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How to obtain an ISBN for publishing your work

Obtaining an International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is an important step for authors looking to publish and distribute their work. ISBNs provide unique identification as a 13-digit numeric code for books and simplify the distribution throughout the global supply chain. Libraries, bookstores, online retailers, distributors, and wholesalers depend on the unique ISBN identifier to track purchases and sales, and it will be necessary to apply for an ISBN if you intend to sell to them.

On the other hand, an ISBN may or may not be required to sell ebooks. Retailers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Apple do not require it for ebooks. If you plan to sell your ebook through these retailers and are not looking to sell print copies, you can do without one.

The ISBN is intended for a monographic publication: text that stands on its own as a product, whether printed, audio or electronic. ISBNs are never assigned to music, performances or images, such as art prints or photographs. ISBNs are also not assigned to magazines, academic journals or other periodicals.

Here's a general guide on how new authors can obtain an ISBN:

  1. Research ISBN Agencies: Start by researching and identifying the ISBN agency that operates in your country or region. Each country typically has its own designated agency responsible for assigning ISBNs. These agencies are authorized by the International ISBN Agency. For instance, Bowker is the ONLY official source of ISBNs in the United States.

  2. Contact the ISBN Agency: Once you've identified the relevant agency, visit their website or contact them directly to obtain the necessary information and guidelines for acquiring an ISBN. The agency will provide specific instructions and requirements based on their procedures.

  3. Provide Required Information: The ISBN agency will require specific details about your book, such as title, author name, edition, format, and other relevant information. Be prepared to provide accurate and complete details about your publication.

  4. Payment: Depending on the agency, there may be a fee associated with obtaining an ISBN. Some agencies provide single ISBNs, while others offer packages for multiple ISBNs. Payment methods and fee structures may vary, so ensure you understand the costs involved.

  5. ISBN Assignment: After submitting the required information and payment, the agency will assign an ISBN to your book. The ISBN is a unique identifier that distinguishes your publication from others. The agency may provide you with the ISBN immediately or after a processing period.

  6. Assigning ISBNs to Different Formats: If you plan to publish your book in multiple formats (e.g., print, e-book), you may need separate ISBNs for each format. Clarify with the ISBN agency whether you require different ISBNs for various editions or formats of your publication.

  7. Apply ISBN to Your Book: Once you receive your ISBN, incorporate it into your book's metadata, usually on the copyright page. The ISBN should appear as a 13-digit number along with the barcode generated from the ISBN.

  8. Optional Barcode Generation: Some ISBN agencies provide barcode generation services associated with your ISBN. Barcodes facilitate efficient book sales and inventory management, but their usage varies depending on your publishing and distribution plans.

Remember, the process of obtaining an ISBN may differ slightly between countries or regions, so it's important to consult the specific ISBN agency that governs your area. They can provide accurate and up-to-date information regarding the requirements, fees, and procedures for obtaining an ISBN.

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