A Guide To Understanding ISBN And How To Acquire An ISBN For A Book

A guide to understanding ISBN and how to acquire an ISBN for a book

The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a 13-digit number that is required to uniquely identify a book. You must have noticed the ISBN, on the back cover of a book, next to the barcode. On some books, the ISBN can be found on the page featuring the copyright and publisher information. Acquiring an ISBN for your book is necessary as it aids your customers to identify the exact book they wish to purchase. It distinguishes your book and enables libraries, bookstores, online retailers like Amazon.com, distributors, and wholesalers to track the sales and purchases of your book. 

ISBN is the standard ID number used to identify the registrant as well as the specific title, edition, and format. Each book when published in a different product form (e.g. paperback, eBook, and hardback) should be identified with a different ISBN which requires a separate ISBN registration process. However, acquiring an ISBN is not legally necessary. It is a product number that does not give your original piece of content legal or copyright protection. Periodicals, journals, record books, websites, and non-text-based publications do not qualify for ISBNs.

Parts in an ISBN

The ISBN is separated into different parts by hyphens or spaces to make the different sections of an ISBN easier to understand. An ISBN has four parts, which are as follows – Group or Country Identifier, Publisher Identifier, Title Identifier, and the Check Digit.


-Group Identifier

The Group or country identifier refers to the group of publishers according to the country, geographical area, or language area of the book. 

-Publisher Identifier 

The Publisher identifier refers to the imprint issued that identifies the publisher within a group.

-Title Identifier

The Title identifier refers to the specific publication by that registrant which is the title of the book. 

-Check Digit

The check digit is the last number of the ISBN which validates the ISBN.

The X in an ISBN

Check digits go from 0 to 10. You may have noticed some ISBNs end in an “X”. The check digit may have an upper-case X. The X in an ISBN is used in lieu of the check digit 10. It is a representation of the number 10 in the Roman numerical format. The X only appears in 10-digit ISBNs. 

Selecting the correct quantity of ISBNs

ISBNs are sold in blocks of 10, 100, and 1000; with a minimum of 10 ISBNs in a block. When you purchase an ISBN, select a block that will last you for a substantial amount of years. Estimate the number of publications you intend to publish in the next few years and select the block accordingly. 

Acquiring an ISBN

You are eligible for an ISBN at the direct request of publishers and e-book publishers. ISBNs are issued to publishers, who then assign them to individual books. If you choose this route, the ISBN will be registered in the name of the publisher. For an ISBN registration agency, the group, company or individual who carries out the production of a publication is considered as a publisher. If you wish to have an ISBN registered in your name, you could apply for the same with Raja Rammohun Roy National Agency, which is the authorised agency to assign ISBNs in India.

If you are looking to acquire an ISBN when publishing a book in India, you must first register on the Raja Rammohun Roy National Agency website. After registration, you can further apply for an ISBN. 

So, how much will it cost and how long will it take you to get an ISBN? There is no cost for registering an ISBN in India. The process of registration is quite simple once you finalise the content of the book including the total page number, book cover design, format of the book and retail price of the book. The standard service time is at least two working days.

Registering a new ISBN

If you make revisions in the content of your book, then you need a new ISBN. The reverse of the title page should mention that the book is a revised edition. If you publish your book in multiple languages, each different language edition of your book needs its own ISBN. You also need a new ISBN if you change the title of your book, without changing the content, and if you change your publisher. If you change the title of your book, it will no longer be easily searchable with the original number. If you take back the rights to a book and self-publish, you must get a new ISBN. Also, if you create a set of two different individual books, the set requires a new ISBN. 

Keeping the same ISBN

If you change the price of your book or reprint the book without making changes to the content, it does not require a new ISBN.

ISBN Barcodes for Books

A barcode is a graphical representation of your book’s ISBN and pricing information. You do not need to buy a unique barcode; your ISBN can be easily transformed into a barcode for your book. Once the barcode is generated the price cannot be changed.

Now that you have understood the aspects of an ISBN, assign an ISBN for your book to be recognized and ensure your book is available to a larger audience, internationally.

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