Have you found yourself wondering if you can sell a book without an ISBN? Maybe you have heard conflicting information and want to know who is right?

Or are you curious about ISBNs and want to know more? No matter the reason that brought you here, we have the answers for you! 

Finding out if you need an ISBN to sell a book can be tricky, especially if you are looking to self-publish your own book. You head online for some guidance but are met with pages and pages of confusing and conflicting advice.

Overwhelmed, stressed, and frustrated, you wonder if you will ever find the answers you need and get your book published. 

Well, no more! Today, we are here with the answers you need! Keep reading to find out if you can sell a book without an ISBN and everything you need to know about them. By the end of today’s article, you will be an expert in all things ISBN! 

What Is An ISBN?

Before we dive into today’s article, let’s have a quick recap for those that need it. An ISBN, or International Standard Book Number, is a thirteen-digit number printed on books.

The number is unique to each book and used in national and international publications. 

The ISBN sits above the barcode on the book cover and can be used to find the book. For example, you can search the ISBN online to find copies of the book. It’s handy for finding rare or out-of-print books, or additional copies for use in schools or libraries. 

ISBNs are typically used by libraries, internet retailers, publishers, and booksellers. They use the ISBN to identify the product when ordering books from their supply chain, stock counting, listing, or recording sales. 

The ISBN also helps to identify the book. It is broken into five elements, with each element being separated by hyphens or spaces. These elements are as follows: 

  • Prefix element – this is three digits in length and currently can only be 978 or 979. 
  • Registration group element – this identifies the country, region, or language using the ISBN system. It can be anywhere from 1 to 5 digits long. 
  • Registration element – this identifies the publisher or imprint of the book and can be up to seven digits long. 
  • Publication element – this identifies the edition and format of the book. This can be up to six digits long. 
  • Check digit – finally, there is the check digit which is always the same final single digit that validates the rest of the number. You get the check digit using a Modulus 10 system with alternate weights of 1 and 3. 

Now that we have established what an ISBN is, where it is located, and its use, let’s find out if you can sell a book without an ISBN or not! 

Can You Sell A Book Without An ISBN?

Let’s get into what brought you here today! You can sell a book without an ISBN, but it has to be an e-book. There are no regulations from any of the top online retailers to have an ISBN on your book.

You don’t need to worry about the ISBN and can self-publish them without needing the extra step. 

Apple, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon do not require an ISBN for self-published ebooks. If you are only looking to sell ebooks with one of these retailers, then you can cross an ISBN off your to-do list. 

However, if you are planning to also sell physical copies of your book (as hardback or paperbacks), then you will want to consider an ISBN. 

Any books that are sold as physical copies will need an ISBN. With physical copies of books, there is no getting away from it, they need an ISBN! Whether you are self-publishing or using a publishing company, then you will need an ISBN. 

If you publish your books as ebooks and plan to publish physical copies, it’s worth getting your ISBN sorted straight away. That way everyone can access your book easily without any confusion.

After all, you want people to read your book, so why not make it as easy as possible to be found? 

Can You Sell A Book Without An ISBN? [What You Need To Know!]

How Do I Get An ISBN?

If you are publishing with a publisher, then they will take care of the ISBN for you. You won’t need to worry about the ISBN and can simply focus on editing the book and helping share marketing and adverts in the build-up to the release of the book. 

However, if you are self-publishing your book, then you will need to take care of the ISBN yourself. You can use publishing service companies like Kobo or CreateSpace to create the ISBN. Again, these companies will do it for you so you don’t need to worry too much. 

There is a cost involved, but it is worth doing, especially if you are selling physical copies of your book. It’s best to have the ISBN created by the publishing service company you are using to publish the book.

It will all be taken care of in one space, and saves you the extra hassle! 

You can also contact the agency that issues ISBNs in your country. In the USA, Bowker is the official ISBN agency. For authors publishing in the UK, you will need to use Nielsen.

If you are publishing internationally, be sure to check who the ISBN agency is in each country you are publishing in. 

Each ISBN agency charges its own price depending on the block or quantity of books you are publishing. It tends to be that the more books you publish in one block, the cheaper the ISBN will be.

So if you publish 1,000 books, it will be cheaper per ISBN than getting the ISBN for 10 books. 

Of course, it can be risky if you are self-publishing. If you don’t know how many people will buy your books, you might not want to spend more money without the guarantee of the books selling. 

In these cases, some authors will publish their books as ebooks first. Once they can see there is a demand for their book, they can invest in the ISBN and publisher physical copies to appeal to a wider audience. 

While some countries charge for ISBNs, others are free. Countries like India and Canada issue ISBNs for free. If you are considering publishing your book internationally, it’s worth looking at the countries that offer free ISBNs.

Not only does this save you money, but it allows you to publish your book in multiple countries, appealing to more readers and boosting your sales! 

Of course, if you are publishing your books in other countries, you will need to consider the language you are publishing them in.

While English books are sold worldwide, you might want to consider translating them into other languages, especially if the book becomes popular globally. 

Final Thoughts 

And there you have it, everything you need to know about ISBNs! While you do not need an ISBN for any books that you publish digitally, all physical copies will need an ISBN that can be used to find, categorize, and sell the book. 

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