The Importance of ISBN Numbers

Acquire an ISBN number so you can sell your book in the trade.

To be able to sell your book to the trade – including Amazon, and all national and international bookshops – it must have an ISBN number. This is a 13-digit number, unique to each book which is printed above or below the barcode and inside the cover (usually on the copyright page). In actual fact the barcode is generated from the ISBN number. This unique number is used to

  • Correctly identify stock
  • Distinguish different editions and formats

This in turn enables the publishers/authors and the book trade to

  • Link a book to its bibliographic data
  • Track and manage stock levels
  • Electronically track worldwide sales

You may be able to persuade local shops to stock your book without an ISBN but generally speaking you will not be able to sell a book within the trade without one.

If you decide not to use a publisher you will need to obtain your own unique identifier. These can be bought in blocks of 10, 100 or 1000. The original source for all ISBNs in the UK is Nielsen Book who are the UK ISBN agency (among other things).

It is possible to obtain single ISBNs via other sources, although the implications for the control of book bibliographic data (key to marketing to the trade and online) plus the prices charged mean it is hard to recommend this option. Consider this: if you are not prepared to invest in the minimum size block (of 10 ISBNs) should you be self-publishing your book?

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