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ISBN Numbers and Barcodes for Books

ISBN Numbers

One of the parts of book publishing that seems to confound new authors is the use of International Standard Book Numbers, short: ISBN. Are they necessary? Are they beneficial? Are the free numbers legit? These are the most common questions we receive from authors.

So let’s cut to the chase and clear up some confusion: There are NO free ISBN numbers in the US. If a company offers them for free, then the price is worked into a package deal.

Unlike in Canada for instance where ISBN numbers are indeed free, in the US the company Bowker exclusively distributes the numbers. They sell them for $125 each. If you buy in bulk, the price goes down, allowing publishers like us who buy multiple numbers at a time to pass on the savings.


Unique Identifiers

The concept of a unique identifier for each version of a published book was invented as stock-keeping identifier in the United Kingdom in the 1970s. In the pre-internet age, the concept allowed bookstore to easily identify a particular book and soon became international standard. Here are the benefits of ISBN numbers:

  • Easy and worldwide detection of a specific book / edition
  • Easy inventory tracking for retailers
  • Easy and more accurate sales reporting
  • Free inclusion in Books in Print, the world’s largest catalog of books and free online listing at the online Books in Print bibliographic database

To sum it up: While titles are not exclusive or protected by copyright and it’s not unusual for several books to have a similar title, ISBN numbers are unique. If you want to publish your book in the iBookstore, an ISBN number is required. Otherwise an ISBN number is not necessary. But that doesn’t mean it’s not beneficial to provide your book with one, as ISBN numbers are the global standard for identifying titles. And with the rise in the number of books thanks to the eBook revolution, having a unique number is more important today than it ever was since it allows you to identify your book and maximize the sales potential.

And just in case you were wondering, having our identifier on your book doesn’t affect the ownership or copyright on your work; you still have complete control over your content. We are simply listed as your publisher.