ISBN Information

How To Get An ISBN Number

Buying ISBNs and Self Publishing

If you want your book to be published and you don't have Penguin fighting it out with Orion for the honour, then you may be considering getting an ISBN and publishing it yourself. By self publishing I mean managing the whole process yourself, rather than handing it over to a firm that specialises in offering services to self publishing authors. One of the many tasks that you will have to arrange as a self publisher is obtaining an ISBN number. It is not a difficult task, but it is something else that you need to worry about, and you may think that it can be left until the last minute with much more important tasks like getting the jacket designed taking priority. But think again, because it may be an expensive decision to put off getting your ISBN until later. You'll find out why later on this page.

Who Can Get An ISBN?

Or is it, "How do I go about obtaining ISBN numbers?" To get an ISBN you need to be a publisher. How do you become a publisher? For the purpose of obtaining ISBNs, it is simply by telling the ISBN authority that you want to be one! To be able to obtain ISBN numbers, you register with your regional ISBN authority as a publisher. This then allows you to be issued with ISBNs. There is generally no process to go through to be regarded as a publisher by your ISBN authority - you just pay the fee. You need to find out who the ISBN authority is in your country or region and contact them to find out their procedure for registering as a publisher and getting your ISBN number. I list here some details of the ISBN authority for the USA and also for the United Kingdom.


In the United States the only organisation from which you can obtain an ISBN is R R Bowker in New Providence, NJ. Bowker are the appointed representative of the International ISBN Agency for the USA, including Puerto Rico.

You can purchase ISBNs in blocks of 1, 10, 100 or 1,000. Bowker have recently streamlined their process to provide ISBNs. There used to be a complicated multi-tier pricing structure, but now it's very simple. A single ISBN costs $125, 10 ISBNs costs $295, 100 ISBNs costs $575 and 1,000 ISBNs costs $1,500. You will notice that the more you purchase at a time, the cheaper they get - and by a large amount. For example, 10 ISBNs purchased singly would cost $1,250, but purchased together would be a lot less expensive at $295.

Don't be tempted to think that just because you have written one book then you will only need one ISBN. All different editions of your book need a separate ISBN. You may be publishing print editions in hardback and softback, as well as e-book versions in EPUB, MOBI and PDF. They will all need a separate ISBN, so that makes buying 10 ISBNs at one time the smart decision.

Bowker also offer an optional service to produce bar codes for your purchased ISBNs. Bar codes are something that you also have to deal with as a self publisher and you intend to sell you book in stores.

For further details of costs see the Cost Of ISBN Numbers page.

Need a single ISBN? See the See the Get a Single ISBN page.

United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland

In the UK and Ireland the regional agency from which publishers get ISBN numbers is Nielsen Book Services in Surrey.

The following details are for new publishers. Nielsen process standard orders in 10 working days, but have a fast track service that takes 3 days. Nielsen issue ISBNs in blocks of 10, 100 and 1,000. Nielsen will email your ISBNs to you or, for a further fee (£30 inc. VAT at 20%) in the case of 100 or 1,000 ISBNs or free for 10 ISBNs, post them.

Cost ranges from £164 inc. VAT at 20% for a block of 10, to £949 inc. VAT at 20% for a block of 1,000 ISBNs. A single ISBN costs £89 inc. VAT at 20%.

For further details of costs see the Cost Of ISBN Numbers page.

Need a single ISBN? See the See the Get a Single ISBN page.

But Does This Sound Like All Too Much Bother?

Being a great writer does not necessarily mean that you will want to manage the whole self publishing process yourself. There are lots of companies that will help you publish your work, even if they will not carry any of the financial risk themselves. But take care. Look for a company that you find you can trust. You must take the time to research the major step of getting help. Seek recommendation from other authors that you have known for some time and have come to trust. Their advice may make the difference between an expensive mistake with a lot of disappointment to what can be a successful publishing experience with your work on sale in bookshops across the country. Perhaps you feel that your skills are better suited to getting your next work written. If so, then you may be best advised looking for help to get your book published rather than getting involved in all the detail of getting an ISBN and doing it all yourself.