How to Get an ISBN for Free

by Harry Wallett

Self-publishing is becoming an increasingly popular option for authors who want to get their work out to the world. But is self-publishing with a free ISBN a good idea?

In this blog post, we’ll explore the benefits of having an ISBN (international standard book number) and discuss whether or not it’s worth it to pay for ISBN registration. We’ll also look at how long it takes to obtain an ISBN and how many you’ll actually need for your book.

Finally, we’ll provide tips on where to buy an ISBN and where to get one at no charge.

Can I Self Publish Without an ISBN?

The simple answer is yes, you can self-publish without registering for an ISBN. If you only intend to sell books through direct order and back-of-the-room sales, then you don’t really need one.

But, if you want to sell your book through traditional distribution channels, including online as well as brick-and-mortar bookstores, then having an ISBN is absolutely necessary.

What is the Main Benefit of Having an ISBN?

The most significant benefit of having an ISBN is the ability to track your book’s sales and orders. This is especially important if you’re selling or distributing your book through traditional channels and need to keep track of inventory levels.

The entire book industry is built around ISBNs as the unique fingerprints for all books and their formats.

Without this information, retailers and wholesalers simply won’t be able to stock your title or to accurately source it when a customer wants to purchase a copy.

Is ISBN Registration Free?

In some countries (like Canada), there’s no cost for ISBN registrations. In others (like the U.S.) there are fees involved. This cost is usually around $125 USD for a single ISBN, becoming less expensive the more ISBNs you register.

Having said that, there are ways to obtain free ISBNs in the U.S., for example, by self-publishing your book through a publishing service like Amazon’s KDP.

With KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) you have the option to supply your own ISBN or to use one of theirs at no cost. The downside is that if you choose the free option, then KDP becomes the publisher of record for your book.

Now, you will still own 100% of your intellectual property, so you’re safe there. But if you ever want to publish outside of the Amazon ecosystem, you won’t be able to reuse the same ISBN.

So, in the long run you’ll always be better off owning your own ISBNs out right so you can always be the publisher of record for your book.

How Long Does It Take To Get an ISBN?

How Long Does It Take To Get a new ISBN from an international isbn agency for a self published book for self publishers

It depends on where you live. If you’re in the U.S. and you choose the free route, say through Amazon’s KDP, you’ll get your ISBN instantaneously because they own large blocks of numbers — all they have to do is to assign one to your new book.

If, on the other hand, you choose to purchase your ISBN, there are three levels of service available:

  • Non-priority: With this level of service you’ll get your ISBN assigned up to 5 business days from the date the ISBN agency receives your application
  • Priority service speeds this up to 2 business days
  • Express processing takes only 24 hours from receipt of your application

It goes without saying that the more expedited the processing, the higher the cost.

How Many ISBNs Do I Need for My Book?

You’ll need one ISBN for each paper format of your book. This includes different cover types (e.g., paperback, hardcover) and languages (e.g., English, French, etc.). You’ll also need unique ISBNs for different editions of the same book title.

For example, if you have both a hardcover and a paperback English version of your book, then you’ll need to register for two ISBNs. If you have your book translated into French but you only publish it as a hardcover, then you’ll need an additional ISBN. And if you publish a second edition a year later for all of the above, you’ll need to get a different ISBN for each second edition format available for purchase.

Note that eBooks and Audiobooks do not require ISBNs. So, the rule of thumb is, if a book needs to be physically shipped from a distribution warehouse to a retailer, then you must have an iSBN.

Where is the Best Place to Buy an ISBN Number?

Best Place to Buy an ISBN Number - separate isbn, official isbn agency

If you live in the U.S, then you’ll need to visit to request your numbers.

Pricing depends on volume. Here are the main options available:

  • Single pack: The cost for a single ISBN is $125
  • 10-Pack: The cost for 10 ISBNs is $295
  • 100-Pack: The cost for 100 ISBNs is $575
  • 1,000-Pack: The cost for 1,000 ISBNs is $1,500

Where is the Best Place to Get a Free ISBN?

If you are looking to obtain an ISBN without incurring any costs, there are many self-publishing companies that offer free numbers as part of their services. Popular examples are:

Popular ISBN Issuing Authorities:

Below are some of the most popular sites where you can obtain ISBN resources for English-language publications:

United States:




In Conclusion

Registering for an ISBN will make the self-publishing of your book look a lot more professional by industry standards, plus it’ll make it possible for your book to be sold through traditional distribution channels.

Although there’s a fee associated with registering an ISBN in many countries, like the U.S, it’s possible to skip this charge by using popular self-publishing services.

Ultimately, your decision to get an ISBN or not is based on your individual needs and your budget.

Harry Wallett is the Managing Director of Cascadia Author Services. He has a decade of experience as the Founder and Managing Director of Relay Publishing, which has sold over 3 million copies of books in all genres for its authors, and looks after a team of 50+ industry professionals working across the world.

Harry is inspired by the process of book creation and is passionate about the stories and characters behind the prose. He loves working with the writers and has shepherded 1000s of titles to publication over the years. He knows first-hand what it takes to not only create an unputdownable book, but also how to get it into the hands of the right readers for success.

Books are still one of the most powerful mediums to communicate ideas and establish indisputable authority in a field, boosting your reach and stature. But publishing isn’t a quick and easy process—nor should it be, or everyone would do it!

A professional grade book takes 250+ individual tasks to complete. Cascadia is an expert in every single one of them. Do you want to harness our expertise to launch your book into the stratosphere? Chat with us!

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