How to Purchase an ISBN

Posted by Kristen Hamilton on March 2, 2018 at 9:00 AM

In my illustrious 6-year career as a book editor, I have come across a range of authors, some of whom have been serious about their writing career, and others who have been more laid-back and approach writing as a hobby.

For the more serious authors, I recently shared a blog post on How to Copyright Your Book. In addition to copyrighting your work, serious authors should also purchase an ISBN to sell their books on multiple platforms.

Authors who want to expand their writing career and sell their book on multiple platforms should purchase an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) for their self-published book. ISBNs are the global standard for identifying titles. ISBNs are used worldwide as a unique identifier for books. They are used to simplify distribution and purchase of books throughout the global supply chain.

For self-publishing authors, Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) will automatically provide you with a free ASIN number—Amazon Standard Identification Number—for your book when it’s published on Kindle. Essentially, the free ASIN is Amazon’s version of an ISBN. But this is only good for selling your book on Amazon. You cannot sell your ebook with the Amazon ASIN number in it anywhere other than on Kindle.

If you want to have a paperback book, or sell your book on platforms other than Kindle, you’ll need to purchase an ISBN for each version of your book: this means an ISBN for your paperback book, an ISBN for your hardcover book, an ISBN for your audiobook, and an ISBN for your ebook if you're selling it on multiple platforms (i.e., Amazon Kindle, iBooks, Kobo, Lulu, Smashwords). If you want to sell your book in stores, you’ll also need to purchase a bar code along with your ISBN, and give the bar code to your cover designer, and they’ll be able to put it on the book’s cover for you.

If you want to purchase an ISBN for your book, you must buy it through the official Bowker website at Click on “Buy ISBNs” at the top of the page. You can buy an ISBN only for $125 or you can buy an ISBN plus a barcode for $150. A barcode is a scannable version of your ISBN number—it encodes the ISBN number and can also include the price. The largest book retailers (think Barnes & Noble) require books to display the barcode that carries the ISBN. At the point of sale in a bookstore, the ISBN is scanned and all related information about the title is accessed in their sales system—identifying the price correctly and subtracting a copy from their inventory, etc.

Personally, I’d suggest opting for both the ISBN number and the barcode (barcodes on the back of books make the book look much more professional, in my opinion), but in the end, the choice is up to you.

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Book editor Kristen Hamilton is the owner and sole employee of

Kristen Corrects, Inc., where she provides manuscript editing

services for traditionally and self-publishing authors. Several

authors whose books she has edited have won awards and have

topped Amazon's best sellers lists.

Reading is Kristen's passion, so when the workday is over, she

can usually be found curled up with a good book alongside her

four cats. She loves watching cat videos and scary movies,

eating pizza, teaching herself French, and traveling, and she is

likely planning her next vacation. She lives outside of Boise, ID.

Categories: author business

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