How to Not Get Overwhelmed: ISBNs

Sorry there’s been such a delay in getting on to the next chunk of this indie publishing break down! Life has been full. But you might be struggling with this whole ISBN business. I want to help you as much as I can. Here in the US, we have to buy our ISBNs (International Standard Book Numbers). In some countries you do not, like Canada. It’s currently December, so I don’t recommend moving there right now. . . .

take a walk (6)

If you’ve missed any of the previous articles in the How to Not Get Overwhelmed with Indie Publishing series, here is the list of what we have been and are covering:


ISBNs have been around for quite a while. In fact, before the system went international it was started by W. H. Smith, at the time the largest book retailer in Great Britain, implementing the SBN (Stardard Booking Numbering) system back in 1967. It was such a useful categorization system that more than 150 countries participate in the  ISBN system that followed.

Here in the US you can purchase a single ISBN or sets of them in various amounts through Bowker at

The price for

  • one ISBN is currently $125.00
  • but if you buy 10 it’s $295
  • or $575 for 100 ISBNs
  • or there are larger packages depending on your needs

You will need a separate ISBN for every format type of your book(s):

  • 1 for paperback
  • 1 for harbound
  • 1 for audio book
  • 1 for ebook (not usually required as most digital distributors supply their own unique coding numbers like Kindle Direct Publishing and Smashwords).
  • If once you’ve published you want to change the trim size or number of pages in the book, you will then need another new ISBN for each format.

Here’s what Bowker says about ISBNs:

  • ISBNs are the global standard for identifying titles
  • Each version of a book, print or digital, requires its own ISBN. Be sure to purchase enough for your needs
  • Most retailers require ISBNs to track book inventory
  • Buying an ISBN improves the chances your book will be found

If you live in a jurisdiction for ISBNs outside the US, I encourage you to visit the International ISBN Agency to find out about getting ISBNs where you live.


Another aspect to consider is barcodes associated with your ISBN. From personal experience I have not bought the barcodes through Bowker as both Createspace and IngramSpark automatically generate the barcodes for you, thereby avoiding an mishaps. But when I did look into publishing through Barnes & Noble’s print-on-demand service they did not provide the barcode, so that is a service you would need to have one for. For more info on barcodes visit Bowker’s FAQ.

Just to wrap it all up, ISBNs are fairly simple and straightforward, and by this point in your publishing journey you are already good at setting up new accounts and creating crazy passowords, which you will want to do at (Bowker), too. This step can be accomplished anywhere along your journey. I’d say the sooner the better so you’re prepared, but you can get the ISBN last and still be good. It is really only a necessity when it’s time to publish in print and audio (of course, audio might be handled like ebooks, but I’ve not taken that plunge yet, so I don’t know for sure!).

Congrats on making it this far into your publishing adventure. Don’t lose heart. I know it can be overwhelming, but if you take it step-by-step, in small, manageable chunks, I know you  will be successful!

If you have a question or need a little help, just ask and I’ll do what I can. 🙂


31 responses to “How to Not Get Overwhelmed: ISBNs”

  1. Reblogged this on Writer's Treasure Chest and commented:
    Rachael Ritchey has published a phenomenal post about ISBN’s for us new authors. Thank you very much Rachael!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great article Rachael- started to work through it from the beginning. Indebted to you..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Paul! 🙂 I hope you find lots of helpful tidbits along the way. 🙂 I hope you’re having a good week and finding lots to brighten your days. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Rachael – having a great week thanks. Are you guys geared up for the holiday period? How’s all your work been going at your end? Still busy? Me I’m looking forward to getting a lot of reading done and stockpiling some blog posts – although I also want to give the Blog battle a go just to see if I can do it.
        Whatever you’re doing over the holidays. Wishing you and your s the best of the season’s greetings…. and just remember now we’ve hit the solstice, spring’s just round the corner…. No scratch that.. that’s not sounding like an optimist just a lunatic!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. LOL I like to think we’re on the right side of winter now that winter has begun. Um…yeah, that might sound just as crazy. haha 🙂 Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Happy Writing and Reading Season. Enjoy a blanket, a cup of tea, and a sweet biscuit with your books and blogs. Staying too busy, but not in a bad way. 🙂 Things are going well, and we’re gearing up for last minute holiday madness with SOOO much to be thankful for. Thanks for asking!

          Liked by 1 person

          1. XOXOXO

            Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on When Angels Fly and commented:
    A good read…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for sharing! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for breaking down what could be an overwhelming task, I have yet to purchase any ISBN’s but that is simply because of financial reasons and the thought of having to use a different ISBN to change up things in a book is just mind blowingly wasteful to me. It’s the same book, just a few changes or something like that. At least with a free ISBN you can change it up and still have it be the same book and same number on it. Great set of articles!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You really only need a separate ISBN for each version, be it paperback or hardbound, etc because the # is designed to help distributors and retailers track what they are selling and buying. If you only make slight changes to the text within the book, without changing the actual content to mean something completely different then you can keep the same ISBN w/o needing a new one. From my research I’ve found that the standard “revision” as opposed to “new edition” amount is about 10% changes to the book. Some people have said as much as 40% changes, but I believe that is more related to non-fiction than fiction, say if you’ve learned new information. So, if you purchase your own ISBNs you get to be your own imprint. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, Charles! 😀


      1. Thank YOU for posting Rachael ❤

        Liked by 1 person

        1. 🙂 I’m sure it’s barely scratching the surface. Thank you!

          Liked by 1 person

            1. You’re always kind. 🙂

              Liked by 1 person

  5. Nice article! I bought a block of 10, since I didn’t think $25 each was a bad price. Now, If I had to pay $125… Great series, BTW.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I did as well, Joy. 🙂 That’s definitely better than the price for one, which I’m sure they did it that way on purpose. haha And thank you! I hope there’s lots of help and not a lot of head scratching. 🙂 If you have any questions or advice from your own experience, please share!

      Liked by 1 person

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