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What Is the Purpose of an ISBN?

Updated: Apr 13, 2022

By Michael Heath /

What Is the Purpose of an ISBN

ISBN is the abbreviation for International Standard Book Number. It is a unique number composed of 13 digits (10 digits published prior to Jan. 1, 2007) and holds the purpose of identifying the publisher.

In the case of a self-published book, the author is the publisher and will need to use his/her name as the publisher or come up with a publishing name; e.g. Acme Publishing. I am not a fan of the author using a first or last name as the publisher since is sings out “this book is self-published.” Coming up with a name like Granite Rock Publishers sounds more legitimate. ISBNs are nation specific. Canada, Barbados and all other countries have their own ISBN systems. Authors with U.S. addresses should contact to set up an account and purchase ISBNs.

There is no law stating that a book must have an ISBN, and there certainly is no ISBN police. In fact, there are times when using an ISBN is not necessary. A perfect example would be a family history book where there is no intention of making it available beyond relatives. Here, no ISBN purchase is needed. But if you plan to sell your self-published book through any brick & mortar or online store, you will need one since all retailers use the digits as a cataloging number. If a traditional publisher picks up your work, they will secure an ISBN.

When the book is published, go back to your Bowker account and add in some information that you did not have when you started: trim size, page count, paper type, binding, genre, category, etc. This bibliographic information will assist any reader or store clerk who looks up the ISBN. Providing such complete details looks professional and makes it easier for people to discover your book.

For more information on ISBNs visit:

If you need help with your ISBN and you plan to edit and print with SelfPublishingUS - Contact us!

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