Do I have to acquire an ISBN to publish my book?

Whether you are a fan of reading, or if you simply like to read from time to time, you have probably heard of the famous ISBN – for its acronym in English, International Standard Book Number. And you may have asked yourself, but what is an ISBN? Do I have to acquire an ISBN to publish my book? Due to the large number of users asking about this, we are going to reveal to you everything you need to know about the International Standard Book Number.

Ratifying books

The history of the ISBN begins in the United Kingdom, conceptualized by David Whitaker in 1967 and later developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). The result was a 10-digit IBAN code, published in 1970. After its publication, the International ISBN Agency was authorized to distribute this new code to the rest of the world.

As the number of books published in the following decades continued to grow, the International ISBN Agency ran out of combinations. The result was a change from the 10-digit ISBN code that had been in use to a 13-digit one in January 2007.

How does an ISBN work?

In essence, an ISBN is nothing more than an identification code, like any barcode you might find on any product in a supermarket. If a book has a barcode, then it becomes identifiable (and therefore sellable) in any book store, whether physical or online.

Each ISBN is unique to a particular book format. That is, if you wanted to publish the same book, but one with a hardcover, another in paperback, and another in e-book format, each of these variations would require a different ISBN. The explanation is simple: they are different book writing company, legally and physically speaking, even though the content is the same.

Similarly, if you wanted to publish an update to your book, for example adding episodes or changing the prologue, this would also require a different ISBN. Although this may seem cumbersome for the author, the large number of books currently in circulation makes it necessary.

The elements of an ISBN

We are going to use this ISBN code issued by Writers of USA as an example. As we already know, it is made up of a total of 13 digits. Please note that these numbers may be slightly modified depending on the publisher or retailer that issued them. An example is how some versions will have the code at the top of the bars while in others this is replaced by the price of the book. Bottom line: Don’t worry if your ISBN isn’t exactly the same as the book you’re reading. It’s totally normal.

In general, an ISBN is made up of five elements separated from each other by a space or a hyphen:

  • International prefix:  This element is always 3 digits long which are always either 978 or 979. These numbers are the ones made available by GS1 (the organization that issues the barcodes). It simply serves to identify the product as a book.
  • Registration group:  is an element that identifies the geographical area (country, region…) or a specific linguistic area that participates in the system.
  • Publishing agent:  identifies the editor or publisher. Larger publishers may have more than one number associated with them.
  • Title Identifier:  This digit identifies the specific title associated with this particular ISBN.
  • Check digit:  which mathematically validates the rest of the to verify an ISBN.

ISBN Location

The ISBN User Manual says the following about where an ISBN code can be placed:

In the case of printed publications:

  • On the verso of the title page (copyright page)
  • At the bottom of the title page, if there is no space on the copyright page.
  • At the bottom of the back cover
  • On the bottom of the back of the dust jacket or any other protective sleeve or wrapper

For digital publications:

  • It must appear where the title appears (CDs, online publications, etc.), that is, on the first page or on the screen that displays the title or its equivalent (for example, the first screen shown when accessing the content or in the screen displaying copyright information).

Additionally, the manual states that the code should be printed/displayed in a font large enough to be readable, specifically 9 point or larger.

However, this is not something you need to worry about if you publish with us. When you buy an ISBN for your book through our platform, we will take care of placing the code in the right place and the right size.

Do I need to acquire an ISBN to publish my book?

The answer to this question is no.

It is not necessary to purchase an ISBN for you to publish or print your book. Its only usefulness lies in the fact that it makes it easier to store and sell. You could, for example, print copies of your books and sell them in person or simply sell your books through your own website instead of through an intermediary. If you publish your book with Writers of USA, you will not need an ISBN to put it on sale in our online store either.

Now, if you want to make money with your books, it is advisable that you acquire an ISBN. The sales channels available to you with an ISBN offer a greater reach than what you could reach on your own. Additionally, people like to shop in stores whose brands are recognizable. The fact that your book is found on one of these channels will increase your legitimacy as a writer.

Regardless, whenever possible, you should try to get people to buy your book directly through you or our store. This will offer you the highest profit margin per copy – for every book you sell in our store, you would have to sell two through a third party. You can also create free widgets on our website that will make this task less arduous.

Acquire an ISBN

If you are looking to buy an ISBN, you can do so while you publish your book on our platform – so you don’t miss a beat – for €12.75.

This way you will have direct access to all our distributors, without having to create an individual account with each of their platforms. In addition, all your sales and other relevant data about these distribution channels can be seen on the Writers of USA website, therefore offering you a much more practical view.

Okay, enough to throw flowers at us! If you were just stopping by to find out more about an ISBN, but you don’t intend to publish a book with non fiction writing, no problem. If you want to purchase an ISBN elsewhere, we recommend contacting your publisher. They typically do not accept ISBNs purchased through others as it is a hassle for their databases. In other words, you should probably choose how and where you want to publish your book before purchasing an ISBN.

If I publish in two or more different formats (for example, EBook and paperback), do I need to assign them different ISBN numbers?

If as an author you want to publish your book in different formats, you should know that different ISBNs are required for this. The explanation is very simple, and it is that although the content of the book is the same, the editions are different.

If I have previously published my book with a publisher and now want to use your services, can I use my old ISBN?

The answer is no. The explanation is very simple and is that the publisher in question is identified in this code. To publish your book with Writers of USA, you must acquire one of our ISBNs in step 2 of the publishing process.

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