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


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14 thoughts on “The much hyped ISBN

  1. ravindranath July 24, 2010 at 8:08 pm Reply

    your info is extremely useful. can u tell how much time does it usually takke for getting isbn number for self-published work?

  2. Jaya Jha July 26, 2010 at 9:24 am Reply

    Their stated time is 1 week. In our experience from sending them the application to receiving back the ISBN, it takes about 3 weeks.

    • karan August 5, 2010 at 6:16 pm Reply

      what kind off reply do we get.. we directly receive the ISBN or is it a proper process ahead

  3. Jaya Jha August 5, 2010 at 7:58 pm Reply

    The ISBN.

  4. Usha Narayanan February 28, 2011 at 1:26 pm Reply

    I had applied for ISBN for two books Getting it Right! and R.L. Narayanan Speaks on Legal Queries on the 6th of January 2011 and sent a reminder on 7th February 2011. I have not got any response till today. I have not been able to contact them over the phone because nobody picks up the phone. Please help me out. I would like to know what I should do further to get ISBN for these two books.

  5. Jaya February 28, 2011 at 2:19 pm Reply

    You should try sending another application. It might have been lost. Make sure you have attached a self addressed envelop so that they can get back to you.

  6. Rajesh November 17, 2011 at 1:10 pm Reply

    Dear Sir,How can we get the ISBN No. for the digital proceedings of the conference.

    • Jaya March 5, 2012 at 11:14 pm Reply

      In the same manner as the print books.

  7. reds16 March 5, 2012 at 9:12 pm Reply

    Dear Jaya

    I am an author whose book is not yet published. I would like to know whether the ISBN can be given to books that are not published. Secondly my publisher is a company. In such a case is the ISBN given to the publisher or the author

    • Jaya March 5, 2012 at 11:14 pm Reply

      Not sure what the question exactly means? You do plan to publish the book, right? Then send the information and get the ISBN. ISBN is always assigned to the publisher. When the author self-publishes he has to get an ISBN himself, because he himself is the publisher.

  8. Puja April 9, 2012 at 2:08 pm Reply

    I have submitted Application for ISBN on Marhc 14,2012.Yet not getiing any response.How Do I contact to the Raja Rammohanroy National agency for India office? Kindly give me proper contact number or mail ID.

    I have one more query to ask that which is the correct format to use for the ISBN b’coz the one I have used was different than metioned here.

    Kindly solve the queries


  9. Nikhil Ravishankar September 7, 2012 at 4:47 pm Reply

    Is the process same for a publishing company? How much would it take for the ISBN block to be sent?

  10. Himanshu Arora June 6, 2013 at 12:37 pm Reply

    The ISBN form requires current account details. As self publishing, I don’t have a current account.
    What to do ?
    What should I write in the name of Publisher ?

    regards, Himanshu

  11. I sent my fully filled application for ISBN no.along with required info.on 17/2/2016 but no info. from the agency.what to do…/

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