically don’t need to purchase a barcode for your book when buying an ISBN. Most self-publishing companies create the barcode for you at no expense.