Do You Need an ISBN and Barcode for Your Self-Published Book?


Well, yes if you want to be taken seriously as an author. It’s part of being a professional writer, and most booksellers won’t accept your book without one. It’s difficult to be considered a “real publisher” without an ISBN.

What is an ISBN?

An ISBN is an international standard book number. It identifies a book from a specific publisher, which in the case of self-publishing, is you or the publishing company you have formed. The printer is not considered a publisher, but is viewed as simply a manufacturer of books. An ISBN is not absolutely required, but most bookstores, libraries, and other industry suppliers require one. It is essential for wholesale and retail purposes.

As the owner of the ISBN, you are the publisher of record. Even if self-publishing companies offer you an ISBN, don’t take it. Get your own. Otherwise, they own the number, not you. Should you leave that self-publishing service, you will have to start all over again. You will lose any traction you established at Amazon, etc. And if your book made it into bookstores, it would have to be pulled and re-printed.

At present, you can buy one ISBN for $125, but you can get ten for $250. You will need a unique ISBN for each version of your book, such as e-book, paperback, hardcover, audio, and so forth. If you plan to publish more than one version and/or more than one book, you definitely want to purchase ISBN s in bulk. An ISBN can never be reused, but it never expires. It only takes about five business days to get the number (s) once you purchase them.

Each country has their own official registration agency which supplies ISBNs. In the United States, Bowker is the only supplier of ISBNs. To purchase numbers online, simply go to

The ISBN is composed of thirteen digits. The first two or three digits usually indicate the country of origin. The book industry produces many products, so it has the three digit “country” code of 978 or 979.

Bookland EAN Barcode

The barcode is the set of vertical lines that encodes the numerical information identifying the book. The ISBN is an identification number, while the barcode is essentially a price tag. A barcode means the book is scannable for inventory and purchase.

You must have an ISBN in order to get a barcode for your book. International barcodes are used to identify print books, audio books, and software. As each title and edition of a book has a different ISBN, you will also have a unique Bookland EAN barcode for each edition or format of your book.

Though there are several barcode systems in the U.S, you need to get a Bookland EAN barcode in order to sell your book in a bookstore. The ISBN never changes, but if you wish to change the price of your book, you would need to obtain a new barcode. The EAN includes a five-digit code for the price, beginning with a “5” for U.S. dollars. Thus, a barcode that says 52500 would have a price of $25.00.

It is possible to get an ISBN without a barcode and still get your book into bookstores because the ISBN can be entered manually. However, many bookstores will not accept the book without a barcode. Currently, it costs only $25.00 to get a barcode, so it would be silly not to get one. Besides, getting a barcode makes your book look more legitimate than a self-published book without one.

You can obtain a barcode from Bowkers at, and can be purchased at the same time that you purchase your ISBNs.

Universal Product Code (UPC)

A Bookland EAN barcode will work for bookstores but other places, such as grocery stores and drug stores, might require a UPC or Universal Product Code. For mass-marketed books, the UPC goes on the back cover and the Bookland EAN goes on the inside front cover. For non-book products that are sold in bookstores, a UPC would suffice. EAN scanners can usually read UPC, but not the other way around. As a self-publisher, it is unlikely that you will need to purchase a UPC.

International Standard Serial Number

International standard serial numbers, or ISSNs, are numbers assigned for magazines, periodicals, and other serials. These are assigned by the library of congress and do not require an ISBN.

Registering your ISBN

Once your book is ready for sale, you will need to register your title and ISBN with Bowker. Remember, the number is just that – a number – until you assign meaning and product information to it by registering it with specific information on your book. Registering is a vital step toward making sure your book is searchable to libraries and bookstores. Upon registering, your title will appear in Bowker books in print and Bowker syndetic solutions. Registration with Bowker makes it possible for your book to be discovered by online and brick-and-mortal retailers and libraries. To register, go to this link and fill out all the information. Among other things, you will need to list your book’s title, price, primary subject, format, and contributor (s). The contributor can be an individual or a company, but not both. You will need to upload your cover and then the entire manuscript. You must indicate the size of your book in decimals. This link will provide you with step-by-step instructions on how to register your book. I highly recommend you read the instructions and tips very carefully, as the information cannot be changed once it is entered!

So, to recap, you will need to purchase an ISBN for each edition and/or format of your book, a barcode for any product you wish to potentially sell in bookstores or online, and you must register your ISBN with Bowker.

Happy publishing!

– Linda Fausnet



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