An ISBN—international standard book number—is basically your book’s fingerprint. It’s the long, hyphenated series of numerical digits shown on the copyright page of every book. Each version of every published book has its own ISBN regardless of whether you’re printing your book, selling it as an e-book, or both.
In fact, ISBNs are so specific that an e-book, paperback, and hardcover version of the same work will each have its own ISBN. The ISBN is permanently tied to each version of your book.
Just as its name suggests, the ISBN system provides each book its own unique number within a standardized international database. This allows people from all over the world to access each other’s work. Because of this, your book’s ISBN is perhaps the most important piece of information on your copyright page.
Your book’s ISBN tells your book’s story. It’s a part of your book’s metadata. In 2007, ISBNs were changed from ten digits to thirteen because of the quantity of books being published.
ISBNs aren’t just a collection of random digits. In fact, each set of numbers in the ISBN has meaning. Here’s a brief explanation:
Altogether, your book’s ISBN tells the story of its publishing life. And since each book has its own ISBN, if you publish an updated edition or volume to your original work, that book will get a different ISBN.
The international standard book number is crucial to publishers and book retailers. It identifies where, when, and by whom the book was published. Publishing companies can look at a single ISBN and learn the book’s history.
But ISBNs aren’t only important to publishers and retailers. Your target audience might pay attention to them too. Avid readers might notice that two different editions of the same book have different ISBNs. This alerts them to the fact that there is some variation between the two copies of your book.
The ISBN became commonplace in international publishing in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The international community realized that it needed a standardized system to keep track of all of the books that had been published around the world. This standardization made it easier for readers across the globe to access published works from other countries.
Your book’s ISBN is its unique fingerprint. No other published work can have your ISBN—it belongs solely to your book. And from the first digit to the check digit, each number within every single ISBN provides information about your book.
Your ISBN helps people to find your work. This helps drive up your book sales. Whether you’re printing or publishing as an ebook, an ISBN is a vital part of your book’s success.
All books that are published for sale need an ISBN. Your book’s ISBN allows retailers of printed works and ebooks to identify and track your book’s sales. It also helps your target audience to find a specific edition of your book.
Your book needs its own ISBN to differentiate your work from other published books. Maybe you titled your book using generic, simple words in order to draw in as many potential readers as possible.
Or maybe you have a rather commonplace name as an author. Your book’s ISBN will let buyers and sellers differentiate your title and name from other similar titles and authors.
Additionally, the ISBN lends credibility to your work. It proves to retailers and readers that you are a serious author who knows that your book deserves to be published.
When publishing companies and potential readers see that ISBN bar code on your back cover, they are assured that they’re reading a legitimate piece of published writing. Everything about your book—from the title page to the actual content—is tied to your ISBN.
The ISBN helps publishers, retailers, and readers identify, find, and track your book. Each country has a national ISBN agency that assigns all international standard book numbers.
Since ISBNs are assigned by a national-level body, you can rest assured that your book is formally published within your country. Each ISBN agency can only assign numbers within their own country—but since ISBNs are part of an international system, your book can be available worldwide.
Each and every published book gets is own ISBN. This means that your book is the only published work in the world with that number and bar code. You should be very proud of that accomplishment!
Each new book gets a new ISBN. If you publish new editions to your original book, each edition will get its own ISBN. This is part of the fun for book collectors—they can compare each version of your book and see the different ISBNs.
Keep in mind that each version of your book—regardless of the edition—has its own ISBN. If you are printing some paperback versions and some hardcover versions, you will have two different ISBNs. When you choose to offer your work as an ebook, you will have a third ISBN.
There are many benefits to obtaining an ISBN for your book. In fact, in order for you to sell your work and make a name for yourself as an established author, your book really does need an ISBN. But what exactly does your book’s unique international standard book number mean?
Each and every digit of each and every ISBN has a meaning. The numbers identify where your book was published and by whom. It also includes a unique identifier for your book and your book alone.
Current ISBNs have thirteen digits. These digits include a location identifier, publisher identifier, edition identifier, and check digit that validates the ISBN as a whole. Each international standard book number is packed with information specific to your book.
The first string of digits of your ISBN signifies basic but important information about your book. These numbers create the foundation that the rest of the ISBN will build upon.
ISBNs go from general to specific, so the first string of digits involves high-level information, such as the prefix and the group identifier.
In 2007, ISBNs were increased from ten digits to thirteen. The reason was to include a three-digit prefix—either 978 or 979—to make the system compatible with the European Article Number (EAN) system. This prefix is the first three numbers in your thirteen-digit ISBN.
The next set of digits identifies where your book was originally published. Each country is assigned a number, similar to country codes when you make an international phone call. Here are a few examples:
There are specific codes for each country and geographical region, so be sure to research what your book’s first ISBN digit will be.
The second string of ISBN digits tell your book’s specific story. After the group identifier (country code), your registrant number is listed. This points to the specific publishing company that you partnered with. This string tends to be about five digits long.
Getting even more specific, the publication number comes next. These digits identify the exact version of your book. This string of digits will differ for each edition of your book. They will also vary depending on whether the book is paperback, hardcover, or an ebook.
The final section of an ISBN is the check digit, which basically validates the ISBN as a whole. Many industries use check digits to verify coded numbers and avoid errors. Even your credit card has a check digit!
If you want to sell your book, you need an ISBN. This unique number helps publishers, retailers, and your target audience to easily track and find your book. An ISBN lends legitimacy to your work because it means your book has been formally registered.
Books without an ISBN might not be taken seriously since they’re less official. That means that without this identification number on your copyright page, you’ll have a difficult time making a name for yourself as a serious author.
The price of an ISBN varies based on how you want to sell your book. For instance, if you’re publishing an ebook without printing, the ISBN will be less expensive. But if you’re going to publish your work in both ebook and print formats, you might need to spend a little bit more.
Your national ISBN agency is the best starting point for researching how to obtain an ISBN and how much it will cost. There are outside agencies that will gladly sell you an ISBN, a bar code, and marketing packages. But it’s best to begin at the federal level to make sure that any third-party agencies you’re considering are legitimate.
Most national ISBN agencies have applications that you can fill out online or via mail. However, if you’re working with a publishing company, they can also help with this. Many publishers offer this service to their authors, since assigning an ISBN to your work will also help the publisher make money off of your book sales.
In order to ensure that you’re getting the best price and service, always check the governmental agency’s website, and compare it with the information from your publisher. You worked very hard on your book, and it’s worth protecting during this phase.
The time it takes to receive an ISBN will vary depending on the number of requests and the time of year. Just like so many things in life, it’s best to be as proactive as possible so that you don’t miss any publication goals or deadlines.
If you’re working with a publishing company, they might have a fast track to obtaining an ISBN for you. If you choose to go through your national ISBN agency by yourself, it could take several months for the copyright office to fully process your request.
You worked hard finishing your book. And you’re excited to publish it! You now need an international standard book number to help publishers, book retailers, and readers find you.
Elite Authors can be your all-around partner in building a successful book sale campaign. We offer services from formatting service to book cover design—and everything in between! Check out our website to find out how we can help you establish yourself as a great author and ring up those book sales.