What is an International Standard Book Number (ISBN)? How does it work? Do authors need one? We have all seen the small barcode that sits on the back cover of every book. It is a unique 13-digit number assigned to every format of each book


If you’re an author, you’ll need get a separate ISBN for every format of the same book. For instance, if you’re publishing an ebook, audiobook, paperback and hardcover — you’ll need four ISBNs

In the US, they can be purchased from Bowker. Each country has its own process for acquiring an ISBN. In the UK, the ISBN provider is Nielsen. Do your research to make sure that you know the details about how to acquire an ISBN in your country. 

How Does an ISBN Work?

Simply put, the ISBN functions as a passport number for a novel. It archives and tracks every book down to a particular edition, format and even language. 

Libraries, bookstores, wholesalers and distributors use ISBNs for ordering, distribution, fulfilment, and payment purposes. ISBNs are also used by the publishing industry to track sales and look up metadata. Scanning a book’s ISBN is no different to scanning a barcode of an item at a supermarket. It helps to manage a site’s inventory.

The Publication Journey

If you intend on selling your book, it needs to have an ISBN. 

If you’re going down the traditional publishing route, the publisher will apply for the ISBN on behalf of the author. If you are planning to self-publish, you will need to familiarize yourself with the procedure to apply for and procure the number in your country. 

If you’re publishing via Amazon’s KDP, Amazon will also assign an ASIN, which is the Amazon Standard Identification Number

Your Book’s Identity

While the ISBN does provide an identity to your book, it in no way acts as a legal or copyright protection feature. 

Giving your book an identity is as important as forming its essence. While the masses may know it for the words on those pages, the publishing world will know and acquire it through its ISBN number.

The ISBN is the book’s passport number in the publishing world. 


cb857998-2835-4c43-ab5b-38f3979d7a33-1About the Author

Dipa Sanatani is the author of The Little Light and the Founder of Mith Books. She works in a top secret day job. 


About the Co-AuthorUma-Photo

Uma Anilkumar is a writer and poet. She dreams of publishing her own work in the future.


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