6 FAQs about ISBNs

 6 FAQs about ISBNs




At the moment I’m working with a client helping him self-publish his 700-page manuscript.  This is a real hand-holding exercise because, as he says, he is a dinosaur when it comes to doing anything online.

Part of the self-publishing process involves getting an ISBN. When he had to deal with the ISBN I realised that he didn’t understand anything about the ISBN so this prompted me to raise the issue here.

There are a number of questions newbie self-publishers ask relating to ISBNs because the ISBN is an essential part of the self-publishing process.

  1. What is an ISBN? 
  2. Why do we need ISBNs? 
  3. Where can we purchase them?
  4. What does it cost to purchase ISBNs?
  5. How do we set them up?
  6. Can you get an ISBN for free?

1. What is an ISBN?


ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. The ISBN is a unique set of 10- or 13-digit identification numbers which identify a book. 

The 13 digit ISBN is for print books and the 10 digit ISBN is for eBooks.

ISBNs assist in helping to get a book discovered by publishers, booksellers, universities, wholesalers, libraries, distributors and readers.

2. Why do we need an ISBN?


An ISBN helps these organisations and individuals to easily find a book.

The ISBN identifies a book and specifies its format, edition, publisher and a lot else besides. It helps to identify the:

  • title
  • author
  • type of book  
  • physical properties of that particular book
  • the geographical location of the publisher


There are a number of reasons to purchase an ISBN for your book. It

  • helps your book to be found
  • increases the likelihood that if it is found it will be purchased
  • links to essential information about your book
  • enables more efficient marketing and distribution of the book
  • most retailers require ISBNs
  • helps you collect and analyze book sales data
  • guarantees the book’s data will be held in the Books In Print database

When searching for data about a title Books In Print is the place that publishers, retailers and libraries go to.

The ISBN is an essential part of the self-publishing process.

3. Where to buy your own ISBN?


If you supply your own ISBN you will need to buy one through Thorpe-Bowker. The Thorpe-Bowker website is:



For publishers physically located in Australia, Thorpe-Bowker is the official ISBN Agency that you go to for purchasing an ISBN.

It is advisable not to purchase an ISBN from any other agency because the ISBN may not be accurate which can have adverse implications for doing business in the publishing industry supply chain.


If you are situated outside the Australian jurisdiction go to the International ISBN Agency.

4. What does it cost to purchase ISBNs?


Pack of 10  is AU $88.00

There is a new publisher setup fee of AU $55

Total AU $143  

New self-publishers wonder why they should purchase a pack of ISBNs when they are only publishing one book?

When you purchase an ISBN it is recommended that they buy a pack of ISBNs. 

Different formats of a book, for example, a paperback and an eBook, each need their own ISBN.

If you then decide to publish the book in a different language, you’ll need a new ISBN for that version as well. You need one ISBN for each edition and format of your book.

Any variation of a book requires the use of a unique ISBN to identify it properly.

You need to think about


  • the number of books you are planning to publish
  • the number of formats that each book will be created in
  • any revised editions of these books that could be published in the future

So as a publisher it is advisable to acquire several ISBNs. It is, also, more cost-effective if you can buy them in packs of 10 or more.

5. How to set up your ISBN?


As I said earlier an ISBN allows libraries, publishers, and book dealers to locate and identify specific books. If you want to get your book into a bookstore, a library, or almost any book distribution channel you will need an ISBN number.

Here are the steps involved in setting up your ISBN.

  1. https://www.myidentifiers.com.au
  2. Open an account  
  3. Purchase the ISBNs
  4. ISBNs are added to your name as soon as you purchase 
  5. Read and understand the instructions Title Assignment Instructions
  6. Before you enter all the details make sure you know:
  •   Title 
  •   Selling price 
  •   Subject matter of the publication 
  •   Format 
  •   Contributors (i.e., author)
  1. You will be recognised as the publisher of all books associated with those ISBNs. 
  2. If there are fields where you can’t supply the information leave these spaces blank.


There you have it. You have the steps you need to take to purchase your own ISBNs.

6. Can you get an ISBN for FREE?


But do you know that it is also possible to get your ISBN for FREE?

The implications for getting a free ISBN will be the theme of next week’s training video to be screened in the Fast Self-Publishing Online community.



Fast Self-Publishing Online


Marji Hill

Author & Coach


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