What is an ISBN and why do you need one?


My copy edit should be back soon, but in the meantime, there’s plenty of getting ready to publish stuff I can be getting on with. Now that the cover has been decided, let’s talk numbers. If you’re publishing your book as an indie author, there are two that you’ll need:

  • An ISBN
  • A CiP

The ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is a standard 13 digit number that uniquely identifies books published internationally. It will usually appear on your copyright page at the front of the book.

Print books must have an ISBN, but there’s a reasonable amount of confusion after that- with a lot of contradictory advice online. Essentially, if you intend to sell your book it’s probably a good idea to get one. And when I say get one, you’ll need one for each format the book is being produced in:

  • Mobi for Kindle
  • Epub for Kobo and ibooks
  • Paperback (includes print on demand)
  • Hardback (if you’re going there)
  • Etc

ISBNs can be purchased singly, in blocks of 10 or in blocks of 100. I buy mine in blocks of 10 from Thorpe-Bowker. One ISBN will cost you $44, and 10 will cost you $88. Yep, you do the maths on that. If you’re only intending on publishing one book and listing it only on Amazon, you might purchase just the single ISBN, otherwise, you’re better off having them there to allocate when you’re ready. Speaking of which, if you buy a block you can allocate them at any time.

For each title I allocate an ISBN for:

  • Mobi for Kindle
  • Epub for Kobo and ibooks
  • Paperback (includes print on demand) …even though I haven’t yet published any of my books in paperback.

If you intend selling your book physically in bookstores, you’ll also need to buy a barcode– retailers need them for inventory management. Thorpe-Bowker sell these as well. Again, there’s contradictory information out there re when you need a barcode. On the off-chance that a major seller happens to read my fabulous offering and orders a trunkful for sale, I’ve purchased a barcode for Wish You Were Here that I’ll have Jacinda pop into the back cover for me.

Barcodes can be purchased in packs starting from $45 per barcode (it gets cheaper the more you buy) and are also available in ISBN/barcode combo packs. There are free barcode generator tools out there as well- google it- but I find it easier to manage all my numbers in one place.

Anyways, back to the ISBN…Once it’s been allocated, it can’t be re-used. This means that any new edition of the book will also need a new ISBN. Reprints or re-issue for things like typos or new covers aren’t generally considered as new editions- it’s more about changes to the text or material that are considered substantial enough to make it a new “book.”

Oh, and it’s your responsibility to make sure that you don’t double up on your allocations.

As for actually getting and allocating ISBNs? The process is super easy and takes about 20 minutes. I tend to complete this task once I have my cover nailed.

Check out Thorpe-Bowker for the FAQs.

Cataloguing in Publication (CIP)

For Australian publishers (including Indies), CiP is provides a catalogue record for publications before they are published. It’s operated by the National Library of Australia and is free. The CiP number should appear on your copyright page.

What you need to know about a CiP reference is that you don’t have to have one- or rather, there is no legal requirement to have one. It is, however, used by libraries and book-sellers to place orders and search for books. As such, it’s a nice to have. And, did I mention that it’s free?

Again, the actual process is quite simple, but you will need to have your ISBNs allocated- you need these in your application.

I apply for the CiP as soon as I have my ISBNs. It can take up to 10 days to process and you’ll need to have them before you have your files converted for publication.

What’s next? Now I need to hunker down and write my back cover blurb- possibly the hardest part of the entire process…yes, really.