What is an ISBN: Quick Guide for Self-publishing Authors

What is an ISBN Number: A Quick Guide for Self-publishing Authors

Everything to know about ISBN

If you write or are into publishing books you probably already know what an ISBN is. But for the ones who have no idea about it, you have landed on the right spot.

When you design your book, make sure you pay attention to getting the ISBN right. In this article, we are going to discuss everything important that you need to know about ISBNs.

What does ISBN stand for?

ISBN is a short form of International Standard Book Number. ISBN numbers used to be 10 digits in length until the end of December 2006. But from 1st January 2007, they are now 13 digits long.

ISBN stand for

ISBN numbers are calculated with the help of a special mathematical formula. They include a check digit that validates the number. Every ISBN number is known to consist of five elements. Each of the sections is separated using hyphens and spaces. The five elements include:

  • Prefix element
  • Registration group element
  • Registrant element
  • Publication element
  • Check digit

What is an ISBN number used for?

ISBN numbers are mainly used by booksellers, publishers, internet retailers, libraries and all the other supply chain participants. It is used for listing, ordering, sales records, and stock control purposes. With the help of the ISBN Number, you can also identify the specific title, format, edition and the registrant as well.

The ISBN number system is recognized worldwide. Using this standardized format, publishers all around the world are able to identify their work. Every edition or title must carry a unique identifier ISBN number. You can say that an ISBN of a book is similar to a license plate of a car. This guarantees that each of the book types is identified uniquely.

How much does an ISBN cost?

The cost of a single ISBN is $125, but if you buy 10 ISBNs together, it is going to cost you $250. If you increase the number and buy 100s of them then it is going to come at a price of $575. Also, 1000 ISBNs cost $1000.

ISBN cost

From the ISBN pricing structure, it is clear that the price drops as you buy a number of ISBNs. Therefore, it is best to buy ISBNs in bulk so you can avail it at a cheaper price.

What is the purpose of an ISBN?

Many of you may want to know the purpose of using an ISBN number. The fact that the format is used by publishers worldwide has to have at least some purpose.

The main purpose of an ISBN number is to establish and identify one edition or title from one specific publisher and that particular number is unique to that very edition. Using ISBNs are actually beneficial for the publishers as it allows them for more efficient marketing of their books or products. This is why every library, wholesaler, retailer, university, and distributor makes use of this standardized format.

How to read an ISBN with examples?

Reading an ISBN number is easy only if you know the right way to do so. Here is how you can learn to read or understand an ISBN number.

ISBN examples

Let’s take a 10 digit example:


You can see that the number is divided into 4 combinations. But only three of them are useful. The first digit 0 is just the initial number.

  • 0 is basically the language group identifier. In this case, it indicates English.
  • The next 6 digits are the publisher identifier.
  • The next two digits are the title identifier. This is assigned by the publisher himself to a specific edition or particular book.
  • The last single digit is the check digit which is calculated mathematically. This helps in assuring that the rest of the ISBN has been scanned or recorded accurately.

ISBN 10 vs ISBN 13

Each ISBN-10 has four sections: group identifier, publisher identifier, title identifier, and check digit. A typical 10-digit example is: ISBN 0-545-01022-5. The group identifier is used to identify the country or region. This section may have one to five digits. The example has a global identifier of 0.

Since 2007, the new format of 13 digits has been introduced. You need to apply the same process to read it. The only difference is that it adds 978 at the beginning which identifies the following series of numbers as an ISBN.

What is the ISBN number of books?

The ISBN number on a book can be located on its back cover right next to the barcode. In case, if the book doesn’t have its ISBN number on the back, look for it on the page featuring the publisher information and copyright.

An ISBN number is assigned to a book or title so that they can be identified uniquely. Even when a publisher reprints the book, they use the same ISBN number.

Do eBooks need ISBN?

Depending on where you publish or distribute your eBook, it may or may not need its own ISBN. Most of the major eBook distributors do not require ISBNs for eBooks. These distributors will usually have a place to add an ISBN if you want one, but it’s not needed to publish.

If you’re concerned that your eBook might need an ISBN, check with the service(s) you’ll be using to distribute your book. Most likely, they won’t require one, but it never hurts to check.

As ISBN number is very useful for a publisher and that’s why every one of them assigns a specific number to their book or title. The ISBN can help you to learn about the title, edition, publisher and the details about the book. Now the main question is how you do it.

There is this site called ISBN search(https://isbnsearch.org). When you type in the ISBN number of a book or title in the Search Box, it will fetch you all the details you wish to know. This is the easiest way of searching for a book using the ISBN number. Also, it is both reliable and accurate. You can use this search engine to find the best prices for the books as well. All you need to do is type in the ISBN number given on the back cover.

ISBN vs Barcode

Book barcodes typically contain the same information as an ISBN, but they are not actually ISBNs. Barcodes are what retailers use to scan books into their computer systems to sell them. ISBNs don’t require a barcode.

An ISBN number is graphically represented as a barcode. The digits and coding printed have a certain value through which you can retrieve the book and the publisher information.

The difference between ASIN and ISBN

In order to understand the difference between ASIN and ISBN, you need to understand what they are used for. ASIN stands for Amazon Standard Identification Number which is known to consist of a unique combination of 10 numbers or letters. It is used to easily identify items. Every time a new product is uploaded on the Amazon site, a new ASIN is assigned to the product. If you check the product detail page, you can find the ASIN number. The ASIN number is known to vary if the product is sold in the US and other marketplaces.

On the other hand, ISBN stands for International Standard Book Numbers. This is used as a unique identifier by commercial books along with a barcode. Every book that you read comes with an ISBN number which comprises 10 or 13 digits. You can find the ISBN number on the back of the book cover. Books do not have ASIN numbers.

From the above distinction, it is clear that ASIN and ISBN are different formats but they serve the same purpose for a product.

ISBNs can seem confusing at first, but they’re pretty straightforward. Get one ISBN for each print version you offer, and only if you buy one for your eBook if you really want it. It’s a good idea to buy your own, if you can, and skip the free ISBNs handed out by print-on-demand services.

If you’re ready to self-publish your book, along with an ISBN, you’re also going to need to format your book.

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