What is so Important About an ISBN?

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In a question and answer format, this article provides the key information about ISBNs for UK-based authors and publishers. However, please take note: over time, the accepted rules, guidelines, procedures, and prices do change. So seek out the latest information online.

Q: What does an ISBN do?

A: an ISBN is used by publishers, booksellers and libraries for ordering, listing and stock control activities. An ISBN:

  • Allows a specific publisher to be identified.
  • Enables a specific publisher to identify a specific edition of a specific title and the specific format used for that particular book.

Q: Am I required to have an ISBN for my book?

A: In the UK, there is no legal requirement to have an ISBN. An ISBN is simply a product number that helps during the marketing and distribution of your book.

Also remember, an ISBN does not provide any form of legal or copyright protection to your work. However, most retailers and book distributors will insist that your book has an ISBN before they will consider selling or marketing your book.

Q: What benefits does having an ISBN bring?

A: having an ISBN provides access to marketing tools that can help with sales of your book. Here's how:

  • Books that are sold through conventional bookshops and online retailers almost always require an International Standard Book Number (ISBN), to ensure order processing is completed smoothly, reliably and cost effectively.
  • An ISBN also provides direct access to bibliographic databases. These databases are organized by ISBN and are used by libraries and book trade organizations to provide timely information to customers.

Q: How do I get an ISBN?

A: Individual countries are responsible for issuing ISBNs. If ISBNs are available from the country in which you live, you can apply to the relevant body within your country. ISBNs are usually sent to the main office of the publisher who is applying (if you're self-publishing, then you can use your "publisher's imprint" name).

In the UK, the Standard Book Numbering Agency Limited is the ISBN body responsible for issuing ISBNs for the UK and Republic of Ireland.

If you're based elsewhere (even if you're a British citizen), you'll need to apply to the agency responsible for your region.

The Standard Book Numbering Agency Limited may provide address details of the agency you need to contact within your own country.

Also, today, lots of book packagers can include ISBNs as part of their offering to you. So getting an ISBN today, can be easier than ever. Though some cost is involved.

Q: Where is my ISBN Agency located?

A: One quick way to find the address of the ISBN Agency in your country, is to do a search on the Internet (http://www.google.com/ is probably best).

Here are contact details for the UK:

Q: How soon can I receive my ISBN?

A: Ask the agency responsible for issuing ISBNs within your country. In the UK, standard response time is within 10 working days, not including weekends, public holidays, or times when the office is closed. If you're in a hurry, you may be able to use the Fast-Track service, which processes your request within 3 working days.

If time is important, do remember that the timings quoted are based on receiving a correctly completed application, on the day the application is received by the ISBN Agency — not from when your application is posted.

Q: How much does an ISBN cost?

A: Again, check with the agency responsible for issuing ISBNs within your country. In the UK, at the time of writing, a block of 10 ISBNs can be purchased for about: £159.00 including VAT from: Nielsen UK ISBN Agency.

Q: How are ISBNs issued?

A: In the UK, from the Nielson UK ISBN Agency, you can apply for a single ISBN, or more cost effectively purchase your ISBNs in blocks of 10, 100, or a 1000.

Q: Does getting an ISBN include a bar-code as well?

A: A barcode service is also available from the ISBN agency. Your printer can generate a corresponding bar-code for the back cover of your book.

A bar-code is an essential component of your book cover as retailers use bar-codes to help process payments and track book sales.

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