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WritersServices Self-publishing

International Standard Book Numbers

An ISBN is a product number, used by publishers, booksellers and libraries for ordering, listing and stock control. The ISBN provides the key to access a book in almost all bibliographic databases. It is therefore an important marketing tool.

If you wish to sell your book through major bookselling chains or Internet booksellers, they will require it to have an ISBN to assist their internal processing and ordering systems.  You will therefore need to make sure that it has an ISBN; fortunately this is part of the service that WritersServices Self-publishing provides.

You don't need an ISBN if you are publishing your book privately as it will not be put on sale.

The 10 digits are always divided into 4 parts of varying length which can be separated by spaces or hyphens. One book can have several ISBNs if it is published in different languages, by different publishers, or in different formats. So the paperback and hardback version of the same book will have different ISBNs, as they are different editions.

The 13 digit barcode has the prefix 978 (979 to follow) and so the last digit which is there as a check digit, will also change.

'Bookland' identifier

978 (then 979)

Group Identifier

Identifies a nationality or language group of publishers.

Publisher Prefix

Identifies a specific publisher or imprint

Title Number

Identifies the edition or format (paperbacks and hardbacks have separate numbers).


ISBN example

This example has the 10 bit at the top and 13 bit at the bottom. Note that the check digit is 6 in the former case and 8 for the latter

The final digit is used to check that the number has probably been copied or scanned correctly.


The ISBN should appear on the reverse of the title page and on the outside back cover of the book. If the book has a dust jacket, the ISBN should also appear on the back of it. For an audio tape or CD the ISBN should appear on the packaging and/or inlay card. If the publication is folded or rolled, such as a map, the number should be visible when folded. The ISBN normally appears in numeric and bar code format for point-of-sale scanners.

You cannot request an ISBN for calendars and diaries, entertainment videos or CDs, computer games or software plus their manuals. There is a tacit acceptance that ISBNs can be added as an idetifier to ebooks but each format must have its own ISBN.

You can't normally have an ISBN for an educational course book or a title designed for limited distribution. However, these are arbitrary rules and you can assign ISBN codes given to you to almost anything but you will have trouble when you try to enter the data.

Don't confuse your ISBN with an ISSN or International Standard Serial Number. This is the number for newspapers and magazines which is administered by the British Library.

Check the Links for some national and international ISBN agents.

The Standard Book Numbering Agency Ltd is the ISBN Agency for the UK and Republic of Ireland. UK ISBN agency US ISBN agency

WritersServices Self Publishing will provide the ISBN for your book as part of the service.


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