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Frequently Asked Questions (F.A.Q.s)


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You can buy a single ISBN in your name. Here are questions you might have. Click here for ISBN Terms and Conditions.
ISBN FAQs for Self-Publishers


What is an ISBN?

ISBN means International Standard Book Number. An ISBN is a number, used like a serial number so that bookstores can accurately order books. An ISBN is not a bar code.


Why do I need an ISBN?

If you are selling your book on your own, you are not required to have an ISBN. If you want to sell your book in bookstores, place it with distributors and wholesalers, and put it in libraries, you are required to have an ISBN on your book.


Can a self-publisher obtain an ISBN?

Yes, a self-publisher is a publisher: one who is undertaking the financial risk to bring a book to market and coordinating everything involved: advertising, marketing, printing, order fulfillment, etc.


How does the process work?

First, a publisher applies for an ISBN. The ISBN Agency emails the ISBN to the publisher. The ISBN is placed on the copyright page and is encoded on a bar code, which is placed on the back cover of the book. Then, when the book is about to be sold, the publisher registers the title in Books in Print at


What happens if another publisher wants to publish my book?

The new publisher will put their ISBN on your book and the ISBN you were using will no longer be on the book or used at all. An ISBN identifies both the title and the publisher from which it can be ordered.


Can I reuse my ISBN?

No, once an ISBN is assigned to a book, the ISBN cannot be reused. If the content of the book changes, a new ISBN must be used. If the title of the book is changed after its publication, then a new ISBN must be used.


Can I sell or give my ISBN to someone else?

No, you cannot sell or give an ISBN to anyone. ISBNs cannot be transferred. The US ISBN Agency is the only one who can assign ISBNs.


Why should I register my title in Books in Print?

Books in Print is the main directory that bookstores and libraries use to locate books they want to order for their customers. If you want your book to be found and ordered, you should register it in Books in Print.


How do I register my title in Books in Print?

Publishers register their titles in Books in Print at Please wait to receive your ISBN before going to Bowkerlink and registering as a new user.


Do you also assign Library of Congress catalogue numbers and handle copyright?

The U.S. ISBN Agency does not assign Library of Congress catalog numbers. The Library of Congress does this. The ISBN Agency is not a part of the Library of Congress. You can reach the Library of Congress Copyright is also handled by the Library of Congress.


Do I need a bar code?

You will need a bar code if you are going to sell your book in stores. There are several different bar code systems in the United States. The kind of bar code used in bookstores is called the EAN 13 bar code. You can purchase an EAN 13 bar code at the time you order your ISBN or you can get one afterward from a bar code supplier, or


What products are eligible for ISBNs?

ISBNs may be assigned to books and certain other items commonly found in bookstores. Non-book items eligible for ISBNs include ebooks, audiobooks, calendars, bookmarks, software, greeting cards, and instructional and documentary DVDs and videos. ISBNs may never be assigned to music CDs, articles of clothing, foods, medicine, or stuffed animals, among other items.


What is a distributor? What is a wholesaler? What is a retailer?

A distributor is a business that has a signed exclusive contract with a publisher to sell their books. The distributor warehouses the books, fulfills orders, and issues invoices. A wholesaler buys and sells books without an exclusive agreement with the publisher. The wholesaler consolidates orders to retailers. A retailer sells books to the public. A retailer can be a physical store or it can be online.

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