What is an ISBN?

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What is an ISBN and does my book need one?

Published 10:00am, 20/06/2022 by BPUK Team | Advice

What is an ISBN? Image

Does your book need an ISBN? If you plan to sell publicly, then the simple answer is YES! This article will break down exactly what an ISBN is, whether you need one and if so how to get one for your book. 

What is an ISBN?

ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number and was first introduced in 1970. Various products have them, with books being our main focus today. If the product sells publicly, then it needs to be uniquely identified with an ISBN, in the form of a 13-digit number.

Do I need an ISBN?

An ISBN is advised when you are publishing (or printing) a book to sell to the general public as it is used by publishers, booksellers, and libraries when ordering, listing, and stock-taking titles. If you wish to sell your publication through online or offline book retailers then an ISBN is a must.  

Purpose of an ISBN?

ISBN's have two main purposes:

  1. The ability to sell your books to the public. Therefore, they are needed if you intend to make money from your work. Vital for Self-published authors!
  2. Improving searchability of your book. We love that there are so many books to choose from, but it does make some hard to find. With an ISBN, readers can easily search the unique number to find your book, and your book only. Don’t believe us? Head over to this ISBN search site and try for yourself. Just pick up any book around your house and type in the number.

What's in an ISBN?

  • Book Code Digits: The first three digits 978 indicate the whole number is part of an ISBN.
  • Language of the Book: The English language is identified with an “0” or “1”.
  • Publisher
  • Book title, Edition, and Format: Six-digits represent the title of the book.
  • Check Digit:“0” is. the last digit and is known as the “check digit”. This number is mathematically calculated as a fixed, single digit.

Do I need more than one ISBN?

If you are selling your book only as a hardback for example, then you will only need one ISBN. However, if you sell through multiple variations, then you will need one ISBN for each variation.

Variations include the likes of Paperback, Hardback, Booklet and more. Again, this ensures that your readers will find a copy of your book, as well as the exact variation.

If you edit your book you may need a new ISBN. 

If your edits consist of line edits and correcting typographical errors, then you will not need a new ISBN as this is considered a reprint.

However, if you make substantial changes/additions to your work, then you will need a new ISBN. This is because the changes would be considered as a ‘new book’.

When it comes to book covers and their designs, you are free to alter them to your heart’s content. Book titles and subtitles will however require a new ISBN if altered.

How do I get an ISBN?

You can buy ISBNs from Nielsen, they are the primary retailer. You can either buy one ISBN or a block of 10 - 100. If you know you will be publishing more than 1 book it is much more cost-effective to order in blocks. 

As part of our many services, we can purchase an ISBN on your behalf and add this (along with a barcode) to your book. Taking the time and stress out of sourcing one yourself.

What is an ISBN? Image

You can select an ISBN as an addition when getting an online quote

Other things to consider when getting an ISBN. 

British Library Registration... If you are a publisher (and you are if you are self-publishing your book), you need to give a copy of every UK publication you make to the British Library. Five other major UK libraries may also ask you to give them a copy. This system is called legal deposit and it's been a part of English law since 1662. We can send these for you with our British Library Registration Service

Adding your ISBN to your artwork... It is a good idea to add your ISBN number to the copyright page of your book and the back cover, along with a barcode. 

Is your book eligible for an ISBN? Some book types do not qualify for an ISBN. For more information check out the FAQ section on Nielsen's website. 

What next?

We hope this has cleared things up a little and you now understand ISBN's and how they work. To get started with your book you get an instant quote today!