Skip to content

What Is an ISBN Number?

Published in All Resources

How does a library or bookstore know which books it has in stock? How does it know which books are written in which language, who the publisher is and which editions it carries? With computer tracking, it’s easier than ever.

Even so, how does the computer keep track of this information without laborious manual data input? The solution to this problem arose in the mid-1960s with the ISBN number, meaning publishers, consumers and libraries have a reliable system for finding and sorting books.

What Is an ISBN Number Used For?

ISBN numbers are essential for identifying books so that publishers, libraries and bookstores can order, ship and track sales. They allow sellers and producers to see if they have different editions in stock or need more copies in a particular language, as well as if there are retailers that should get more copies than others.

What Does ISBN Stand For?

An ISBN, meaning “international standard book number,” is a type of numerical classification system for books, newspapers, magazines and other periodicals and printed materials.

Along with being aware of the ISBN meaning for books, it’s important to understand what the numbers themselves stand for.

Every ISBN is made up of five numbers separated by dashes. As of 2007, ISBNs have 13 digits (before 2007, there were only 10). The numbers are:

The Prefix Number

This number is always 3 digits and, for books, is always 978 or 979. 

The Registration Group Number

This number refers to the publication’s country, region or language. If it’s 0, it’s in English. It can be anywhere from 1 to 5 digits.

The Registrant Number

This number is the code for the publisher. This number can be up to 7 digits long.

The Publication Number

This number refers to the book’s edition and format. It can be up to 6 digits long.

The Check Digit

This number is used to validate the entire ISBN. It uses a Modulus 10 system, which involves alternately multiplying each digit by 1 and 3, then adding them up to find their sum.

Because the ultimate value must be a multiple of 10, that final check digit is whatever single-digit number causes the sum to be so. If the numbers add to 87, you’d need to add 3 to get the number to 90, meaning the check number would be 3.

How to Find the ISBN Number on a Book

The ISBN number can be found above the barcode. ISBNs are occasionally confused with barcodes, but barcodes can vary between stores, while ISBNs are consistent regardless of where the book, magazine or newspaper is sold.

Do Self-Publishers Need an ISBN Number?

All self-published books need ISBN numbers. Even audiobooks need them. Because ISBNs are how sellers keep track of their stock, a publication cannot be sold if it doesn’t have a number.

ISBN numbers are also required for getting self-published books into libraries, which are excellent places to generate reviews for these books as people check them out.

However, if you plan on selling your book digitally as an e-book, it may not need an ISBN. Self-publishing through Amazon for reading on Kindle will get your book an identifying number for their system — it just won’t be an ISBN. 

How to Get an ISBN Number 

To get an ISBN number for your book, you’ll need to go through R.R. Bowker. It owns the URL Buying a single ISBN costs $125, though it does offer bulk rates:

  • 10 ISBNs is $295
  • 100 ISBNs is $575
  • 1,000 ISBNs is $1,500

These rates can offer excellent savings if you plan on releasing multiple editions and formats. They don’t expire, either, so if you only need five for a current book project, you’ll have 5 left for the next one.

What Self-Publishers Should Know About Getting an ISBN Number

While the ISBN is important if you plan on selling your book, it’s only one small part of the publishing puzzle. You’ll want to consider many more logistical factors, such as:

Printing Your Books

You’ll need to have physical copies to ship to customers. You can either have a printer make a batch all at once or opt for print-on-demand to satisfy orders as they come.

Storing Your Books

Once you have a batch of books printed, where will you store them? You may need warehousing and order fulfillment services.

Shipping Your Books

How will you get your printed books to customers? It’s best to hire a service that can package your books in creatively designed packages and ship them out quickly and securely. 

Handling Returns of Your Books

Sometimes customers will need to return your book, which is not a process you’ll want to deal with on your own. Having a service that can handle returns and re-stock the books or dispose of them can take a huge load off your shoulders.

Partnering with an order fulfillment service like Print Bind Ship will give you control over all these necessary functions. You won’t have to worry about taking books to the post office or boxing them up, as these and other tasks will all be handled for you.

ISBN Numbers Are Important — Print Bind Ship Is Essential

Getting an ISBN is a simple process, but what will you put it on? An ISBN won’t do you any good if you don’t have to have a book to go with it.

When you need professionally printed books that ship quickly, turn to Print Bind Ship. We help authors like you get their books into the hands of eager readers every day.

Print Bind Ship makes publishing simple. Contact us today to get started.


What Does the ISBN Number Tell You?

The ISBN number identifies the type of printed work (book, newspaper, etc.), the edition, the language it’s in and the publisher. It also includes a check digit to validate the number.

How Do I Look Up an ISBN Number?

The ISBN number is located above the barcode on the book’s cover.

Why Is an ISBN Number So Important?

ISBN numbers allow retailers, libraries and publishers to track the books they handle. They can tell how many copies they have in stock, what language they’re in, which editions are in stock and how many have been sold or checked out.

Get back to business, we got the rest

Request a meeting with a fulfillment expert

Talk to a fulfillment expert