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What You Need to Know About ISBNs

By Debbie Elicksen

An ISBN is universally global. This then begs the question: so why on earth do different countries have different application systems? Why is the price in one country substantially different than another? We may never know but what we can do is compare the U.S. with Canada.

In the U.S., Bowker is the agency you contact to apply for an ISBN. It’s hard to tell who owns Bowker and whether or not it is a government agency just by looking at the Website. But when you apply, have your credit card ready because you can pay anywhere from $125 to $200 for a single ISBN and $275 to $400 for a block of 10. Why the discrepancy? The cheaper price is based on a 15-day turnaround. If you want your number fast-tracked, you pay more. Here’s the breakdown.

  15-day turnaround Two days Overnight
Single ISBN $125 $150 $200
10 ISBNs $275 $375 $400
100 ISBNs $995 $1095 $1120
1000 ISBNs $1750 $1850 $1875

Canada’s ISBNs are applied through the government. The best part about the Canadian ISBN system? It’s free!

The system was changed in 2008 and allows the publisher to log online to update and change information plus add new releases, while being able to update the status of each release. The only approval needed is to apply as a publisher, and that usually takes a couple of days. Once you receive a user login, the rest is up to you. Getting an ISBN is instant. It's a great system and requires little manpower for the ISBN office administration. Here’s how the agency’s Anne Price explained it to me last September:

Once in Logbook in the CISS system, click on Assign New ISBN right under Manage Logbook. This will take you into a page where you will need to complete some information in order to receive your ISBN number. You will need to do this for each number you need. For you convenience, we have entered default information in most fields so you don't need to worry about filling them in unless you plan on exporting this file to major booksellers such as Indigo, Amazon, etc. You will need to fill in Title, Subject (12 characters maximum) and Contributor information. Then click Save at the bottom, and your ISBN will automatically appear in the Manage Logbook section.

You can only apply for an ISBN in the country you reside. So if you’re Canadian, you can keep your credit card in your wallet.

Be aware there are a number of Print on Demand companies that charge for ISBN numbers, whether the author resides in Canada or not. They purchase or receive free blocks of ISBN numbers and then resell them for a profit. In most cases, the ISBN is under the POD company’s name.

Read other articles and learn more about Debbie Elicksen.

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