Everything You Need To Know About ISBNs

October 14, 2021

What is an ISBN?

ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. It’s like a unique fingerprint for each format of your book, providing information about the country of origin, language, and publisher.

Do I Need An ISBN?

The short answer: yes!

Unless you’d like to purchase your own ISBN, it isn’t something you need to be worried about until you’re ready to publish your audiobook and fill in the metadata.

Each format of your book will have its own unique ISBN. If you have an ebook, audiobook, hardcover, and a paperback you’ll need four different ISBNs. You’ll also need an ISBN for digital library channels, and if your audiobook is available in multiple languages, you’ll need a unique ISBN for those formats as well!

Don’t Have An ISBN? Don’t worry! 

Author’s Republic will happily provide every audiobook project with FREE ISBNs, so that’s one less thing you need to worry about!

Wondering where you can purchase ISBNs? It varies from country to country. In Canada, ISBNs are free from the Canadian ISBN Agency. In the US, they are purchased through Bowker, and from Nielsen in the UK.

If you’d like to purchase your own, search [where to buy an ISBN in [your country].

The Anatomy of an ISBN

Each ISBN is 13 digits long and broken up into five parts. Surprisingly, it’s not just a randomly generated sequence of numbers. 

  1. EAN (European Article Number): Usually 978 or 979 (3 digits)
  2. Group Identifier: Specifies the country or language (1-5 digits)
  3. A Publisher Prefix: Identifies a particular publisher (up to 7 digits)
  4. A Title Identifier: The distinct title or edition (up to 6 digits)
  5. A Check Digit: A single digit at the end that validates the accuracy of the ISBN.

Random Facts About ISBNs

Here are some random facts about ISBNs that you may find mildly interesting or mind-numbingly boring! 

Random Fact #1: ISBNs only became 13 digits long on January 1st, 2007. Before that, they were only ten digits long.

Random Fact #2: An ISBN is only applicable to one format of one book. Never to be used anywhere else, ever again!

Random Fact #3: To organize books in their fancy new computerized warehouse, WHSmith commissioned Gordon Foster to devise a system. Their team created the nine-digit SBN (Standard Book Number) in 1965. In 1970 it was adapted to the ISBN.

Random Fact #4: The single check digit at the end of your ISBN isn't just random. It is calculated using a complicated formula. Curious? Check it out here!