How to Get an ISBN

You will need an ISBN if you are self-publishing books. But do you know how to get an ISBN? (What is an ISBN? Click here.)

Why You Need an ISBN

Your book needs to have an ISBN, because it is the tracking code that all bookstores, distributors and libraries use to identify and classify books. If you self-publish through a publishing firm, that company typically secures the ISBN for you. But if you want to retain publishing rights yourself, you will want to learn how to get an ISBN on your own.

Where to Buy an ISBN

In the United States, Bowker is the only distributor of ISBNs. The minimum number of ISBNs you can buy is 10, which costs $275 (additional fees apply for expedited delivery). ISBNs are assigned with a unique number for that publisher — including someone who is establishing as a self-publisher.

This means that blocks of numbers can be purchased ahead of time, before the books are even written. If you have a book to publish now, but might not write another one for a few years, you can retain the ISBNs for future use.

ISBNs in Barcodes

Bowker also sells the ISBNs encrypted in UPC barcodes, which cost $25 each, or less if you buy more than five. Even if you don’t plan to sell your book at retail stores now, you should print it with a UPC barcode in case you decide to do so later. The barcode is required for selling.

Barcodes can also be created using purchased software or at online sites such as Depending on the number of barcodes you want to generate, buying a software application could be a cost-effective choice. For example, Softmatic’s BarcodeGenerator is such a software application.

Register Your ISBN

Once a book is ready to be printed and has an ISBN, it needs to be registered at Bowker’s Books in Print,, a global bibliographic database. This allows anyone in the book industry to see the book’s title, price, status and other information. Registering at Books in Print is free.

To learn more about self-publishing books, check out our self-publishing guide.

Related Resources 

Read more about Self-Publishing  

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