How to get your ISBN in South Africa
By Candice Robertson
How to get your ISBN in South Africa Feature Image

Ever wondered how to get your ISBN in South Africa? If you are an author who is in the process of self-publishing a book then you probably have! Here’s everything you need to know about what it is, how to get it and how much it costs.

What is an ISBN?

ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number and is a unique identification number for your book. This number means that your book can be found anywhere in the world! If you were to grab any book off your shelf and look at the back cover, you would find the ISBN above the barcode. Up until 31 December 2006, ISBNs used to be 10 digits in length. However, since 1 January 2007, they have 13 digits. ISBNs use a specific mathematical formula and include a check digit to validate the number.

Why do you need an ISBN?

Our books need an ISBN to help us distinguish between different titles or editions. It also helps to keep track of book sales through bookshops, libraries, universities, wholesalers, and distributors.

You don’t HAVE to have one, but you won’t be able to sell your book through any professional channel, online or in bookstores, without one. As a general rule, you need an ISBN in cases where you intend to profit from book sales. If you only ever wanted to print limited copies of your paperback for close friends and family, an ISBN is not necessary.

Can you use the same ISBN for all versions of your book?

You cannot use the same ISBN for all versions of your book, since each ISBN uniquely identifies a format of your book. This means that you need different ISBNs for each format of your book. The different book formats all requiring unique ISBNs are:

  • E-books 
  • Hardbacks
  • Paperbacks
  • Audiobooks

As a result, your physical book will have a different ISBN to your e-book. If you revise your book and publish a new edition, this will also require a new ISBN.

When do you need a new ISBN?

If your book is revised and changes by 20% or more, you will be required to apply for a new ISBN. An ISBN can never be reused or reassigned. Additionally, if your book appears in different languages, these will each require their own ISBN. This is because each language version is a different product.

How do you get an ISBN?

You can request ISBNs from the National Library of South Africa. They will send your ISBN, along with a form to fill in for each ISBN number you use. You will need to supply information such as:

  • Book title
  • Name of author(s)
  • Email address
  • Physical address
  • Phone number of author(s)

When you register your book for an ISBN, you are also legally obligated to fulfil a legal deposit. This means that you must send copies of your book to the National Library of South Africa. For small print runs of under 100 copies, you’re only required to send one copy of your book. Larger print runs require you to send five copies to various places of deposit around the country. Read our previous post about legal deposits here.

How much does an ISBN cost?

ISBNs are free in South Africa!

Take the stress out of your final publishing steps, and let us handle it! We will secure your ISBN and ensure your legal deposit is fulfilled. Contact us now.

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