The International Standard Book Number. The unique 13-digit number used around the world to identify books. These 13 digits usually go hand in hand with ONE major question, "Do I need one to sell my book?" The truth is that there ARE ways to sell your book without one. So let's look at what you can do with, and without, an ISBN.

How can I sell my book without an ISBN?

Without an ISBN, you can sell your eBook with 5 major retailers. You can do this by uploading directly to Kindle, iBook, Nook, Kobo, and Google Play. This route might be for you if you're just starting out, don't have the money to invest in ISBNs right now, or don't want to spend the money right away, but want to get your book out there.

Will selling my book without an ISBN be fruitful?

There are a number of different reports you can check out to decide whether or not you feel it's going to be worthwhile to sell your book without an ISBN. Since these reports change rather frequently, I will just list a few quick examples.

  • At one time, 20% of Amazon's Top-10 selling books did not have ISBNs.
  • The Author Earnings Report recently stated that 30% of eBooks being purchased in the U.S. did not have ISBN's.
  • At one time 16% of Amazon's Top-100 selling books did not have ISBNs.

Updated reports and lists are always being posted if you're trying to feel out the success rate of books without ISBNs.

What if I decide to purchase an ISBN?

For starters, you're going to need more than one. ISBNs identify each book and each edition of the same book. If you plan on having a hard cover, a soft cover, and an eBook, each of those will need their own ISBN. If you write the book in another language, it will need another ISBN. If you want to put your book into audio book form, that will also need an ISBN.

The good news is that you don't have to buy them one by one. ISBNs come in packages. You can purchase 1, 10, 100, or 1,000 from Bowker ( They are the only company authorized to administer ISBNs in the U.S. The prices are as follows: 1=$125, 10=$295, 100=$575, 1000=$1000

If that sounds a little pricey, you CAN obtain a free or discounted ISBN, but the free one will not allow you to choose your own imprint.

Where can I obtain free or discounted ISBNs?

Two of your best options for free or discounted ISBNs are CreateSpace ( and Ingram Spark ( for print editions. Let’s start with IngramSpark. They have teamed up with Bowker to offer ISBNs at a discounted rate. All that is required to get this discount is that you become a member with IngramSpark. With the discounted rate, you can still have your own publishing imprint.

CreateSpace offers an entirely free ISBN option. The free ISBN will not allow you to choose your own publishing imprint, however. The imprint will be CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. CreateSpace does offer other affordable options when it comes to ISBNs. You can choose a Custom ISBN for $10 that will let you choose your book’s imprint of record, or a Custom Universal ISBN for $99 that will let you use the ISBN with any publisher and choose your book’s imprint of record.

And like CreateSpace and Ingram Spark, you can obtain a free ISBN for your eBook through services like Draft2Digital ( And again, this does not allow for your choice of imprint.

What information is tracked or provided by an ISBN?

Each ISBN has 4 parts that provide information.

  • Group or country identifier -Identifies a national or geographical grouping of publishers.
  • Publisher identifier -Identifies a particular publisher within a group.
  • Title identifier -Identifies a particular title or edition of title.
  • Check digit -This is the single digit at the end of each ISBN. It validates the ISBN. Check digit X is used in lieu of 10, X being the Roman numeral for 10. The ISBNs are also used by booksellers, libraries, wholesalers, and distributors, and they track revenue, sales, and profit as well.

Is my ISBN the same thing as a barcode?

While barcodes do include a representation of your ISBN, as well as price, they are not the same thing. You will need to obtain both a barcode and an ISBN for your book. You can buy your barcode from Bowker, of course, or you can get one for free. There are a number of different ways to obtain a free barcode. You can work with a professional cover designer who will work with you to set up your cover for a free barcode. You can check out some sites that offer free barcode options, such as,, and You can also get a barcode added at no cost through CreateSpace.

Once I get an ISBN, is my book automatically copyrighted?

ISBN's are issued by a completely different agency than copyrights. While Bowker issues the ISBN's here in the U.S., the Library of Congress issues copyrights (

Can I re-use or sell my ISBN?

Once an ISBN has been assigned, it can never be re-used or sold.

If I revise my book, do I need an new ISBN?

Small revisions, such as typographical changes or a new cover, are considered a reprint and do not require a new ISBN. Major revisions, such as adding or excluding large amounts of content from the book, are considered a new edition of a book and will need a new ISBN.

Hopefully this sends you in the right direction, whether it’s buying a block of ISBNs, or venturing out into the world without one to get your story in the hands of your readers.

Stay tuned for next week’s blog article. We will be going over the pros and cons for publishing with and without an ISBN for your book. If you have questions you would like to see covered in the coming post, please feel free to comment your questions below. I will try to include them in next weeks article!

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