Questions People Ask

Buying ISBNs & the Best Way to Do It

I’ve been asked this question several times: How many ISBNs do you recommend purchasing?

The question of buying bar codes has also arisen, but that question is not one I know much about. From my limited experience, I would say, no, it isn’t necessary.

My indie publishing experience has been with:

  1. Createspace (Amazon Company)
  2. Kindle Direct Publishing (Amazon Company)
  3. IngramSpark (Lightning Source Company)
  4. Smashwords (covers several online ebook sources)
  5. Barnes & Noble (Nook Press)

Depending on how you plan to publish (i.e. only ebook or ebook & physical) you will need different ISBNs and you’ll need to purchase most of them.

For example, If you are only publishing through Createspace you will have the option of a free ISBN with their imprint for publishing, a $10 one to which you can assign your own imprint, a $99 option that allows more freedom, or using one you’ve already purchased outside Createspace (e.g. Bowker, etc.).

create space isbn

If you want more freedom with where and how you publish, you will want to purchase the $99 one or buy one elsewhere. In the US, the company to purchase ISBNs from is Bowker in the US and it looks like Nielsen in the UK. Outside these areas, I have no idea how you go about purchasing an ISBN.

***I’ll be focusing on the US because that’s where I live and publish. Bowker sells ISBNs for $125 each, or you can purchase ten for $295 which is, by far, a better deal. You may not need all ten at once, but you don’t have to use all of them for the same book. This is the option I would recommend to anyone who plans to publish paperback or hardbound books as well as ebooks on multiple platforms because they cannot have the same ISBN.

If you want to publish through Createspace (CS) and IngramSpark (IS) you can use the same ISBN for paperback as long as you opt out of the expanded distribution offered through Ceatespace. This is important! If you want the expanded dist. through CS then you’ll need separate ISBNs for your paperbacks.

Smashwords doesn’t require ISBNs for their publishing service, but they do give you a free ISBN for your ebook publishing through their service which uses iBooks & Kobo:

ISBNs – Smashwords supports ISBNs. Go to the Smashwords ISBN Manager for more information. While ISBNs are not required to publish at Smashwords, or to gain inclusion in the Premium Catalog, they are required for Smashwords distribution to major retailers such as iBooks and Kobo. An ISBN is a digital identifier that helps identify your book within the book industry supply chain. If you have an ISBN for your print version of your book, DO NOT list it as the ISBN for your ebook. Ebooks require different ISBNs, tied to each format you’re distributing via retailers.


ISBNs – ISBNs are digital identifiers that help retailers and distributors keep track of your books. Your ebook ISBN must be different than your print ISBN. Smashwords provides free ISBNs, or you’re welcome to purchase your own ISBNs from Bowker or your country’s authorized ISBN registrar. To learn more, or to assign ISBNs to your books, visit the ISBN Manager. Smashwords retail partners Kobo and Apple require ISBNs. Other retail partners may assign other numeric identifiers to your book if you don’t supply one.

Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) is the ebook version offered through Amazon and requires no ISBN. You can assign one if you’d like, but it’s not required.

If you publish for multiple formats through Smashwords Premium Catalog then you do not need to do a separate Barnes & Noble Nook book format.

B&N Nook Press does not require an ISBN when you publish directly through them. They will assign their own BN ID#.

That was a lot of information to take in! Here’s a brief overview of what we’ve covered:

1. Only doing EBOOK formatting, you don’t need to buy ISBNs depending on what platform(s) you choose.

2. If you plan on publishing paperback, hardback and ebook formats, buy a set of ten ISBNs for $295 from Bowker to save yourself headache and money!

Thanks for sticking with me through all that info! If you have more questions I will be happy to do my best at answering them.

Have a great day!

To connect with me outside the blog, I’m on Twitter: @RachaelRitchey and Facebook: WritingRaci

You can also find me on Google+, LinkedIn, BlogLovin’, Scribophile, & Goodreads

So you can see how I did it, find my book, The Beauty Thief at these distributors:

13 thoughts on “Buying ISBNs & the Best Way to Do It”

  1. Authors in Canada can get ISBNs for free from Library and Archives Canada (our national library). There is info on their website. I used ISBNs from this source for my 4 ebooks published through Smashwords and my print book published through Createspace. This would be the “supply your own ISBN” option.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. When publishing eBooks, I only use the ASIN provided by KDP. I only publish via Amazon (safe for one eBook available on Smashwords). For my future print versions via Createspace, I obtained my own ISBN. I live in France and we can obtain them for free via our national agency. The good thing is that as long as you have an address in France (and obviously live there), you can publish in any language you want, which is very good since I write at 90% in English.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Thank you for this useful article. I initially published my book, “Dalliance; A Collection of Poetry and Prose” as an ebook in the Amazon Kindle store which does not (as you point out) require an ISBN. Earlier this month I published a print edition of “Dalliance” using Berforts Information Press. I didn’t buy an ISBN and have not experienced any problems due to not having done so. My local independent book store has agreed to stock “Dalliance” and raised no objection to the work having no ISBN assigned. Maybe I have been fortunate as other book stores do, I understand insist on ISBNs before they will stock a book. Kevin

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Very helpful article!
    I just found out that Bowker raised their prices. It now costs $295 for 10 ISBNs. What reason do they have to raise prices? Ugh, I’m sad about it. I wish I had bought them earlier when they were less, oh well.

    Liked by 2 people

Please leave a comment, question, or idea! I'd love to chat!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.