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Although I offer the Freelancer's FAQ information free of charge, I'm finding that the costs of operating a web site are steadily increasing. If you find this information useful, a donation would be gladly appreciated.
Anne W.

Anne Wallingford, WordSmith


Freelancer's FAQ

ISBN and U.P.C. Codes

What Is an ISBN?

ISBN - The International Standard Book Number.

The ISBN is a machine-readable identification number, which marks any book unmistakably. "The purpose of the ISBN is to establish and identify one title or edition of a title from one specific publisher and is unique to that edition, allowing for more efficient marketing of products by booksellers, libraries, universities, wholesalers and distributors." 159 countries and territories are officially ISBN members. ISBNs are assigned in the United States by the U.S. ISBN Agency. R.R. Bowker is the independent agent in the U.S. for this system.

The ISBN itself is a 10-digit number that is divided into four parts separated by hyphens. The first part of the ISBN is a group or country identifier. The second part is a publisher identifier. The third part is a title identifier. The last digit is a check digit used to validate the ISBN. In other words, the ISBN is a code that identifies your book around the world.

Sample: 0-89658-314-7.
In this sample:

  • The first digit (0-) means the book was published in the United States.
  • The second group of numbers (89658-) identifies the publisher. 89658 is the code assigned to Voyageur Press of Stillwater, MN.
  • The third group of numbers (314-) identifies the specific book. In this example, 0-89658-314 is the 1995 hardcopy edition of a book called Frogs.
  • The last number (7) is used to validate the preceding numbers.
ISBNs are coordinated worldwide... Once an ISBN is assigned, the information must be reported by the publisher the firm R.R. Bowker for listing in the United State's ISBN database.

An ISBN can never be reused and every revision of a title must have a new ISBN. That means if a book is available in both hardcover and softcover, both versions have their own ISBN. For example, the softcover edition of Frogs (0-89658-427-5) has a different ISBN than the hardcover edition (0-89658-314-7).

Price changes do not require a new ISBN.

But, Do I Need an ISBN for my Self-Published Material?

Must you have an ISBN for your book? No, there is no legal requirement for having an ISBN. Whether or not you apply for an ISBN depends mostly on how you plan to sell your material. If you are going to sell your material at workshops, through direct mail, or over the Internet, then you are not likely to need an ISBN.

But if you plan on selling your material to retail chains, libraries, or specialty stores, you will probably need an ISBN. In some cases, catalogers also require ISBNs. Why? These businesses rely on the ISBN for tracking inventory, ordering, and general identification.

What Is the Universal Product Code?

The Universal Product Code (U.P.C.), commonly known as the bar code, is a computerized product identification system. Basically, bar codes are those black-and-white bars read by symbol ls4278 scanners at checkout counters. The ISBN is not the same as a U.P.C. but it can be translated into bar code format. In fact, retail chains almost always require both an ISBN and a Universal Product Code (U.P.C.). There are several bar code film master suppliers that translate ISBNs into bar codes.

To find a list of bar code suppliers, by state, go to:

How Do I Apply for an ISBN?

Publishers, audiocassette and video producers, software producers, and museums or associations with publishing programs can request an ISBN. Remember—if you are self-publishing, you are a publisher.

To download an ISBN application in print format, or to submit an ISBN form electronically, go to If you are applying for an ISBN electronically, you can only use this electronic application form.

To find a list of frequently asked questions about the ISBN, visit this site: Frequently Asked Questions about the ISBN

Receiving just your ISBNs does NOT guarantee title listings. "Once ISBNs have been assigned to products they should be reported to R.R. Bowker as the database of record for the ISBN Agency. Companies are eligible for a free listing in various directories such as Books in Print, Words on Cassette, The Software Encyclopedia, Bowker's Complete Video Directory, etc."

Remember--receiving an ISBN does NOT guarantee title listings. You must submit your title information to have your books listed in the Books in Print database. Book titles can be registered with Books in Print at

Besides the website, the United States ISBN Agency can also be contacted at:

U.S. ISBN Agency
630 Central Avenue
New Providence, NJ 07974

Tel: 877-310-7333
Fax: 908-665-2895

How Expensive is an ISBN Application?

As of Feb. 2002, the application listed the following fees.

A NON-REFUNDABLE processing service charge. (Note: Priority processing has an additional processing surcharge.)

10 ISBNs
100 ISBNs
1,000 ISBNs
10,000 ISBNs

To find a list of frequently asked questions about the ISBN, visit this site: Frequently Asked Questions about the ISBN

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040103 Friday, April 22, 2011