How to Get an ISBN for Your Ebook

Are you confused over whether you need an ISBN for your ebook and how to get one? I know I was before I went through the process of uploading my first ebook. So, here they are:

The FAQs about ISBNs

1) Can I use the same ISBN that was assigned to the print edition?

No. That I know for sure. My understanding is, even if you were reissuing the book as a print book, if anything changes, like the cover or even how the text was typeset, you’d need a new ISBN that is specific to that edition.

2) Do I need a different ISBN for every format of the ebook since it’s going to be formatted for Kindle, Nook, iPad, Sony, etc?

No, thank goodness. As long as you’re uploading the same file with the same cover, you just need one ISBN. And you don’t even need to use the ISBN for every format. You need one to get your ebook listed on for Nook, and on the iBookstore for iPad, but you don’t need one to be listed on Amazon for Kindle.

3) How do I get an ISBN?

I did my ebook through Smashwords, so it was easy. After you uploaded your file, there is a waiting period before your book is accepted into the Premium Catalog. Once it’s accepted, they will walk you through getting an ISBN. If you choose the free one, your book must say “Smashwords Edition” in the copyright area at the very beginning of the book. I chose to buy an ISBN for $9.99, so I put “Published by Julie Ortolon at Smashwords” in the copyright area. I didn’t even have to cough up the 10 bucks. They will take it out of my first sales.

(Want to see how to word your copyright text? CLICK HERE and download a FREE sample.)

4) Why buy an ISBN if I can get a free one?

I read somewhere that Amazon doesn’t like you to put Smashwords Edition in the front. I’m not sure if that’s true, but for $9.99 why risk it.

5) How do I get an ISBN if I don’t go through Smashwords?

Ah-ha! Now that’s a good question and one I don’t have the answer to yet. If you know, please post the info in the comments!

If you have questions or corrections about any of this information, please post that in the comments as well. The purpose of this blog is to share information and learn together, so let’s share.


  1. Just a comment about the ISBN numbers. We Canucks can get an ISBN number for free at the CISS…Canadian ISBN Service System website All you have to do is register once and get a new number each time you add a book to your file.

    I do want to thank Julie for all her help. I have a few out of print books that I’ve been wondering what to do with and with Julie’s help, China Rose is now at Smashwords and hopefully soon at Amazon *s*


  2. Thanks for posting the information and the link.

    You’re welcome on the help. I’m really excited about the re-release of China Rose. Can’t wait to hear how it does.

  3. Jon says:

    Thanks for the advice. Does anyone have an answer to no 5)?
    I just want to get an isbn for the ebook I have written in the UK. Let me know

  4. Actually response number 2 is incorrect — to a point. The kindle doesn’t require an ISBN, but the Nook and iBooks do, and they’d have to be separate. I just got this letter from the ISBN agency. Check out the pdf link.
    Good luck!

    Here’s the letter.

    You would need separate ISBNs for each format. I’ve attached a guideline for assignment of ISBNs to e books.

    Have a nice day.
    John D’Agostino
    Publisher Relations Representative
    ISBN Agency

  5. You only paid $9.99 for an IBSN? I just went to Bowker, the official IBSN register in the USA, and had to pay $125.00 for my IBSN. According to Bowker’s FAQs, a separate IBSN is required for each digital format. I guess I’ll have to look into Smashwords.

  6. Michael says:

    I’m not quite following how to get an ISBN for $9.99. Could you elaborate for me and others. Thanks.


  7. Mike, you can get an ISBN from Smashwords for $9.99.

  8. zeb tucker says:

    just a few notes about ISBNs
    — You need a different number for any edition, digital, hardbound, softbound regardless of any changes in a cover, text change etc.
    — using an aggregator such as Blurb, Lulu, Smash etc to publish your book, keep in mind that they are the publisher, not you. Period. No matter what you write on the copyright page. The publisher can choose at anytime to remove a book or change price with or without your approval.
    — Once an ISBN is assigned, it can not be changed, it remains forever for that edition. A new edition must be published to change.
    — ISBN’s can be purchased by anyone, though you must purchase a block of 25 for 250.00, but you are the publisher and they do not expire.
    — If you can use Apple’s ibooks author, skip the middle man, there is no charge, but to sale you must have an itunes acct and appy with Apple to set up an author account. Very, very helpful is to have an Mac and an ipad to develope, test and send to Apple.

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