What is an ISBN Number? (And How Do You Get One in Canada?)

by | Jun 5, 2015 | Self Publishing Books

ISBN NumberSo you’re ready to self publish your book? If you’re in Canada, there is some good news. The ISBN number (the International Standard Book Number … you know that little number above the bar code on the back of a book?) is free.

But what is that little number? It’s a numerical way to identify certain types of publications. The important thing you should know is that EVERY format you publish in needs it’s own ISBN.

So, if you’re planning to have a hard cover, soft cover, KOBO, Kindle and iBook you’re going to need five different ISBN’s for your book.

It’s also important to understand that every format has it’s own ISBN number because, if you have the goal of becoming a best selling book, you need to understand that it’s based on the sales performance of ONE ISBN number. The official title of best seller doesn’t come from aggregating your sales in all different formats, it comes from the successful sale of ONE FORMAT.

Then again, it seems like everyone calls themselves a bestseller these days without actually officially achieving it, so you probably don’t have to concern yourself with that as much as I did … but that is a post for another day.

The ISBN numbers are important because this is how the publisher, bookstore, or library will figure out which book is which. If you’re not going to sell your book anywhere but on your own website you will not need this. But, it is free if you have a Canadian address, so why not get one so you have more opportunities to distribute and sell your book?

Who Can Get a FREE ISBN Number?

It’s available to Canadian publishers which means you have a business address in Canada, if you have employees you need to have most of them actually be in Canada (75%) and you will be making your publication available in Canada.

If you qualify, the process is pretty straightforward. You can apply to obtain an ISBN through the ISBN Canada online system, or call 1-866-578-7777 to get information or the forms sent to you the old fashioned way (good old Canada Post).

It will take a couple of weeks once you submit your application online. Once you have your number, the online system for managing your number is pretty easy to use, and support questions are answered fairly quickly.

Here’s exactly how to get one as a Canadian:


Now … before you get too excited, it’s important to note that you’re just going to receive the number. You still need to create the bar code. My book cover designer made mine for me based on the numbers. If you print through Create Space they will do it for you. Or, there are free services that will turn your ISBN number into a bar code and send it to you.

Once you have that – you’re good to go! You can sell in any country. My book has been sold in five different countries with it’s ISBN number so you’re good to go internationally once you get your ISBN number.

Here’s a video I shot a couple of years ago about ISBN Numbers that may help you as well:

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