Explaining ISBN - The Who, What, When, Where, How, and Why


ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. As the name hints, the system assigns a unique 13-digit number to a specific format of a work on the international stage.

Thus, a single work should have multiple ISBNs if it is published in multiple formats. For example, your work should have one ISBN for its e-book form and another for the paperback.


ISBNs are a great opportunity for you to seize the opportunity that metadata provides. Metadata is a mammoth of a subject, so we will provide further detail in a subsequent post; notwithstanding, we will give you the "50 thousand foot view" here.

Metadata includes information like the title, author, format, publishing date, price, descriptions, and BISAC categories (subject codes). These data points assist search engines, distributors, libraries, buyers and others find your work.

It also makes your work appear within the proper subjects, themes, and categories, which improves the search-ability and accessibility of your work.

Furthermore, an ISBN puts your work in the ISBN database. It is a list of works that many use to see what is out there.

Look at your ISBN like a sales pitch and a marketing strategy. It helps you get noticed and it helps you get your work sold.

Importantly, ISBNs allow for retailers to easily process and track your work through the sale. In fact, it is how we know sales figures. Hence why many will not accept your work without it.

Please note: an ISBN is different than a barcode. But you cannot obtain a barcode without an ISBN.


Obtaining an ISBN differs by country of origin. In the United States, for example, Bowker.com is an official ISBN agency.

Some sites may offer to buy an ISBN for you or to provide one for free; however, recognize that through some of these services the third-party may end up owning the ISBN, not you.

Be aware, also, that third-parties can sometimes input inaccurate information as it pertains to your ever-important metadata. Thus, ensure if you use a third-party, it is a source you trust.

As soon as you purchase your ISBN through Bowker, consider registering at BowkerLINK. For more information, please see this page.


Traditionally, it is the publisher who should own and purchase the ISBN. After all, it is the publisher taking the brunt of the financial risk and it is the one responsible for supply, distribution, and marketing.

If you are self-publishing, then it's you who owns the ISBN!


If you know you are going to publish multiple books or in multiple formats, we recommend purchasing a bundle of ISBNs. The 10-pack is a decent deal.

Your work does not have to be "publish ready" in order to purchase an ISBN or a package of them.


We can help and can even perform ISBN and metadata related services for you.

If we like your book, we may even publish you - so this would be our responsibility, not yours.

Feel free to contact us. Our email is treedistrictbooks@gmail.com.

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