FAQs for New Publishers

ISBN FAQs for New Publishers
What is an ISBN?
What is the purpose of an ISBN?
What is the format of an ISBN?
Do I have to have an ISBN?
What can I gain from an ISBN?
Where can I get an ISBN?

Who is eligible for ISBNs?
What is a Publisher?
How long does it take to get an ISBN?
How much does it cost to get an ISBN?
What if I only want one ISBN?
Which products do not qualify for ISBNs?
What is an ISSN?
How do I contact the ISBN Agency?

What is an ISBN?
An ISBN is an International Standard Book Number. Up until the end of 2006 it was a 10 digit number, but from 1 January 2007 all ISBN numbers are now 13 digits long.

What is the purpose of an ISBN?
An ISBN is a product number, used by publishers, booksellers and libraries for ordering, listing and stock control purposes. It enables them to identify a particular Publisher and allows the Publisher to identify a specific edition of a specific title in a specific format within their output.

What is the format of an ISBN?
In the past ISBN numbers were 10 digits long but a new global standard, using 13 digits, has now been introduced. Under the new system which started on 1 January 2007, the 13 digits are always divided into five parts, separated by spaces or hyphens. The four parts following the prefix element can be of varying length and are as shown below.

Prefix Element : For the foreseeable future this will be either 978 or 979
Registration Group Element : Identifies a national, geographic or language grouping of Publishers. It tells you where in the world the Publisher is based (not the language of the book).
Registrant (Publisher) Element : Identifies a specific publisher or imprint
Publication Element : Identifies a specific edition of a specific title in a specific format.
Check Digit : This is always and only the final digit which mathematically validates the rest of the number. It is calculated using a Modulus 10 system with alternate weights of 1 and 3.

Following the change on 1 January 2007 to using 13 digits, existing 10 digit numbers must be converted by prefixing them with "978" and the check digit must be recalculated using a Modulus 10 system with alternate weights of 1 and 3.

Do I have to have an ISBN?
There is no legal requirement in the UK or Republic of Ireland for an ISBN and it conveys no form of legal or copyright protection. It is a product identification number.

What can I gain from an ISBN?
If you wish to sell your publication through major bookselling chains, or internet booksellers, they will require you to have an ISBN to assist their internal processing and ordering systems.

The ISBN also provides access to Bibliographic Databases such as BookData Online, which are organised using ISBNs as references. These databases are used by booksellers and libraries to provide information for customers. The ISBN therefore provides access to additional marketing tools which could help sales of your product.

Where can I get an ISBN?
ISBNs are assigned to Publishers in the country where the Publisher's main office is based. This is irrespective of the language of the publication or the intended market for the book.

The ISBN Agency is the national agency for the UK and Republic of Ireland. Publishers based elsewhere will not be able to get numbers from the UK Agency (even if you are a British Citizen) but should contact us for details of the relevant Agency.

Who is eligible for ISBNs?
Any Publisher who is publishing a qualifying product for general sale or distribution to the market. By publishing we mean making a work available to the public.

What is a Publisher?
The Publisher is generally the person or body who takes the financial risk in making a product available. For example, if a product went on sale and sold no copies at all, the Publisher is usually the person or body who loses money. If you get paid anyway, you are likely to be a designer, printer, author or consultant of some kind.

How long does it take to get an ISBN?
In the UK the Standard service time is 10 working days. This excludes weekends, Bank Holidays and days when the office is closed. There is also a Fast-Track service, which is a 3 working day processing period. The processing period begins when a correctly completed application is received in the ISBN Agency - not when it is posted.

How much does it cost to get an ISBN?
See the "Services for New Publishers" page on this website for details.

What if I only want one ISBN?
ISBNs are only available in blocks. The smallest block is 10 numbers. It is not possible to obtain a single ISBN.

Which products do NOT qualify for ISBNs?
Serials/periodicals/journals
Calendars *
Diaries *
Videos for entertainment
Documentaries on Video/CD-ROM
Computer Games
Computer Application Packages
Music scores
Items which are available to a restricted group of people, e.g. a history of a Golf Club - only for sale to members; or an educational course book only available to those registered as students on the course.
Websites
Non text-based publications

* Following a review of the UK market, it is now permissible for ISBNs to be assigned to calendars and diaries, providing that they are not intended for purely time-management purposes and that a substantial proportion of their content is of a textual or graphic nature.

What is an ISSN?
An International Standard Serial Number. This is the numbering system for journals, magazines, periodicals, newspapers & newsletters. It is administered by the British Library. Telephone (01937) 546959 or e-mail issn-uk@bl.uk

How do I contact the ISBN Agency?

Registration Agencies: ISBN Agency
Tel: +44 (0)1483 712 215 
Fax: +44 (0)1483 712 214
Email:
isbn.agency@nielsen.com

Julian Sowa, Senior Manager, Nielsen Registration Services: ISBN
Diana Williams, Manager, ISBN Agency