Do I Need an ISBN Number?
Do I Need an ISBN Number?

Do I Need an ISBN Number?

Do you need an ISBN number to sell your book? This question comes up constantly. The answer is, unfortunately, it depends. 

An ISBN number is a unique number, attached to a barcode, assigned to a book that identifies it for SKU systems for inventory tracking. If you want your book to be sold “wide” meaning that it’s available everywhere, you might need one. Maybe. 

If you just want to sell your book on Amazon, they will provide a unique ISBN that only works on Amazon, and they won’t charge you anything for it. 

If you want to sell your book online at a large number of sites, “going wide” in industry terminology, then it depends on how you are publishing. If you are using Draft2Digital, the most common wide publishing service, they will give you a free ISBN that will work for everywhere that they are publishing your book. Draft2Digital, or D2D for short, will publish your book to a large number of online platforms and take a small portion of your sales in exchange for handling everything. They will put your book on Amazon,, Kobo, and a host of other sites worldwide. Other sites with a similar business model typically offer you a free ISBN in their network as well. 

But if you want to take your ISBN outside of one of these services, then you would need to purchase a real ISBN that will be recognized everywhere. The downside of this is that in some countries, especially the US, ISBN numbers can be expensive. Much like prescription drugs, health care, and concert tickets, if you live in America you are going to pay a lot more. 

This is because ISBN numbers in the United States are sold exclusively through a company called Bowker. And Bowker likes money and doesn’t have to care if you like their pricing model or not. Blame the government. 

In many countries ISBN numbers are free, or very inexpensive. If you happen to have dual citizenship in a place like Canada, then your ISBN will be free because they haven’t allowed a company like Bowker to get a monopoly on the numbers and sell them at the highest possible price. 

You’ll also pay around $120 if you live in the UK, around $30 in Australia, or $50 in Germany. But that is the price for buying a single ISBN. There is a big discount for buying in bulk. In Germany you can also buy a thousand ISBN numbers for around $250. Which means that you can usually find someone on a forum or an auction site to sell you an ISBN pretty cheap if you live there. 

If you live in America, and are going to publish multiple books, or can find someone who also needs ISBN numbers, you can buy in bulk and save some money as well. If you buy ten ISBNs, you will pay $29 each for them, a huge discount. 

If you don’t need an ISBN right now, don’t spend the money. It’s easy to buy one and add it to your book cover later, and there is no reason to spend the money now if you are publishing with a wide publishing service like D2D or SmashWords, or just publishing on Amazon. 

So, do you need an ISBN? Probably not, but if you do, we hope you find a place to get one that isn’t $120. Hunt around, you’ll find a better deal than that somehow, and Bowker’s shareholders will be just fine without you paying out the nose for a product that costs them virtually nothing.