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  • Writer's picturerobertlouishenry

Frequently Asked Questions: ISBNs

Updated: Apr 18, 2018

I’m not going to bore you with all the details about ISBNs, but there are a few things to consider when you are self-publishing your book. Let’s cover some of the most common questions I hear about ISBNs and how it applies to your book.

“Do I need an ISBN?”

The short answer is, “Usually.”

When selling your book through most retailers, you will be required to have an ISBN.

The only notable exception for major retail stores (online) is Amazon’s Kindle store. The eBook version of Amazon books will be assigned an ASIN number, which is essentially Amazon’s equivalent to the ISBN. Your print book on Amazon will still need an ISBN, though.

“How many ISBNs?”

You will need an ISBN for each edition of your book.

If you publish a softcover and a hardcover, each edition will require a unique ISBN.

When you publish an eBook through Apple iBooks, it will need an ISBN.

When you publish an eBook through Barnes and Noble’s Nookbook store, it will need an ISBN.

When you publish an eBook through Kobo, it also requires its own ISBN.

Again, the only exception for major retailers is Amazon’s Kindle store.

The good news is that if you are using a service like Smashwords to distribute to Apple, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo, you’ll only need a single ISBN. The eBook distributed to each retailer is still considered a single “Smashwords Edition.”

Since my typical suggestion is using CreateSpace for a softcover book and using a mix of Kindle Direct Publishing and Smashwords for eBooks, you would usually only need two ISBNs per book.

“How do I get ISBNS?”

You can purchase ISBNs from Bowker directly. This is the only official source for ISBNs in the United States. There are smaller resellers, but I typically would suggest avoiding them just to be safe. You can use their site at to make a purchase.

ISBNs currently costs $125 each or $300 for a block of ten.

If you want to save money, you can use free ISBNs provided by CreateSpace and Smashwords.

For the majority of us, the only important thing here is we can’t set the “imprint” name (i.e. the publisher name you see on product pages or after scanning a barcode).

Note that using a free ISBN does not give any third party rights to your book that you would not be granting them anyway. Your copyright is still fully intact. Essentially, you’ll just see “CreateSpace” or “Smashwords” as the publisher. Nothing else is significantly different.

“Should I pay or use the free options?”

Personally, I very rarely pay for ISBNs.

There are really only three reasons to pay for your ISBN:

  1. You aren’t using a service that provides free ones.

  2. You really want to use your own imprint name.

  3. Your book is meant to promote your business (still kind-of optional).

That said, if you intend to write and/or publish a large number of titles, there’s no real harm in purchasing a block of ISBNs at the discounted rate. It looks slightly more professional, and it allows you to setup some of the other details about the book. Even if it's only for vanity, it may be worth the cost to you.

“Do I have to display the ISBN anywhere?”

No. This is not a requirement with any self-publishing platform. Many people like to include it as part of the copyright page, though, and if you’re attempting to make the book feel more like something you’d pickup at a bookstore, I think this is wise.

Your CreateSpace book will automatically have a barcode printed on the back, and this will include the ISBN. This is not optional, and your cover design should take it into consider. The good thing is you don’t have to place the barcode yourself.

Any questions?

Feel free to email me at or comment here!

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