ISBN Number - Do Ebooks Need One?

ISBN number ... does an ebook require one? I was recently asked the following question by one of my subscribers:

Dear Laura,

How do we protect our ebooks after we have written them? The reason for my question: I was about to purchase an ISBN number and I called Brenda at Bar Code Graphics to ask some particulars. After we had finished the questions and answers she informed me that ISBN's are not needed for ebooks, only hardbound books that are going to be sold in stores. Therefore, what types of protection (besides copyrighting) are available for our ebooks?

Dale G.

Dear Dale,

First, I'll address the issue of copyright. You can copyright an ebook like any other book. It's quick, inexpensive and easy. First printed it out and send a copy to yourself. Keep the copy that you receive in the mail sealed so the postmark will prove when you sent it.

Next register your book with the Copyright Office.

Now with regard to the second issue:

An ISBN number is used to uniquely identify one book from another. In the traditional publishing world of printed books, every book must have one. If you revise a book and create a new edition by changing at least 25% of the book's content, you are supposed to assign a new ISBN to distinguish it from the previous one.

That said, there is some disagreement among publishers as to whether ebooks require an ISBN. As a publisher, I always assign a separate number to each product I create whether it's a tangible book, an ebook, a booklet or a CD or DVD. Still, I have seen ebooks published without an identifying number and this is fine as long as you take the steps above.

Even if you only intend to distribute your ebook via download or email, you still should have a copy of every book you write. If you have a speaking engagement then back-of-the-room sales can really enhance your speaking fees. I recommend that you create a printed version of your ebook using CreateSpace publishing. When you use Amazon's CreateSpace to create a printed version of your book, you can use one of their provided ISBN numbers and do not need to have your own. Of course, don't worry ... you still own all the rights to your book when self publishing in this way. CreateSpace is just your printer, but it's smart to click on the link above and set up an account because there are so many benefits in going with Amazon, such as getting your book listed on the biggest online book retailer in the world.

Some publishers say that you are only required to get an ISBN if you plan to sell your ebook in regular channels, but in today's world, selling an ebook online is considered a channel.

The following quote comes directly from :

isbn number

An ISBN number should be assigned to each title or product, including any backlist or forthcoming titles. Each format or binding must have a separate number (i.e. hardcover, paperbound, VHS video, laserdisc, E-BOOK FORMAT, etc). A new ISBN is required for a revised edition. Once assigned, an ISBN can never be reused. An ISBN is printed on the lower portion of the back cover of a book above the bar code and on the copyright page.

In my publishing business, I follow the rules above and assign a separate ISBN to every product I create, regardless of its form. However, I know of other publishers who assign one ISBN number per ebook, even if they eventually offer the same content in other formats.

If you print your books through Lightning Source International, you can use one ISBN by setting up your perfect bound book (paperback), then LSI automatically assigns an SKU to the same ISBN an Amazon attaches an ASIN, which means you only have to use one ISBN for the paperback and ebook editions.

To get Amazon to link the paperback and ebook editions of the same content send an email to them at and include the ISBN and ASIN.

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ISBN Numbers

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