Let’s dwell on the question of what the ISBN code is and what function it performs. Understanding ISBN specifics is especially relevant for those who are thinking about creating a book. Without a doubt, you have noticed this code more than once but perhaps didnโ€™t think about what it is for.

ISBN: What Is It and Why a Book Needs It?

ISBN which stands for an International Standard Book Number is a kind of passport for a book, and the code reflects the edition. This unique number essentially resembles the barcode of any product and this code allows identifying a book only by this number. As soon as a book has an ISBN code, it gets into the global database, which means that it can be sold anywhere.

Each such code is unique and never repeats. For instance, if the same book will be published in electronic, softcover, and hardcover versions, then each of them will have different codes.

What Are the Main Purposes of Such Code?

  • This index allows publishers and trade organizations to track the movement of book funds, as well as analyze consumer sales.
  • The code is used for stock inventory, cataloging and acquisition processes, in interlibrary exchange, and also for searching various databases.
  • This kind of book numbering makes bookselling efficient. But in addition to this function, ISBN helps both authors and publishers in protecting their copyright.

What Does It Mean When One Book Has Several Codes?

Several ISBN codes in one book are quite normal. One book can have several codes in the following cases:

  • The book is one of the volumes of the multivolume edition. In this case, one code is relevant to this book, and the next is related to the multivolume.
  • Several codes may be used when the same book is published by several publishers. The merchant or author may choose the index of their choice.

What Do the Numbers Mean and Why There Are So Many of Them?

Take any book you have and check what each digit of this 13-digit code means.


The first three digits are usually 978 or 979. These digits are provided by the organization that creates the barcodes. In fact, the first three digits are an identifier of the book as a product.


The next three digits identify the country, region, or language group to which this book belongs.


The next three digits identify the publisher.


The subsequent three digits display the specific heading to which the current ISBN belongs.

Check Digit

The last digit is the form of control. It helps publishers or sellers check the ISBN. This figure does not provide any meaningful information to the author but is an important figure for sellers.

Is It Vital to Have an ISBN Code?

There is no rule that forbids publishing a book without this code. But in this case, these books may be suitable for personal use only since the store will not accept books without this code for sale. The same applies to libraries that require each book to have a code for easy identification.

However, even if you havenโ€™t an ISBN code, you still can sell such a book yourself on your website or with the help of other sites that do not impose strict requirements for authors regarding this code. But if you plan to monetize your book and expand its reach, you will have to get this code to get rid of commercial barriers.

How to Get ISBN Code?

Before you start working on obtaining such a code, you should dwell on the following questions:

  • How many book formats do you plan to publish (electronic, printed, the cover form). For each book form, new ISBN codes are required. That is, if you want an electronic format and a paperback book, then you will need to obtain an ISBN for every form of the book.
  • The issue of copyright protection. The ISBN code is not complete protection of your copyright. You can legitimize your copyrights with the help of the Library of Congress.

Next, you have to choose a company that will help you with obtaining the ISBN. Today there are sites that offer you to get such a code for free, but it is important to understand that in this case their company will be displayed in your ISBN code, and there can be some potentially problem-causing nuances if you use a free ISBN.

Is there an official company that provides ISBN codes?

Bowker is the only company in the United States authorized to create and sell this code. There you can get from 1 to 1000 ISBN codes. By the way, you can get the ISBN code even before your book is completely ready. And the presence of this code will allow you to sell your creation in stores, Amazon and collaborate with libraries.

What Should Future Authors Keep In Mind About ISBN?

What else do you have to understand if you want to create a book and get the ISBN code? Here are a few points.

Can the code be reused?

No, ISBN is not reusable. Each code is unique for each book.

How much does it cost to get the ISBN code?

The cost will depend on how many ISBN codes you need. There is a nuance here, if you need only three codes then you will have to buy a package of 10, the cost of which is $250. The cost of one code is $125.

What to do with the code when editing a book?

If the text of the book has not been changed, and only edits have been made, then you can leave the old code. But in the case when you released a new edition of the book or did something that changed the meaning or even a few sentences, you will need a new code.

What to do with code when changing the cover of a book?

There is no need to buy a new code. You can continue to use the same code.


Thus, having an ISBN for your new book is essential, and itโ€™s quite easy to get it. So, make sure to follow this practice if you want your book to be freely sold online and offline, and also to strengthen your reputation as an author.

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