ISBN FAQ

edited January 15 in ISBN/Distribution

The purpose of the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is to coordinate, standardize, and uniquely identify one publication (or edition) published by one specific publisher in one specific format. The original standard was introduced in 1970 and has been revised over time as book and book-like items appear in new forms of media. Today this system is recognized and used in over 160 countries.

The following Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) are designed to provide you with some basic information about ISBNs, how they are assigned, and their usage requirements. For additional information, please visit the International ISBN Agency website where you can also access the ISBN Users' FAQ.

Why do I need to assign an ISBN to my Book?

If you want to sell your book on sites other than the Lulu.com Marketplace, it must include an ISBN.

  • The ISBN is a unique, internationally recognized identifier of your published work.
  • ISBNs differentiate between product formats (hardcover, paperback, eBook) as well as various editions of a book ensuring customers receive the version they wish to purchase.
  • Orders and distribution for published books are mainly executed by ISBN.
  • ISBNs facilitate electronic point-of-sale systems through the use of barcodes scanned by electronic readers.

Does a book I create for my own personal use or for a very limited audience such as my family and friends require an ISBN?

Generally, no.

Publications available on a limited basis, such as customized, print on demand publications with content specifically tailored to a user’s request (such as a photo book or personal calendar) will not need to be assigned an ISBN. If a customized publication is being made available for wider sale, for example through a college book store, then an ISBN should be assigned.

What does the number mean?

Since 2007, national ISBN agencies provide ISBNs consisting of 13 digits, grouped to communicate the following information:

  • Prefix Element (978 or 979 – new prefixes will be assigned as new numbers are required to meet demand)
  • Registration Group Element (country, geographical region, or language area)
  • Registrant Element (publisher or imprint)
  • Publication Element (specific edition of the publication released by the publisher)
  • Check Digit

I did not see the option to assign an ISBN when creating my project.

An ISBN is only needed for retail distribution to sites other than Lulu.com. Since some of our print book formats and sizes do not qualify for retail distribution, they are also ineligible to receive an ISBN.  For a list of book formats that qualify for retail distribution and an ISBN, see What Products are Eligible for Retail Distribution

Note: An ISBN is not required to sell your book in the Lulu.com Bookstore.

If you would rather “do-it-yourself”, U.S. residents can purchase and register ISBNs from myidentifiers.com. Residents of other countries may also purchase directly from their respective ISBN agencies. Note: Purchasing an ISBN makes you the Publisher of your book. See Also: Bringing your own ISBN Agreement

Is it possible to reassign ISBNs when the books to which they were allocated are out of print?

No, an ISBN identifies a book’s title, its edition, and format for all time. Even if out of print, your book may still exist in some shops, and will certainly continue to exist in libraries.

Do I need a new ISBN if I reprint an existing book with a new title?

Yes, a new title requires a new ISBN.

Where do I put the ISBN?

The ISBN must appear on the published work in the following locations:

  • The copyright page.
  • The lower section of the outside back cover.
  • The foot of the back jacket or wrapper.

For eBooks, the ISBN must be displayed as part of the copyright information.

I am publishing a Lulu book in a foreign language. Should I obtain an ISBN from the country in whose language the book is written?

No, it is the country in which the publisher lives or maintains residency that determines the group identifier – not the language of the text. Therefore, you may use a Free Lulu ISBN for works published in languages other than English.

Important Note: Lulu only offers retail distribution services for print books created in Latin character sets and eBooks written in English. 

Does a change of format require a new ISBN?

Yes, different formats need different ISBNs so that a customer who wants to buy a book in hardback rather than paperback can be confident they will receive the correct format.

I would like to issue a new ISBN for marketing reasons. Is this permissible?

No, a new ISBN cannot be issued solely for marketing or promotional reasons. A new ISBN can only be issued where there are changes of text, format, cover design or binding.

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