Most of us understand that each edition and format of a book requires an ISBN (International Standard Book Number), this is a 13-digit number used by publishers, booksellers, libraries and retails to identify and order books with.
But where can you get an ISBN and are they free?
This does depend upon your location, for the USA you can obtain ISBNs from Bowker, for the UK they are available from Nielsen, Canada’s ISBNs are available from ISBN Canada, and Australia’s ISBNs are available from Bowker Australia, for other countries go to The International ISBN Agency | International ISBN Agency (isbn-international.org).
Obtaining your own ISBNs usually costs a fee, in the US this is from $125 for one ISBN or $295 for ten, they are similarly priced elsewhere, however, they are free in Canada (great if you’re a Canadian based author).
How many ISBNs will I need?
You will need an ISBN for each edition and format of your book, so, one for your paperback, one for the eBook and one for the hardback etc., also ISBNs for different language editions too.
Is there any way to get a free ISBN?
Yes, there are several print-on-demand services which offer free ISBNs to their self-publishing authors, below we’ve listed the most popular:
KDP publishing have offered free ISBNs for many years now, these ISBNs are preregistered as Amazon KDP being the publisher, and can be easily assigned when you are setting up the book with them. However, the free ISBN cannot be used outside of their publishing service, so if you want to publish with the likes of IngramSpark, then you would need to use your own ISBN.
Ingram now offers free ISBNs to US self-publishing customers only, although they do say that they are working to extend this to other countries soon. Like KDP, their free ISBNs can only be used on their own publishing platform, so you can not publish with it on another service.
Please note that if you do set up the book with a free ISBN and then want to update it with your own purchased one at a later date, you will have to set the book up as a new or revised title, so you may incur additional fees from Ingram at that point.
D2D also offer free ISBNs when you publish with them, registering the book as Draft2Digital as the Vendor of Record for your book with the ISBN agency.
And like the other two print on demand publishers, they will also restrict the use of the free ISBN to their own service only, so again, if you want to publish elsewhere, you’ll need your own ISBN.
You can use your own ISBN with Smashwords, or you can take the free one that they offer, and you’ve guessed it, it can only be used with their own publishing service, it will also register them as the publisher with the ISBN agency.
There are alternative ways to get a free ISBN for your book, however, if you are publishing via several platforms, then it would be unprofessional to have the same book registered to multiple ISBNs all with different ‘publishers listed’, this can be quite confusing to book buyers.
As pointed out, the ISBNs which are free are non-transferable, you can’t use the free one from Ingram on KDP for example.
However, it really depends upon your goal as a self-publishing author, if you are publishing in just the one place and are on a budget, then these free ISBNs can be a cost-effective way of getting your book published. But if you have bigger plans and budget, purchasing your own may be the best option for your book.
Want to know more about the publishing process?
Check out our other great articles for self-publishing authors.
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