Do You Need an ISBN for an eBook?

graphic depicting an eBook reading ISBN

If you’re an author looking to convert your printed books into eBooks, you may be wondering whether you need a separate ISBN for your digital editions. ISBNs (International Standard Book Numbers) are unique identifiers used to track and manage book sales. But since eBooks have the same content as their printed counterparts, do they require a separate ISBN?

Understanding the ISBN System

An ISBN is a unique 13-digit identifier for a book. ISBNs play a vital role in the book industry by specifying the title, author, publisher, format, and edition of a book. ISBNs facilitate book ordering, inventory management, and sales tracking for retailers, libraries, and publishers.

ISBNs are typically found on the copyright page of a printed book and are associated with a specific format, such as hardcover, paperback, or eBook.

Importance of an ISBN

If you want to sell your book, and if you want potential readers to find your book, you must have an ISBN. And yes, eBooks, since they are a different format than their printed counterparts, require a separate ISBN — though we’ll address a caveat to that statement in a minute.

Note, there is no such thing as an eISBN; there are only ISBNs. Colloquially, the term eISBN is used to denote an ISBN assigned to the electronic version of a book, specifically for eBooks, but using the term can cause confusion. So only the term ISBN should be used.

Do eBooks need ISBNs?

So, while an eBook needs an ISBN because it is a different format, if you are only publishing your eBook on Amazon, you are not required to procure an ISBN because Amazon uses its own proprietary system known as ASIN.

Though ISBNs are not technically required for eBooks being sold on Amazon, having one can bring several important benefits. Here are a few factors to consider.

  1. Distribution to other retailers. If you intend to distribute your book in any store other than Amazon or make your eBook accessible through your community library, you will require a 13-digit ISBN number for it. Wondering how to distribute an ebook?
  2. Metadata and discoverability. Your eBook’s ISBN is part of your book metadata and helps organize and categorize books in databases, making it easier for readers, retailers, and libraries to discover and purchase your eBook. Furthermore, even though Amazon doesn’t use your ISBN to list your book, it can be used as a search criteria on the site. In other words, if an interested reader has your ISBN, they can easily find your eBook listing on Amazon.
  3. Professionalism and branding. Having an ISBN gives your eBook a more professional and legitimate appearance, increasing its credibility in the eyes of potential readers, reviewers, and industry professionals.

When would a book need multiple ISBNs?

In cases where multiple formats and editions of a title exist, that single book title will require multiple ISBNs. Consider these scenarios:

  1. Multiple formats. If your eBook is available in multiple formats, each format will have a unique ISBN. For example, a paperback edition necessitates a distinct ISBN from a hardcover edition. Or if you publish a printed book, eBook, and audiobook, each format will require its own ISBN. This distinction allows retailers and distributors to track sales and inventory for each specific file format.
  2. Revised editions. If you release a revised or updated version of your eBook with minor edits, it will not need a new ISBN. However, if you release a second edition or make substantial changes, you will need to assign a new ISBN to differentiate it from the previous edition(s).
  3. Language versions. If you translate your eBook into different languages, each translated edition will need its own ISBN.

How do I get an ISBN for my eBook?

If you’ve determined that your eBook requires an ISBN, here’s how you can obtain one:

  1. ISBN Agency. Contact your country’s ISBN agency to obtain a single ISBN. Each country has its own, and some countries provide free ISBN. In the United States, you can buy a unique ISBN directly from Bowker. These ISBNs will cost $125 for one, or $295 for ten.
  2. Publish with BookBaby. When you work with BookBaby, you can purchase an ISBN for $49.

How do I display my ISBN?

Once you have your ISBN, ensure it is displayed on the copyright page, which is right before your book table of contents and book acknowledgements page as well as included in the book’s metadata.

How do I assign my ISBN?

If you get your assigned ISBN when you order your eBooks through BookBaby, your assigned ISBN will be automatically registered when you order. If you buy a batch of ISBNs from a company like Bowker, you can assign them to each proper edition with Bowker when you are ready.

Can an ISBN be reused?

ISBNs never expire. ISBNs are unique identifiers and cannot be reused for different multiple books or editions. Once a unique ISBN is assigned to a specific book, it remains associated with that edition for its lifetime.

Best Practices for eBook publishers

To recap, you will need a unique ISBN for each edition of your book, including your hardcover, paperback, eBook, audiobook, translated versions of your book, and any revisions you do in the future.

BookBaby’s eBook services

If you’re looking for professional eBook services, BookBaby can help. From eBook formatting to eBook distribution, BookBaby’s services are tailored to meet your self-publishing needs.

How To Publish On Amazon

Related Posts
ISBN FAQ: What’s An ISBN And Why Do You Need One?
What To Include On Your Book’s Copyright Page
Book Metadata: What The Heck Is That?
Expand Your Book’s Reach With BookBaby’s Book Translation Service
How to Self-Publish a Book With BookBaby


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