top of page
  • Writer's pictureRhys

ISBNs - What Are They and Why Are They Important?

So, you’ve decided to self-publish a book… but when you go to upload it to retailers, they’re asking you for an ISBN. But what is an ISBN, and do you really need one?

In this short guide, we’ll demystify the ISBN to help you decide whether you need one and if a paid or free ISBN is best for your book.

So, what is an ISBN?

ISBN (or International Standard Book Number) is a numerical book identifier. Designed to separate every edition or variation, you’ll find an ISBN on the back cover of every trade publication, usually with a matching barcode.

What does an ISBN do?

In simple terms, an ISBN is a way for booksellers, libraries, online retailers, publishers and book sharing sites such as Goodreads, to catalogue books.

Why should I get an ISBN?

Without an ISBN, bookshops and libraries (including academic libraries) cannot stock copies of your book, and you’ll need one for every edition and variation of your book (i.e., paperback, hardback, audiobook etc) if you intend to sell widely. You might also need an ISBN for your eBook if you’re planning to make it available to libraries.

In fact, non-profit self-publishing association, The Alliance of Independent Authors, recommend that you purchase ISBN’s for all variations of your books, including eBooks, to ensure that you’re recorded as the publisher of your books instead of the distribution service you’ve used, which is essential if your long-term plan involves seeing your books available to buy in brick-and-mortar stores.

Where can I get an ISBN?

This entirely depends on the country you’re publishing in. There are over 160 ISBN agencies across the globe, so you’ll need to search for your relevant agency to calculate pricing and requirements. In the UK, you’ll be purchasing from Nielsen, unless you opt to use a free ISBN from a distribution service such as Amazon, Ingram Spark or Smashwords.

Should I buy my own ISBN?

Whether you choose to buy your own ISBN or use a free ISBN is entirely your decision, but as mentioned already, owning your own ISBN can make it easier for you to work with booksellers and libraries.

It’s also worth noting that the majority of brick-and-mortar booksellers will be hesitant to stock books that list a distribution service such as Amazon and Ingram as the publisher.

An ISBN also makes it easier for readers to locate your books on social sharing and cataloguing sites, and including an ISBN on each variation and edition of your publication can help with discoverability, increasing sales, and better tracking of sales.

Do you still have questions about whether you ISBNs or do you need to ensure that your cover design accommodates your ISBN and barcode? We can help!

Contact us on (0191) 482 5042 or email us at

23 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page