What is an ISBN?
ISBN stands for ‘International Standard Book Number’. It is really nothing more than a product code, albeit a very important one that is recognised throughout the retail trade, as well as by libraries and publishers worldwide. Publishers, booksellers and libraries use ISBNs for ordering, listing and stock control purposes. It enables them to identify a particular Publisher and allows the Publisher to identify a specific edition of a particular book.
Why might I need an ISBN for my book?
If you want to sell your book through Waterstones, Amazon or any other bookselling chain, or Internet bookseller, you will need to have an ISBN in order to meet the requirements of their ordering and stock control systems. The principal bibliographic databases, which provide information about all books in print, require an ISBN in order for a title to be listed. Without an ISBN, your book will not appear on the list of books in print, which is used by book retailers and Internet booksellers. So fewer people will know about, or be able to get hold of your book if it is not listed.
Do we have to have an ISBN?
There is no legal requirement for a book to have an ISBN. In certain circumstances, which we discuss separately, it may actually be preferable to self-publish without assigning an ISBN to your book.
Where do you get an ISBN?
The UK ISBN Agency is run by Nielsen Books, who are responsible for assigning ISBN Publisher Prefixes to publishers based in the UK or Republic of Ireland.
The UK ISBN Agency:
* Allocates ISBN Publisher Prefixes to eligible publishers based on the information provided by the publisher
* Advises publishers on the correct and proper implementation of the ISBN System
* Maintains a database of publishers and their prefixes for inclusion in the Publishers International ISBN Directory
* Encourages and promotes the use of the Bookland EAN bar code format
* Encourages and promotes the importance of the ISBN for a proper listing of titles with bibliographic agencies such as Nielsen Book
* Provides technical advice and assistance to publishers and the book trade on all aspects of ISBN usage
You can find out more at the UK ISBN Agency’s website at www.isbn.nielsenbook.co.uk
Are ISBNs only for books?
The following products qualify for ISBNs:
1. Books or printed works that are textual and/or have an instructional content.
2. Electronic products such as CDs, downloads, audiobooks etc that have a textual and/or instructional content,
3. Annual Journals published no more frequently than once a year.
4. Sets of volumes or packs of books or electronic products with a textual and/or instructional content.
These are the main products that qualify for an ISBN, but this list is not exhaustive. You should consult the ISBN Agency website for the complete list.
Certain products do not qualify for ISBNs. These include magazines & periodicals, games, computer software applications, catalogues & brochures, music scores, non text-based publications and materials available only to a restricted audience (e.g. a manual available only to students of a particular course).
Again, this list is not exhaustive. You should consult the ISBN Agency website for the complete list.
How to complete the ISBN application form
If you want to apply for one or more ISBNs, you can download an application form at the UK ISBN Agency’s website. Go to www.isbn.nielsenbook.co.uk, click on ‘Services for New Publishers’ and you will find the form to download and complete. As a new self-published author or publisher, the form isn’t as easy to complete as it should be, so here are some notes that should help you.
This is the name you will use to publish your work. This can be either a chosen trading name (for example, Excelsior Publishing) or your own name. This name should be consistent throughout the form and on the page samples in the form of a publisher statement on the title verso of all your publications. For example: “Published by Excelsior Publishing”.
Think carefully before committing to a publishing name, because it is hard to change once you’ve settled on it. If you are planning on writing and publishing just one book, then you might think it’s fine to use your own name as the publisher. If you are considering publishing more than one book, then it might be better to come up with a generic publishing name – possibly one that has something to do with the genre or theme you are interested in publishing.
Remember that if you use your own name, you’ll find it harder to hide the fact that you are self-publishing. This may not be important to you, but if it is then you should think of a name that is more ‘anonymous’.
This should be the street address of the Publisher’s editorial office. In reality, if you are self-publishing for the first time, this is probably going to be your home address. All correspondence from the ISBN Agency will be sent to the address you provide here. This address will also be published in various Nielsen BookData products such as the Directory of UK & Irish Book Publishers. If you have indicated a separate distributor this will also be included.
Name of Applicant
This is the name of the person based at the publishing address who will be taking responsibility for ISBNs, assigning numbers to your publications, for keeping records of your publishing output and providing title information to database providers. Again, as a self-publisher, this is likely to be YOU!
You need to specify your job title. If your aim is to come across as a traditional publisher, then enter a job title like ‘publishing manager’ or ‘editorial director’. If it’s not important that you act like a traditional publishing company, then you could just enter ‘author’ here, or even leave it blank.
If you are VAT registered and have a valid VAT number then will not be charged VAT on their application.
These details must apply to the Publisher and the Publisher’s address as listed in the previous section. You should know that these details WILL BE PUBLISHED unless you indicate otherwise.
You need to provide your telephone contact details here – they are quite fussy and stress that you should separate out the area code clearly!
You may use a personal or business email addresses.
If you have a relevant website, then you can enter its URL here
This question asks how many titles you plan to publish over the next 2-3 years. The reason the ISBN Agency asks this is because they only issue ISBNs in blocks (you can’t buy a single ISBN) and they want to ascertain how many you will need to start with.
The smallest number of ISBNs you can purchase is a block of ten. At the time of writing, a block of ten ISBNs will cost you £95.20 (+VAT). Or you can purchase a block of 100 for £178 (+VAT).
Clearly if you are a self-published author, you will almost certainly want to start by purchasing a block of ten ISBNs only. However, each edition of your book should have a separate ISBN, so if you plan an e-book, audiobook, or other formats then you should remember that you will need a new ISBN for each format/edition.
Some Publishers do not use ISBNs on their publications initially, but then reach a stage in their development where they feel ISBNs would be advantageous. If this sounds like you, then you need to think about how many of the books you have already published will require ISBNs.
Remember that you can always apply for a new block of ISBNs when you run out. So give some thought to how many you will need realistically. It may look cheaper to buy a block of 100, but only if you actually use them!
This is where you should indicate all your product types, such as books, CD ROMs, maps, electronic books etc. that apply to your business.
The UK ISBN Agency will only send you an initial set of ISBNs if you send them page samples of your very first publication. (If you are applying for ISBNs to apply to books that have already been published, then you need to send page samples from one of these).
The agency is adamant that it cannot process your application without page samples, which should include a publisher statement.
In a traditional book format, the pages required are the title page and the title page verso. The title page is a page near the front of the book, which contains the Title, Author and Publisher. The title verso is the back of this page. The title verso usually contains copyright information, publishing history (if this is not the first edition of the book), publisher statement and ISBN.
If this is starting to sound like jargon, you needn’t worry. There is a link on the application form to download a sample title page and title verso page. All you need to do is to copy the format of these documents and send them with your application. They don’t need to come from a finished or designed manuscript. You can just create a sample title page and title verso page in a Word document.
Don’t be alarmed by the request for a ‘publisher statement’. It simply is a line of text that clearly defines who the publisher is, and which should appear in all publications. The form of publisher statement we recommend you use is a sentence that begins “Published by… (Insert your publisher name here).” Make sure that the name of the Publisher in the publisher statement is the same as that given in the Publisher Information Section of the form.
What about if your first product is not a traditional book? Perhaps you need an ISBN for an audio CD, for example. If this is the case, then simply enclose any sample with the title and publisher statement, such as the insert for a CD.
This is self-explanatory, and is simply where you should sign your application.
HOW YOUR ISBNS ARE DELIVERED
You will need to print, fill in, scan and email your ISBN application, together with the page samples, to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you don’t have a scanner, then you can post your application and samples. The address is marked at the top of the ISBN application form.
Your ISBNs and supporting documentation are sent to you by email. Lists of numbers are emailed to you in Microsoft Excel format, and the supporting documentation is emailed in PDF. If you want a printed version posted to you, there is an additional charge for allocations of 100 ISBNs or more. You can specify how you want to receive your ISBNs on the application form.