Do You Need an ISBN for Your Ebook?

In yesterday’s post, my expert guest blogger, Sue Collier, discussed whether or not writers planning on self-publishing their books should purchase their own International Standard Book Numbers (ISBNs). As I explained, I asked her to address this issue because I plan on self-publishing a few books, and I wanted to understand the issue more completely.

I also asked Sue, to answer another related question for me: Do I need an ISBN for my ebooks? I was more than a bit curious about her answer because I had all four of my short books, or booklets, queued up to be turned form pdf-type ebooks into ebooks that could be distributed and read by most e-readers. I was in a hurry to get them converted and ready to go. I wanted to know if I needed to buy ISBNs or not.

Sue, the coauthor of The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing, 5th Edition, was quick to comply. Here, in part two of her series on ISBNs, is her reply.


ISBNs (Part II)—Do You Need One for Your Ebook?
by Sue Collier


An ISBN (which stands for International Standard Book Number) is to a book what your Social Security number is to you. An ISBN is your ID in the book world. This thirteen-digit numeral unmistakably identifies the title, edition, binding, and publisher of a given work. The ISBN is a mandatory sales tool if you intend to make your book available in bookstores, as it provides the basis for identifying books in all industry-wide systems. Bookstores, wholesalers, and distributors keep track of books solely by their ISBNs.

You usually need an ISBN for a paper book (and it’s mandatory if you want your book to be available in bookstores), but you may also need one for your e-book—depending on your distribution plans.

If you are distributing your ebook through your website via download, you probably don’t need an ISBN. But if you plan to sell your ebook through other resellers, you’ll need to do some homework as each website has its own requirements. does not require that you have an ISBN if you are publishing content with Kindle. The website says, “An ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is not required to publish content with Kindle Direct Publishing. Once your content is published on the KDP web site, will assign it a 10-digit ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Number), which is unique to the eBook, and is an identification number for the Kindle Book on If you already have an ISBN for your eBook, you’ll be able to enter it during the publishing process. Do *not* use an ISBN for the print book edition.”

According to Barnes & Noble’s new PubIt! service, “You do NOT need an ISBN to sell your eBook through PubIt!. If you don’t have an ISBN, just tell us that you don’t have one by answering No when prompted. In that case, Barnes & Noble will assign an internal 13-digit identifier to your title for you when you submit the title to go on sale.”

Apple’s iBookstore does require that you have an ISBN for each title you intend to sell. (Correction: Apple no longer requires an ISBN.)

Other sites, such as SmashWords, Sony, and others, all have their own requirements. If you plan to distribute through any of them, you’ll have to check each site for instructions.

The International ISBN Agency’s stance on the topic is that it “continues to recommend that publishers should assign ISBNs to each ebook format separately available. Publishers should supply their

ISBNs to downstream intermediaries and channels if they are creating their own formats. There will, however, be instances of compressed supply chains where an e-book in a particular format is available exclusively through a single channel (e.g., Kindle). In those circumstances there is no requirement for an ISBN, unless the publisher needs it for control purposes. (A simple guiding principle is that a product needs a separate identifier if the supply chain needs to identify it separately).” You can read an entire position paper on the agency’s stance here.

About the Author

Self-publishing expert Sue Collier is coauthor of The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing,5th Edition (Writer’s Digest Books, 2010) and the forthcoming Jump Start Your Books Sales, 2nd Edition (Communication Creativity, 2011). She has been working with authors and small presses for nearly two decades, providing writing, editing, production, and promotions work for hundreds of book projects. Visit her website and blog at Self-Publishing Resources.


Profile photo of Nina Amir About Nina Amir

Nina Amir, the Inspiration to Creation Coach, inspires writers and bloggers to create published products and careers as authors. Additionally, she helps her clients and readers achieve their potential, fulfill their purpose and make a positive and meaningful difference with their words. She is the author of How to Blog a Book, The Author Training Manual, and Creative Visualization for Writers, all published by Writer’s Digest Books. As a hybrid author, she also has published 17 books independently. She is a nonfiction book editor and doctor, proposal consultant, and an Author Coach and Trainer as well as a Book and Blog Coach. Some of her clients have sold 320,000+ copies of their books and been published by major publishing houses. Nina also is an award winning blogger and journalist, international speaker and founder of National Nonfiction Writing Month, also known as the Write Nonfiction in November Challenge, and the Nonfiction Writers’ University. Also a Certified High Performance Coach, Nina strives to help creative people Achieve More Inspired Results personally and professionally.


  1. Thanks for finally writing about >Do You Need an ISBN for Your Ebook?
    <Liked it!


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