Do you need to buy an ISBN to self-publish a book?

A common question people new to self-publishing ask is if they need to buy an ISBN. This article answers that question.

What is an ISBN?

An ISBN is a number that uniquely identifies a version and format of a book. Bookstores use them.

A book with print, electronic, and audio versions would have three ISBNs: one for the print version, one for the electronic version, and one for the audio version.

Do you need an ISBN?

You need an ISBN for your book if you want to sell your book at bookstores like Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

If you sell books only from your website, you don’t need an ISBN. I sell books without an ISBN.

How do you get an ISBN?

Many self-publishing platforms provide a free ISBN for your book that you can use. Amazon, Draft2Digital, Ingram Spark, and Lulu provide free ISBNs.

The downside of using the free ISBN is the publisher name will be the self-publishing platform, not you. If you use Amazon’s free ISBN, Amazon appears as the book publisher in the book’s store listing.

In the United States, Bowker is the company that issues ISBNs. Bowker charges a lot for ISBNs so I recommend using a free ISBN when starting out.

Some countries provide free or low-cost ISBNs. If you live in one of these countries, you can get an ISBN and use that to self-publish your books.

Should you buy an ISBN?

If you live in a country where ISBNs are expensive, such as the United States, the answer is No. Use the free ISBN your self-publishing platform provides.

Do you have other self-publishing questions?

I may have answered your questions in one of my other articles.

If you have a question that isn’t answered in one of my articles, you can go to the Contact page to email me your question.