Self-Publishing: The ISBN Number

isbn_banner-640x240Some online POD (Print on Demand) platforms like Lulu, allows its self-published authors the option of not choosing to include an ISBN number. Other platforms also have this option available and as such I have seen books without an ISBN Number. I’m going to briefly explain why this is a bad idea. In our quest to produce books at the highest quality possible, it is not just the professional outcome of your book that demands this number, it is the profitable outcome as well. To start, what is an ISBN Number anyway?

If you’ve ever read a book in your life, you’ve seen an ISBN or International Standard Book Number. It’s the set of numbers on the bar code of the book, usually in the bottom right hand corner. There are bar codes that exist without this number, but if you are looking to expand your reach, you need an ISBN. Because not having one is almost like having a book that doesn’t really exist.


The ISBN was introduced in the 1960s as the Standard Book Number (SBN) jointly by J. Whitaker & Sons Ltd, the British National Bibliography and the Publishers Association who set up the Standard Book Numbering Agency (SBNA) for British publications. The SBN became the ISBN in the 1970s. The ISBN consists of a group of symbols which identify each book title as a unique product. The number consists of ten digits divided into four groups, usually separated by dashes or spaces, each group having a specific function.


The principal purpose of the ISBN is to make the identification of any book as certain as possible. It works almost like fingerprints: each individual person (even twins) has a different set of fingerprints. With these fingerprints, the information of a person can be accessed. The same can be said of a Social Security Number, everyone has one and it can identify a person by itself alone. Likewise, when a book has an ISBN Number, assuming it is quoted correctly, one can be almost sure that the correct book has been identified even with no other information.

Below are reasons to make sure your book has an ISBN number:

• The first reason you want to make sure your book has an ISBN is because ISBNs are the global standard for identifying titles. ISBNs are used world-wide as a unique identifier for books. They are used to simplify distribution and purchase of books throughout the global supply chain.

• Secondly, which is equally important, is that most retailers require ISBNs to track book inventory. Without an ISBN, you will not be found in most book stores, either online or down the street from your house. Buying an ISBN is your first step to ensuring that your book is not lost in the wilderness.

• And finally, buying an ISBN improves the chances your book will be found. Buying your ISBNs and registering your titles ensures information about your book will be stored in Books In Print database. This opens up a world of possibilities that your book is listed with many retailers, libraries, Bowker Books In Print, Bookwire, as well as online services like Google Books, Apple’s iBooks, Chegg and the New York Times.


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