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Does my self-published book need an ISBN?

This depends on your goals for your book. But first, let’s go over what an ISBN is and what it does.

ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. It’s displayed on the back of a book as a 13-digit number and matching barcode.

But what does it do?

An ISBN identifies your book in an international database. Certain metadata is attached to the number when it’s registered, like the author’s name and the book’s genre and format (such as hardcover or paperback).

Whether you need an ISBN is dependent on your book’s need to be in that database. Libraries and bookstores use ISBNs to order and maintain inventory, so you’ll need an ISBN if you’d like your book to be sold through a bookstore, listed on sites like Amazon, or purchased by libraries.

If you’ll be distributing your book to friends and family or selling all of the copies yourself on a personal website or at trade shows, an ISBN is not necessary.

How do I get an ISBN?

This varies by country, so you might need to look up the issuer in your region. For the United States, ISBNs are issued by Bowker. They’re available for $125 apiece, or 10 ISBNs for $295. Each separate format requires a different ISBN, so if you intend to write multiple books or release different formats for one book (such as e-book, hardcover, and paperback), the pack of 10 might be your best bet.

Some self-publishing services will offer “free” ISBNs, but it’s best to check the fine print carefully. In many of these instances, that publisher owns the ISBN, which means you will be unable to take it with you if you choose to leave that publisher. Purchasing your own ISBN means you’ll always maintain ownership of it.

What about the barcode on the back of the book?

That barcode allows booksellers and libraries to quickly scan your book in their system. Bowker does sell barcodes, but you can also use the site Bookow to create a barcode graphic if you’re designing your own cover. Bookow is free to use, but it does run on voluntary donations.

If our pre-press team designs your cover, no need to worry; we will create the barcode for you based on the 13-digit ISBN you provide.

We hope this sheds a little light on ISBNs and helps you in your self-publishing journey. Our knowledgeable and experienced team would love to help you with printing your book. Please give us a call or email today.

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