How to get an ISBN for your book in the UK?

  • ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. An ISBN number is a unique 13-digit number that identifies each published novel.
  • The average cost of an ISBN number is £80. This doesn’t always include the image of the barcode, which you can purchase separately.
  • You can easily register for an ISBN for your book online. Once you’ve purchased your ISBN, you won’t need to renew it or reapply for it - it’s yours forever.

With an industry worth over £1.63 billion, the UK publishing and bookselling market is the third-largest in all the world.

As a nation of readers, many British people eagerly await the newest titles from their favourite authors, reissued versions of the books they love, and debut novels that sound appealing and engaging to them. When they go online to pre-order these titles, there will be a small code beside the 'add-to-cart' button: the book's ISBN.

If you're looking to publish your book this year, you likely are wondering what this ISBN is and how you can get one for your next release. Here, we're going to tell you all about UK ISBN numbers, so read on to get ready for putting out your debut publication!

The basics of ISBN numbers

An ISBN number is a unique 13-digit number that serves as identification for a published novel. Prior to 2007, these numbers used to consist of only 10 digits.

Each one of these numbers is unique. Additionally, each edition of a book has a different ISBN number, so if you reprint and republish your novel in the future, you are going to need a new ISBN. An ISBN is intended to not only identify the title of the publication, but also its format and edition. eBooks will also have different ISBN numbers than their corresponding print publication.

What does ISBN stand for?

ISBN stands for 'International Standard Book Number.' ISBNs are used internationally, but two editions of the same book that are published in different countries will have different numbers. For example, a novel published in both the US and the UK will have different ISBNs even if both are the book's first printing.

This allows publishers, booksellers, and consumers in different countries to identify the location of publication so that they can select the appropriate version for their needs.

What is an ISBN number used for?

An ISBN number is used to communicate specific information about a book. Each section of its numbers has a different meaning:

  • A prefix element (3 digits), which currently can only be 978 or 979.
  • A registration group element (1-5 digits), which identifies the nation or geographical region of a publication.
  • A registrant element (7 digits or fewer), which denotes the specific publisher or imprint of the text.
  • A publication element (6 digits or fewer), which identifies the specific edition of a title (1st edition, 2nd edition, paperback edition, digital edition, special edition, etc).
  • A check digit (1 digit), which mathematically validates the rest of the number.

What is the purpose of an ISBN number?

An ISBN is used by supply chain participants to identify each book in their records. These participants include publishers, libraries, booksellers, online retailers, and more.

The number assists them in ordering and listing the books that they have in their collections so that they can keep record and control stock. ISBN numbers also help consumers make sure that they are ordering the edition of the book that they want for their collection.

Where is the ISBN number on books?

The ISBN number is generally on the back of the book's cover. It usually is beside the barcode in the bottom righthand corner. If you don't see it there, it will be on the page that features the book's copyright and publisher information. This page is where it will always be found on digital editions.

eBooks also have ISBNs but they’re not included in the front cover. Because they are published digitally, you’d usually find them in the details of the order page.

How much does an ISBN cost in the UK?

The average cost of an ISBN number is around £80 and usually doesn’t include the image of the barcode itself. The barcode can be purchased separately and you can get greater discounts for purchasing multiple barcode images. Especially useful if you're already working on a shoe-string budget. Here's how to make further savings on your book editing.

If you plan to exclusively publish independently, you can get an ISBN from the UK Independent Publishing Network with barcode images for £40.00 or without barcode images for £30.00. It's worth factoring in this to the overall cost of book cover design.

How to register your book and ISBN number

ISBNs are easy to register for and purchase on websites like Nielsen Books. You will pay £82.5 and register with a username and password on the website. Keep this somewhere safe for the next time that you need to make a purchase from the agency (an ISBN number from a different edition, one for a future publication, etc).

If you prefer not to make an account on the site, you can also apply using the ISBN application on their website. Note that this is a longer process than the instant online application. It would need to be sent via the post, so an email or online application is generally the superior option.

How long does it take to get an ISBN number?

If you use the online form, you will receive your ISBN number as soon as the application is processed. If you choose to send a print application via the post, allow 5 business days for it to get there.

Additionally, it may take 2 more days after that for the application to be processed in person.

How many ISBN numbers should you get?

That depends on how many editions you’re going to publish as each one would require a separate ISBN number.

For example, if you’re self-publishing a paperback, a hardback and an audiobook, you’ll need three unique ISBNs. If you’re publishing a trilogy and each book requires three ISBNs, then you will end up needing to register 10! Which could mean that you may be able to get a discount as well.

Do ISBNs expire?

No. Once you apply and pay for an ISBN, it's yours forever. It will never expire. This makes applying an even more worthwhile investment than it otherwise would be!

Begin the self-publishing process

Now that you know all about ISBN number and how you can get one for your UK publication, it's time to begin creating a book cover for your upcoming book release.

Get in touch to find out how much cover design will cost. We, as book cover designers, are committed to creating the perfect book jacket that matches your vision, so we look forward to hearing from you!

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This article is always evolving and being updated regularly by our expert writers. Information featured in it has been fact-checked and verified.
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