How to get an ISBN

Publishers should apply to their national ISBN Agency. So, if you are a publisher based in Italy, you would apply to the national ISBN Agency of Italy.

If you are applying for ISBN on behalf of a company or organisation it does not matter in which country your company or organisation is formally registered (e.g. for legal or tax registration purposes), it is the location where your company or organisation carries out its business and operates from that is the important criterion. (If you have more than one site, possibly in more than one country, then ISBNs should be obtained based on where the headquarters of your organisation is situated). It does not matter in which language your publications will be published or in which country your publications will be printed, manufactured, marketed or sold.

There are a small number of cases where the national ISBN agency you should apply to for ISBN may not be immediately clear and further guidance is available here.

What is a publisher? 

The publisher is the group, organisation, company or individual who is responsible for initiating the production of a particular publication. Normally, the publisher is also the person or body who bears the cost or financial risk in making a product available. It is not normally the printer, but it can be the author of the book if the author has chosen to publish their book themselves. 

Not sure if you are the publisher? Click here

Can publishers choose where to get an ISBN? 

No, all publishers should apply to the appropriate national ISBN agency that is responsible for the country in which they are based. If you have genuine reasons that may prevent you from applying to your national ISBN agency, then you should contact the International ISBN Agency for advice but you should not contact another ISBN agency instead.

How much does it cost? 

The International ISBN Agency does not influence or determine the cost of ISBNs since it is not directly responsible for their allocation beyond the group or national agency level. Hence this task falls to the group or national agencies and due to varying economic factors the costs of ISBNs is likely to be different for each agency. Some agencies receive governmental or other funding which enables them to provide a free service to publishers. Where an agency charges for ISBN assignment the price for ISBN should be relative to the living standard in the agency’s area of operation.

Applying for ISBN 

Publishers must comply with the implementation guidelines including the scope and assignment rules for ISBN. Publishers must supply the national ISBN agency (or its designated local bibliographic agency) with a specified amount of metadata about the publication (such as title, author, format etc) to which the ISBN is assigned. The specifications concerning the type and format of the metadata is established by the International ISBN Agency in cooperation with the national ISBN agencies. Your national ISBN Agency will advise you about the metadata about your publication that is required and how you should submit it to them.

All publishers must also supply full contact details (name of publisher, mailing address, telephone, fax, email and URL).

Many national ISBN agencies will have specific forms that they will ask you to complete in order to assist with the application process – the forms may be available online or will be sent to you on request by mail. Please contact your national ISBN agency who will guide you through the process.

Is it possible to get just a single ISBN?

In many countries ISBNs are available as single numbers (for author publishers). There are some exceptions though where the ISBNs can only be obtained in blocks. Please contact the national ISBN agency that is responsible in your area.