ISBN – What is it?

By Mary Harris

Do I really need an ISBN number? Mary Harris has discussed this topic and Doce Blant publsihing agrees with her

You are ready to attach the cover (which is fabulous!), format the interior (which will be perfect!), and upload. May the goddesses of publishing make your upload error-free!

Wait. There’s more!

You’re an author, but you also have to be a businessperson. That means you have to know about all that stuff so you can make intelligent, financially responsible choices, even if you don’t make your own cover, do your own formatting, send out your own .pdfs for ARCs, or upload by yourself.

Let’s take a basic look at one element common to every paperback and hardcover book: the ISBN.

What is an ISBN?

The International Standard Book Number is a group of numbers that identify a book.


What’s the difference between the 10-digit and the 13-digit numbers?

 10 digits were the numbers assigned before January 1, 2007. After January 1, 2007 all ISBNs are 13 digits.


What do the digits mean?

The 13 digits are separated into 5 parts: prefix element, registration group, and registrant, which identify the country, a language-sharing group or territory and the publisher; publication (the publisher); and check digit(s), an error detection group.


Do I have to have an ISBN?

Short answer: yes. If you expect to sell books. You can let your publisher assign its own ISBNs, which assigns them as the publishers through the ISBN number itself. This is true for ePubs and printed books alike.


Do I need an ISBN for each book? 

Let’s clarify “each book.” If you want to publish 20,000 paperback copies of Cowboys and Space Monsters, your sci-fi action thriller romance ménage, no. Each of the 20,000 books has the same ISBN. If you want an ebook, a paperback, and a hardcover of Cowboys and Space Monsters available, yes! Each of those three editions needs its own ISBN.


How do I get an ISBN?

You can buy one from, managed by Bowker, the most reliable seller. Whoever publishes your book (printed and ePub), should assign the ISBN. The numbers included in the ISBN track back to the publisher, which means they will be listed as your publisher in the Library of Congress database.


If I reprint a paperback or hard cover book, do I need a new ISBN? 

No. Reprints, with minor tweaks to the text such as to correct typos, are not considered a new edition. However, a change in publishers, major content revision, or new revised edition requires a new ISBN number (previously assigned ISBN numbers cannot be reused on newer, revised editions of the same title).


I can’t afford to buy even one ISBN! 

At $125.00, a single ISBN is not cheap. However, you can buy 10 ISBNs for $250.00. Have you considered going in with another author or three to split the cost and the ISBNs? You still have to work through the “named publisher” issue but authors are great at working things out!


I’m an author outside the United States. Can I use an ISBN I buy through Bowker? 

Most countries issue their own ISBNs, and costs range from free to $42.00 plus a registration fee for the author (Australia).


What is the bar code? Do I need one?

The bar code, or UPC (Universal Product Code) and EAN (European Article Number), are graphic representations of the ISBN. Like the ISBN, it is used to identify a singular product, like your best-selling Cowboys and Space Monsters. You need a bar code if you want your book to sell in retail outlets like Walmart, bookstores, and to libraries.

You can buy the UPC and an ISBN for $150.00 at, a Bowker company.

Remember: the bar code is not the ISBN, and you have to purchase an ISBN in order to obtain a bar code.


What is the copyright number?

You can apply for a number assigned by the Library of Congress, or a PNC (Preassigned Control Number). That’s free. See

You should register your book with the US Copyright Office and get your number and information; that costs $35 online, more by paper copy and United States Postal Service. Check out

Neither one is the same as the ISBN or the UPC. Ashley Martinez, lawyer and columnist for RT, has an excellent discussion at However, you are urged to copyright your work: why would you not protect your greatest asset?


Resources: is the official source for ISBNs in the United States, through Bowker. One ISBN costs $125.00; 10 ISBNs cost $250.00, as of August 10, 2016. The website also sells UPCs.

Copyright your book at


Doce Blant Publishing

Mary Harris is an editor with Doce Blant PublishingMary Harris is a skilled, experienced editor. Her specialties include: story analysis and developmental guidance, ghosting, grammar and syntax, spelling, verb tense. Mary is known best for her skill with preserving the writer’s original voice. She works with the Doce Blant authors providing edits, copyediting, and proofing. Mary is great at reading a manuscript and pinpointing its strengths and flaws. Her goal is to help every writer be as great and polished as she or he can be.

Mary can be reached through her website:

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