ISBN Essentials: An FAQ for eBook Publishers

ISBN Essentials-An FAQ for eBook PublishersThis is a quick reference summary of what you need to know about ISBN numbers when it comes to eBooks. There are resource links at the bottom of this article.

Five basics:

1. A print book ISBN cannot be reused for the eBook.

2. One unique ISBN per format of book. A format is Kindle or ePub (Nook, Apple, etc.), audio book, hardcover, softcover, etc.

3. Change the book beyond typos and you need a new ISBN.

4. There is no such thing as an e-ISBN.

5. You do not need an ISBN to publish using Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) or Barnes & Noble Pubit (Nook). [Update: it is also not needed for Apple, Kobo or Google.]

What is an ISBN?

This stands for International Standard Book Number. You will see references to “ISBN-10″ and “ISBN-13.” The 13 version is the same number but with a prefix to identify it as being for book publishing. You can show both numbers in the eBook or print book although only the ISBN-13 is necessary.

How much is it?

$125 for one, $295 for 10, $575 for 100 and $1000 for 1,000 numbers.

R.R. Bowker is the exclusive sales agent in the United States. They have a separate website devoted to this topic:

Can you get a free ISBN?

Yes. Some publishing services firms will make it available for free (like Smashwords) while others may charge a nominal amount ($10 to $25 each).

What’s the catch with a free ISBN?

Your name won’t be listed as the publisher. ISBN’s are registered to a “publisher” when sold so if you get one “free” or as part of a publishing package you buy from someone, the master record will show that company as the “publisher”.

If you want to be listed as the publisher you should buy your own ISBN.

When is it required?

It is up to the store selling your book or eBook whether or not you need an ISBN.

What if you have published a book or eBook and you are changing it. Do you need a new one or can you use the old one?

Unless you are making minor changes like fixing typos, you need to assign a new ISBN. Adding more information or changing information requires a new ISBN.

Can you use the same ISBN for both Kindle and ePub?

Yes, if the content is the same in each eBook. Bowker used to recommend separate ISBN for each type of format. Keep in mind that audio books and different types of print books are separate formats and each requires its own ISBN.

Do you put it in the eBook?

Yes, add the number to the copyright page of your eBook.

You can put all the numbers together on the copyright page or add the appropriate ISBN to the file type you are publishing. For example:

ISBN 13: 978-0-9999999-9-9 (Paperback edition)

ISBN 13: 978-0-9999999-9-9 (eBook edition)

If you buy…

Don’t forget to return to your Bowker MyIdentifiers account and complete the information for each ISBN assignment. This is very important! The data is shared with book industry databases such as libraries and other retailers. Without it, they won’t know the book exists should someone ask for it.


Click here to buy an ISBN

ISBN defined (Wikipedia)


  1. says

    I actually picked that up even though I have a physical copy that is still in my TBR pile! I’ve been enjoying reading on my kindle more these days (especially since I can change font size guess I’m getting old).I’m sure to get to it faster now that it’s on my kindle too Then I can let myself by The Wood Queen finally!

  2. Milan says

    After I buy the ISBN, add mandatory information and submit for approval. After it is approved, can I go to te ISBN and complete other information, such as, add cover page, size of the book, etc?
    Thank you for your advice.

  3. says

    This is a great summary. I would add a sixth item to your list of basics:

    6) ISBNs have absolutely no effect on copyright, ownership, your rights as an author, or your ability to publish your book.

    I’ve run into a number of people who think the ISBN is a sort of “publishing license”, or a form of “protection” for their book. Neither of those is true.

    An ISBN is like a phone-book listing — you don’t lose your citizenship if you’re not listed in the phone book. It doesn’t have any legal force or significance.

    I wrote an article that talks about some other ISBN-related myths here:

    We also touch on the “e-ISBN” myth that you mentioned. I’m happy to see you spreading the word on this too. I think it’s irresponsible that some companies have taken to using a meaningless term, as it creates unnecessary confusion for authors.

  4. says

    They are registered to you, in your account. You cannot transfer the numbers to another account. So while you could technically sell some, you would be listed as the publisher, not the person who bought them from you.

  5. jolie says

    Number four is not exactly true. eISBN is a terminology used to differentiate between the paper and digital formats. Yes, ISBN is the same all around – but this could change in the future. Still, to say there is no such thing is not totally correct because it’s a term used to reference. What is correct is eISBN is ISBN, and there is no difference at the moment. But to say there’s no such thing is just false.

  6. says

    You are mistaken according to current information from Bowker, the sole administrator of ISBNs for the US and territories. Visit and download their ISBN Guide.

  7. says

    Just read your blog. It throws up some confusing questions as with Smashwords I provided my own ISBN which is usable on all the formats they publish to which includes ePubs and Mobi for Kindle…

  8. says

    This is really useful information, but I’m confused about something. When you assign a title on Bowker, I’m not seeing anywhere to input the format type. If I’m publishing on different formats (PDF, ePub, and Kindle) and the rest of the information is the same, how does Bowker know which version is which? Or am I looking into this too hard?

  9. Eric says

    Thank you for the information about ISBNs. If I understand the the one ISBN per format statement correctly, then one ISBN for ePub can be used across reading platforms that use ePub (Nook, Apple, etc.)? That is, I do not need a separate ISBN for Nook, Apple, Kobo, and so forth?

  10. says

    You are correct that a single ISBN will suffice for all stores. In fact you can now use the same one for Amazon although it won’t be visible to shoppers. They assign their own ID called a ASIN.

  11. Rick Hill says

    Can you say a bit more about # 5?

    5. You do not need an ISBN to publish using Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) or Barnes & Noble Pubit (Nook).

    What’s the difference between having one for Kindle and Nook and not having one for Kindle and Nook?



  12. says

    From the shopper or store perspective the ISBN is meaningless. Amazon and BN don’t even show the ISBN in the product details. But the ISBN record (what you fill out on can provide some SEO value because your book’s metadata is distributed by them to many resources and databases. Also, publishers with many or lots of books use the ISBN as a unique identifier for tracking sales, and inventory for physical books.

  13. Rick Hill says

    Thanks, David–very helpful. So, since I’m a self-publisher with no grandiose marketing plan, and I an ISBN already for the print version of my book, then there’s no real advantage to buying an ISBN for the e-book versions? I know nothing, so just want to be clear. Best, Rick

  14. Rick Hill says

    Thanks, Dave. Advice to NOT spend money is rare in the publishing world, and I appreciate it. No e-book ISBN for me! Best, Rick

  15. Penny Taylor says

    Why do you say you need a separate ISPB for Kindle and EPub. You don’t even NEED an ISBN to publish on Amazon’s Kindle.

  16. says

    Actually you do, but Amazon will give it to you for free. The downside is that they’re your publisher instead of being able to name your own. A lot of people want to name their own publisher to add a level of professionalism to their publications.

  17. says

    Just to clarify, the ISBN that Amazon provides for free is for print books produced using the CreateSpace print on demand service. They have no such program for eBooks.

  18. Alixxx says

    Hey, this is great! Thank you! One question: If you buy the $10 ISBN can you also buy expanded distribution to schools and libraries?

  19. michael elizondo says

    Very helpful. I have 5 books concerning Astronomy, Light, and the Universe that I want to launch. I am now working through the marketing and sales aspect before I launch. Thanks for taking something complex and making it simple.

  20. says

    There is nothing official you need to do other than to visit and register your ISBN. They would have the “13” version for your “10” and you need to fill it out there anyway. The link you show looks like a third party conversion tool. The official conversion tool is here:

  21. Roger Maxwell says

    Thank you for this very helpful article. I want to publish my story and have been struggling over whether to purchase an ISBN or not. I was leaning on purchasing until I read you article. Would it be possible to purchase an ISBN number and apply it to an ebook that you have already published?

    Thanks again for your excellent article.

  22. says

    That’s technically possible but why would you do that? Unless you plan to distribute through an ebook distribution service that requires an ISBN, I don’t see the point. Neither Amazon nor BN show it on the page, and I don’t think Apple does either. Larger publishers use them because it is like a SKU or serial number to keep track of a book. But small publishers don’t have the requirement.


  1. […] Unless you're going to buy the ISBNs in bulk, the cost becomes prohibitive. I found this link, ISBN Essentials: An FAQ for eBook Publishers, that summarizes some of the main things to know. Zero Angel's War of the AgesWebsite: […]

  2. […] To do this, simply head to Bowker and you can buy your ISBNs there. You can purchase a single ISBN for $125 or 10 for $250. If you’re going to publish in different formats, such as Kindle, PDF, and ePub like I did, you need a separate ISBN number for each format. You can read more about it here. […]

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