ISBNs are required for all print books. Each ISBN has a 10-digit and a 13-digit version. These are not separate numbers. ISBNs were originally only 10 digits long, but a few years back, the international ISBN registries realized that more ISBN numbers would be needed, so the system was switched to 13-digit numbers. However, some organizations are still in the process of switching over, so it's best to put both the 10-digit and 13-digit versions of the ISBN on the copyright page. (If you’re going to list only one, list the 13-digit version, since the 10-digit versions will eventually be discontinued.)

Where and how you obtain an ISBN depends on the country you live in and the POD printer you've selected. Some countries provide free ISBNs to their citizens. Others do not. Below are the instructions for publishers based in the US and UK. If you are based in another country, see the "Other Countries" section below.

If you're using IngramSpark, you must provide your own ISBN. If you're using  KDP Paperback, you have other options, as explained below. 

NOTE: You do NOT need to buy barcodes from Bowker if you are using KDP Paperback publishing or IngramSpark. KDP will generate the barcode for you and add it to your cover during the publication process. IngramSpark will generate the barcode for you and add it to the cover template that your designer should use.

Deciding Whether to Buy ISBNs and How Many ISBNs to Buy

If you're not sure how many ISBNs to buy, be aware that ISBNs are also useful for ebooks. ISBNs are optional for ebooks; however, if you want to use an aggregator such as Smashwords or Draft2Digital to get your books into smaller vendors or libraries, it will need an ISBN number. Smashwords and Draft2Digital will provide an ISBN for you, free of charge, but Smashwords or Draft2Digital will be listed as the publisher of record with Bowker. If you publish to Kobo, your book will not be distributed to all of their distribution partners around the world unless you’ve provided an ISBN number for the ebook. If you publish to Apple, Apple will not report your sales numbers to the big lists (NYT or USA Today) unless you’ve provided an ISBN number for the ebook.

Our advice? If you’re planning to write several books and make a career of writing, buy at least a 10-pack of ISBNs through That will allow you to publish 5 books in print and ebook format, and you (or whatever publishing imprint you decide on) will be listed as the publisher. You will also be able to freely move your print book to the various POD printers without having to obtain a new ISBN. However, if you want to save money or if you’re not sure you’re going to write any further books, you can certainly get by with the free ISBNs from Draft2Digital or Smashwords or the free one from KDP.

United States - Obtaining an ISBN


  • You can get a free ISBN through KDP; note that the Publisher field on your book’s Amazon page will say “Independently published.” You cannot use the free ISBN at any other POD printer.

Discounted ISBN:

  • For $99, you can purchase an ISBN from KDP that you can take with you to another POD printer.

Provide your own ISBN:

  • ISBNs are sold by Bowker (through for $125 apiece or in packs of 10 for $295 or packs of 100 for $575. 
  • If you decide to buy your ISBNs, see the instructions below for working with MyIdentifiers.


Working with

If you are going to set up an imprint/publishing company, be sure to list that name as the Organization Name in your profile. Otherwise, just list your legal or pen name (whatever name you are going to publish under) as the Organization Name.

Once your profile is set up, you can assign the ISBNs to your books. 

To assign the ISBNs, you need to go into, go to My Account, and then click Manage ISBNs

For each ISBN number, make sure you fill in at least the Title and then click through to the Format & Size page, and for Medium, click Print or E-book as appropriate, and then for Format, click Paperback or Electronic Book Text as appropriate. That's all you need to do right now. You can fill out all the rest later, once you've got a final cover and the book is ready to release. 

Note that the 10-digit and 13-digit versions of the ISBN number will be listed at the top of the first page under Title Details

United Kingdom - Obtaining an ISBN

 You have two options for obtaining an ISBN (if you are using the KDP Paperback program, you may be able to obtain a free ISBN through the program):

Discounted ISBN:

  • For $99, you can purchase an ISBN from CreateSpace or the KDP Paperback program that you can take with you to another vendor. (This option is not available if you are using IngramSpark.)

Provide your own ISBN:

  • In the UK, ISBNs are sold by Nielsen (through in packs of 10 or more. Note that there is a 10-day processing time (which can be reduced for an additional fee).

To make your book available for order by Waterstones and other brick-and-mortar bookstores, you must register your book with Nielsen ( To register your book, click BookData for UK on the left. There's more information about BookData on this page (scroll down). It takes around five days to register your book. You may also have to make an arrangement with a warehouse to fulfill your book orders for bookstores. 

Other Countries

If you are based outside the US or UK, you can find out where to obtain your ISBNs at the International ISBN Agency:

Direct link to the list of all national ISBN agencies: