ISBN Essentials: An FAQ for eBook Publishers

About this article

  • When do you need an ISBN
  • How much do they cost
  • What is the catch with a free ISBN
ISBN Essentials: An FAQ for eBook Publishers

ISBN Essentials: An FAQ for eBook Publishers

This 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. It is recommended, but not required, that you assign a unique ISBN per format. A format is a Kindle eBook, an EPUB (used by B&N, Apple, Kobo, etc.), audiobook, hardcover, paperback. (See below for clarification.)

3. If you change the book beyond typos, you need a new ISBN.

4. There is no such thing as an eISBN. It is a myth.

5. You do not need an ISBN to publish via Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) or Barnes & Noble Pubit (Nook). [Update: an ISBN is not required to sell eBooks via Apple iBooks, Kobo Books or Google Play Books if you use their self-service publishing system.]

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: www.myidentifiers.com.

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.

Example: If you get the free ISBN from Amazon, you cannot use any other printer but Amazon. This is true for the free IngramSpark ISBN as well (they began offering a free ISBN in 2020).

When is it required?

It is up to the eBook distributor (like Smashwords), or the store selling your book or eBook, as to whether or not you need an ISBN. Example: Apple does not require an ISBN if you use their iTunes Connect to upload your eBook but Smashwords does require an ISBN if you use their distribution service to add your eBook to the Apple iBooks store.

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?

As a general practice you can use the same ISBN as long as the content does not differ. In 2013 the Book Industry Study Group issued a clarification “embracing the concept of Proprietary Identifiers” such as Amazon's ASIN. The reality is that Amazon ignores the ISBN you assign to your Kindle eBook and instead assigns their own identifier called ASIN. This ASIN is what you and the public use to identify your Kindle eBook on Amazon when linking to the book. (See our article about how to create short links to your books.)

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.

RESOURCES

Click here to buy an ISBN

61 thoughts on “ISBN Essentials: An FAQ for eBook Publishers”

  1. Pingback: Una FAQ essenziale sul codice ISBN | Come Pubblicare Un E-book | Scoop.it

  2. 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!

  3. Pingback: Una FAQ essenziale sul codice ISBN « Come pubblicare un ebook

  4. Pingback: ISBN Essentials: An FAQ for eBook Publishers | The Writer's Resource Cupboard | Scoop.it

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  10. Hello,
    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.
    Best,
    Milan

  11. 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:

    http://www.indiebooklauncher.com/resources-diy/isbns-and-epublishing.php

    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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

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

  15. 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…

  16. 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?

  17. Pingback: How I Published My First Ebook

  18. 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?

  19. 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.

  20. 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?

    Thanks,

    RIck

  21. 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 myidentifiers.com) 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.

  22. 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

  23. 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

  24. 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.

  25. 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.

  26. 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.

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

  28. 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.

  29. There is nothing official you need to do other than to visit MyIdentifiers.com 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: http://www.isbn.org/ISBN_converter.

  30. 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.

  31. 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.

  32. Hello hope your still answering questions,
    Im publishing my first book through Kindle kids publishing and what I understand is, An ISBN is not needed as it will be published to Amazon and Amazon supply their own coding, My question is; from Amazon if the book is order as a hardcover, paperback form, it then needs to have a ISBN?? I plan to supply it to book stores so i know it will definatly need an ISBN, so do i purchase the ISBN and attach to the ebook?? Please help one very confused Novice.
    Anna

  33. Anstasia, if you want to sell a printed book in any store, it needs an ISBN. You can buy the ISBN from Myidentifiers.com or consider getting a free one if you use someone like CreateSpace. It is recommended, but not required, to add the ISBN (that you bought for the print book) to the copyright page of the eBook.

  34. I read all of your posts concerning the dos and don’ts of ISBN numbers which were very helpful. I do have one question that I did to see addressed? Should a first time writer be concerned as I am, not be listed as the author if I choose CreateSpace Expanded Distribution or Custom ISBN? I worked so hard not to have my name identified as the author or am I reading incorrectly. I also want to know when by book becomes successful can I go with another publisher so that the book can get into schools and libraries with a new ISBN number? Thanking you in advance for helping me see the light in this decision.

  35. Lena, you are always listed as the author no matter where your ISBN comes from. You can always license your publishing rights, assuming you have the rights to grant. At that point they would assign a new ISBN in all likelihood.

  36. Hello,
    I appreciate you article and am hoping you might know the answer to this: my book has already been printed for the last week. I’d like to replace 1) the body font with a darker one that does not at all impact the book’s format or page count/numbering, and 2) a word that is inaccurate (not a typo, but a wrong choice).

    Given your statement “Change the book beyond typos and you need a new ISBN,” I assume I would need to considered these changes a revision requiring a new ISBN. Is that correct?
    Thank you!

  37. I bought an ISBN from Bowker for a book I am publishing.
    I got an ISBN-13 and an ISBN-10.
    Is the ISBN-10 for an electronic version of my book? Or do I need to buy another ISBN for the electronic version?

  38. They are the same number. The 10 has 978 and the last digit is different because it is calculated as a check digit. If you only bought 1, use it for print and skip the ISBN for the Kindle.

  39. Hi,

    I am a New Author and I want to publish my eBook via Amazon.

    Question:
    Do I require ISBN or can I do away with it ? What can be possible issues I can face, if I do away with ISBN now while publishing through Amazon ?

    How will I come to know about the number of sales, will Amazon be fair to me in reporting number of sales of EBooks ?

  40. Amazon Kindle eBooks do not require an ISBN. They report sales in your KDP account and you’ll have to decide whether you trust them to be fair. More than a few authors and publishers seem to be satisfied with their reporting. Good luck.

  41. How do you get out from under one publisher and be able to have another publisher to do marketing and a screen play? I don’t think the publisher of my book is doing a good job in spite of spending nearly 20,000 on marketing, I hear about other companies who give you 100* royalties, etc. but my publisher doesn’t send my share of the book sales on a regular schedule. Also, I have copies of my book already printed and at Ingrams dist. yet my local book stores do not display it. If you ask for it they will order it for you, but you have to know about it to go ask for it.Does the present publisher own the ISBN number to my book? Do I have to reprint it to get it into my name?

  42. Thank you for this excellent article, which I found when looking for information as to whether it was necessary to have a different ISBN for each e-book version. When filling out the application for an LCCN, the Library of Congress’ Pre-Pub Book Link says, “Please enter each electronic format ISBN associated with the book” and gives ISBN format choices of Adobe PDF, ebook, ebook other, EBK, epub, Kindle edition, Mobi, Nook edition, PDF, other. Of course, it all seems so complicated, and if going the ultra-specific route, an ebook could require 4 or 5 different ISBN numbers.
    I then turned to Bowker’s Identifier Services for information. Assigning ISBN numbers to an ebook gives these choices for file types: ePIB, Adobe Digital Editions, Adobe PDF, ePUB, iBook, Mobipocket. I can’t figure out what ePIB is, but I don’t even see a Kindle option, which makes sense with regard to your above explanation that Amazon assigns their own numbers. So it would seem to me that even if one wanted to register different ISBN numbers for specific LCCN numbers, the “Nook edition,” for example, would have to be registered as an ePUB for the ISBN number.
    So am I correct to assume that even though it’s recommended to assign a unique ISBN per format, would going with the generic ebook choice for the LCCN number and ePUB for Bowkers make the most sense? And what would be the down side, if any, of having one e-book ISBN number?
    Thank you.

  43. Hello Karenin. It’s great you are getting these details right. I actually cover this in my book on this topic because these are recent changes. I recommend generic for the LCCN and not specifying the format type on Bowker (leave it as eBook). The format type is not a required field. Btw, Mobipocket is an Amazon format. I see no downside to having a single ISBN for ebook. (Bowker makes money selling ISBNs so of course they want us to use them this way.)

  44. Your style is very unique compared to other people I’ve read stuff from.
    I appreciate you for posting when you have the opportunity, Guess I’ll just bookmark this page.

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