The much hyped ISBN

We often get queries which desperately ask whether we can assign ISBN to their books. Some others almost seem to say that its their dream to publish their book with an ISBN.

We have not quite been able to figure out what image of the ISBN an average self-publisher carries. Still, before we proceed on this topic further, let me clarify this about the ISBN. ISBN is a useful thing, but it is not something you need to dream about. It is just a number to help cataloging of the books worldwide. You don’t have to do something to ‘qualify’ for it. You just need to approach the right people with the details of your book and they will issue you an ISBN. Do not get psyched out by the information on the Internet, mostly put up by the parties with financial interest, which make ISBN seem like a prestigious award for your book. Its not!

The above is particularly true of India. In many other countries, you will need to pay to a reseller to get an ISBN for your book. In India, ISBN is handled by a government agency. In an effort to promote the adoption of ISBN, they issue it for free.

For more information on what the ISBN is, assignment of ISBN and how to get one for your self published book in India, read the following excerpt from our Self Publishing Guide.


ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number, a unique code that can be assigned to a book. This is a system developed and adopted by the International Organisation for Standardisation to uniquely identify each published book.

Assignment of ISBN

Each country has their designated ISBN agency which is responsible for allotment of ISBNs for the books published in their country. In some countries there are also resellers of ISBN apart from the agency. In India, the only agency authorised to issue an ISBN is Raja Rammohan Roy National Agency for ISBN, which comes under Ministry of Human Resource Department. As of now, there are no authorised resellers of ISBN in India.

Who should get the ISBN

ISBNs are issued to publishers, who can then assign them to the books published by them. No one other than the publisher should assign an ISBN to the book. For a self publisher in India, it means that they should not get an ISBN from anybody except directly through the agency issued in his/her name. That would be the correct way of getting the ISBN. The process of getting an ISBN assigned is simple and it is explained later in this article.

Importance of ISBN

  • ISBN helps in compilation of published book in directories and bibliographic records.
  • It helps everyone in the distribution chain track the movement of the books.
  • It helps in collection of sales data of books.

In India, however, the ISBN is yet to be adopted by the majority and many parts of the distribution process are not automated. So, the real advantage of ISBN is not that high. However, if you want to go through the traditional distribution channels for your book, it would be useful to get an ISBN. Most organised and online retailers need an ISBN assigned for a book to be sold through them.

ISBN for Self Publishers in India

As mentioned earlier, ISBNs are given to publishers to assign to the books they publish. Earlier ISBNs were allotted only in blocks. But the good news is individual ISBNs can now be allotted to individuals who are self publishing. And getting an ISBN in India is free.

You need to send an application to the Raja Rammohan Roy National Agency for ISBN with the details of your book, photocopy of the cover page, identity proof and a self-addressed envelope for return communication. A template for ISBN application form is available on