Should an e-book have an ISBN?

By Kevin • February 24th, 2012

An e-book should have an International Standard Book Number (ISBN) unless you plan to sell your book only from your website. Although Amazon and Barnes and Noble does not require an ISBN, I recommend one because the ISBN is sort of like a Social Security Number for your book; the ISBN is unique for your book and identifies one title or edition from another, and the number identifies the publisher, which helps with marketing to online bookstores, brick-and-mortar bookstores, to libraries and wholesalers and distributors.  Bowker, issuer of ISBNs, requires e-books to have different ISBNs than their print counterparts, even if the content is identical. Rule: Different format, different ISBN.


Always a trade-off. It does cost more money to get an ISBN for each e-book. However, I think the benefits are worth it unless these books are free.

In addition to those you mentioned, a unique ISBN can help with sales and royalty management. The ability to import sales reports from distributors and vendors and have the program automatically match the ISBN product code to that in its database can save a lot of time.

Of course, Bowker has a vested interest in selling more ISBNs. You can still obtain the uniqueness of product codes by using the SKUs provided by the vendors. For instance, you can use Amazon’s ASIN as a differentiating product code.

Although the majority of sales of e-books are through Amazon and Barnes and Noble, libraries as you have mentioned are also important. Many of those use OverDrive, so don’t forget that distributor.


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