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ISBN Information – Frequently Asked Questions

Posted on: March 12th, 2014 by Publisher Services



What is an ISBN and how is it used?

ISBN stands for “International Standard Book Number”. It is a unique identifier for books, eBooks, tapes, and DVD’s. The ISBN numbering system is used worldwide and publishers around the globe identify their work in this standardized format. Each title or edition must be identified by a unique ISBN.  In essence, the ISBN number is similar to a license plate which guarantees that each book type product is identified uniquely. The ISBN information is associated to titles (and metadata) in global databases.


Who assigns an ISBN?

The International ISBN Agency in the UK coordinates all ISBN allotments while individual group agencies assign ISBNs for each country. Every country has an organization which administers these numbers and the U.S. ISBN Agency is run by Bowker. Bar Code Graphics, Inc. has an agreement with the US ISBN Agency and our Publisher Services division is able to act as an agent for small publishers and facilitate single ISBN assignments with a publisher’s name listed as the registrant (Personalized Publisher Program). Today, Publisher Services is now the largest authorized agent and provides the majority of ISBN assignment to self-publishers.


Do I have to have an ISBN?

From the point of view of the international ISBN system there is no legal requirement to have an ISBN and it conveys no legal or copyright protection. However, both brick/mortar and online book sellers in the US require ISBN identification.


What happens if I decided to publish under a new publisher and ISBN?

Publications which are reprinted should carry the new listed publisher’s ISBN, and ISBN of the previous edition on the verso of the title page. Example: ISBN 0-999-00123-1 (previously ISBN 1-59972-091-X)


What is the Bookland EAN barcode?

Retailers and distributors require book products to carry a barcode which encodes the ISBN and pricing information. The Bookland EAN barcode is a standardized format which is accepted by trading partners worldwide. Our experience with barcodes enables us to provide our customers with symbols which comply with the GS1 guidelines and offer assistance with providing the appropriate format. Click here for an example. Please note, a digital barcode is not needed on ebooks.

If you require only a Bookland EAN symbol, we encourage you to purchase ISBN Bookland barcode files from for only $10 each.


Can I reuse my ISBN?

Once an ISBN has been assigned to a title it can never be reused.


Can I use the same ISBN for both the physical book and ebook of the same title?

Each format of a book requires its own unique ISBN assignment. Consequently, the ISBN on the printed book should not be used for the ebook. There is much debate on identifying different ebook formats (i.e. .epub and .mobi).  The industry guidelines indicate each format type should carry its own ISBN. However, many publishers use a single ISBN to identify their ebooks since it is unlikely that the same marketplace will provide both versions.


I plan on selling my books through Createspace, which program should I choose?

Createspace is a Print-On-Demand (POD) service from Amazon. Their system requires users to either have an ISBN assigned in their company’s name or use a Createspace-assigned ISBN.  We have worked out an arrangement with Createspace to assist their customers. Clients who purchase our Personalized Publisher Program can utilize their ISBN number on both the books which they sell directly as well as those which are sold via the Createspace/Amazon marketplaces. Clients who have already purchased an ISBN through the Independent Publisher Program need to have Createspace assign a Createspace assigned ISBN for those publications to be offered on their service.

Note: ISBNs assigned from Createspace cannot be used to sell in any other marketplace, while the ISBNs assigned from our Personalized Publisher Program can be used across marketplaces. Since POD services, such as Createspace, are geared for printing individual books as they are sold, it is not economically feasible to use them to print large quantities.


If I make a change to my book, do I need to assign a new ISBN?

A new ISBN is not required for minor changes such as revising typographical errors and minor edits.  A change in prices does not warrant a new ISBN but the Bookland EAN barcode on the back cover might need replacing if the price is encoded within the barcode.


Is my book copyright protected if I get an ISBN?

The ISBN is only an identifier does not imply copyright protection. However, in the US work is considered copyright protected as soon as it is created. Filing with the Copyright Office is optional but is helpful in situations which might require litigation.