How to get an ISBN?

Publishing a book is a process that involves numerous steps, each as important as the other. For self-publishing authors, it can be a challenging process – and it doesn’t stop after writing the manuscript!

Registering an ISBN is one of the crucial steps that each author will need to complete to successfully publish their work. But where to start?

In this article, we’ll answer many frequently asked questions on this subject:

  • What is an ISBN?
  • How to get an ISBN in Canada?
  • What is it for?
  • Is it free?
  • And much more…

What is an ISBN?

The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a globally recognized unique identification number required for the sale and distribution of a publication in Canada.

It is used by various players in the book industry, such as booksellers, publishers and librarians.

What is the ISBN for?

The 13-digit number is used to identify each edition and format of a particular work. More specifically, it identifies:



Production countries

Is it compulsory for printed books?

In Canada, it is compulsory in order to be able to distribute and market:

  • Printed books
  • Ebooks
  • Audiobooks
  • Educational and teaching DVDs

However, you do not have to request one for:

  • Calendars
  • Music CDs
  • Individual images or photographs
  • Games

What is the cost of ISBN in Canada, and elsewhere in the world?

In Canada, it’s free for self-published authors and publishers who are Canadian residents to register an ISBN. Nationality, citizenship or the target market have no impact on its attribution.

By comparison, it’s not free in the United States. An ISBN license in the United States costs $125 USD ($295 USD for 10 licenses, $575 USD for 100 licenses, and $ 1,500 USD for 1,000 licenses).

In France, getting one is no longer free since Spring 2019. It now costs 30€ per registration.


What do you need to get an ISBN?

To make your request, make sure you have the following information ready:

  • The book title
  • The book format (print or electronic format)
  • The expected date of publication (check with your printer)
  • Contact details of the author

How to get an ISBN?

It’s the Canadian ISBN agency that assigns ISBNs to Canadian publishers and self-published Canadian authors.

For English or bilingual publications:

  1. Register with the Canadian ISBN Online Service System (click here). Your request and account creation may take up to 10 days to be completed.
  2. Log in to your account once it has been activated
  3. Create the ISBN(s) you need
  4. You can then create new ones from your account

Francophone publishers and authors who publish exclusively in French can communicate directly with Bibliothèques et Archives Nationale du Quebec (BAnQ) to obtain their ISBN.

As a publisher or as a self-published writer, getting your own issue for publication in Canada is fairly straightforward.

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The International Standard Book Number is not the only identification number for publications.


The ISMN, International Standard Music Number, is used for publications such as:

  • Printed music
  • Score Books
  • Annotated digital music

The ISSN, International Standard Serial Number, is used for publications such as:

  • Periodicals
  • Magazines
  • Journals
  • Other types of serial publications


Is it compulsory to have one for electronic books (eBooks)?

Yes, it is compulsory even for electronic versions of a book (eBooks) which are commercialized. It is necessary to register a number for each format of a publication (epub, mobi, etc.). For example, i your book is available in paperback, hardcover and eBook version, then you will need 3 separate ISBNs for each of the formats of your work.  


Once you’ve obtained an ISBN for your book, it is mandatory to send copies to legal deposit for them to be added to the nation’s published heritage collection.

For English or bilingual publications:

Authors and publishers only need to send 1 or 2 copies to Library and Archives Canada (depending on whether the first print is less than or more than 100 copies) by following these instructions.

In Quebec, an author or publisher must send:

  • 2 copies to the BAnQ following these instructions
  • 1 copy to Library and Archives Canada if the first print run is less than 100 copies (or 2 copies if the print is more than 100 copies) by following these instructions.

What does the 13-digit ISBN mean?

In 2017, the ISBN went from 10 to 13 digits. The 13 digits are divided into five parts, each separated by a hyphen. Here is a short description of each of its parts:

Part 1: The International Article Number is the European numbering of articles (EAN).

Part 2: The group identifier, which indicates the country or language of publication..

Part 3: The publisher prefix, which identifies the publisher within the country or language of publication.

Part 4: The title identifier, which identifies the title or edition of a published title.

Part 5: The control digit, which is a unique number that authenticates the accuracy of the ISBN.


isbn barcode


Is the barcode necessary?

The barcode is required to display the ISBN on your book’s back cover. It is a scannable representation of the number that facilitates the inventory of your book among retailers and bookstores.

Is my ISBN valid worldwide?

Yes. It is registered within the country of residence but is valid in all countries. That means you can sell your book worldwide from your own website, or distribute in as many countries as you want!

Does it protect copyright?

The ISBN is an identification tool and does not provide copyright protection. Likewise, the legal deposit does not provide copyright protection.

For more information about copyright, see our article on this subject.

Do I only need one ISBN?

If your work is published in a single format, only one number is required. However, if you have two different formats (for example, paperback and eBook), you will need to register 2 separate ISBNs.

What’s a UPC? Do I need to get one too?

UPC stands for Universal Product Code. It’s a 10-digit number which, like the ISBN, is used by retailers to identify and track your book. The UPC is extensively used by retailers in the United States, so if you plan to sell and distribute your book in the US you may want to get one. However, you don’t need one to sell in the US. The ISBN is often sufficient. If you don’t plan to sell and distribute in the US, a UPC is not necessary.

If I change the price of my book, do I need a new number?

No, a price change does not affect the ISBN.

If I change the size of my book, do I need a new number?

Yes, a change of book size requires the registration of a new ISBN.

If my book is available in 2 formats, do I need 2 separate ISBNs?

Yes, an ISBN is required for each format of your work.

How to generate a new number for the new format of a title that has already been published and already has its own ISBN?

Simply return to the publisher area using the username and password provided by the Canadian ISBN Agency and request a new number. You will instantly get a new one.

If I change the title of my book, do I need a new ISBN?

Yes, as there is a noticeable change in your work, a new ISBN must be registered.

If I just change the cover of my book, do I need a new one?

No, it’s not necessary to register a new ISBN if only the cover of the book is changed.

If I update my book, do I need a new ISBN?

If the text does not change, and only errors are corrected, this update is considered a reprint and does not require the registration of a new ISBN.

On the other hand, if you modify certain sections of your text and / or add sections (roughly 10% or more), you will need a new ISBN, since this is no longer considered as a simple reprint.

Can the same number be reused for different works?

No, it cannot be reused for different works. Each ISBN is associated with a unique work and format.

Is a book with an ISBN more expensive in Quebec?

No, it’s the opposite! In Quebec, books with ISBNs are zero-rated for QST and are therefore more affordable. In other words, buyers pay only GST on purchases of books with ISBNs.

Need a print quote?
Click here to fill out our online quote request form.