What you need to know about ISBNs

What is an ISBN?

ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. It is a unique 13-digit numeric identifier for books, much like an ID number. While you may find books with the same title, no two books will have the same ISBN.

An ISBN is assigned to each edition and format of a book. This means that your print edition will have a different ISBN to your ebook edition. And a Kindle ebook will have a different ISBN to an ePub or PDF ebook. A revised edition will also have a different ISBN to the original edition. ISBNs help consumers, retailers, distributors and libraries identify the correct edition and format of the book when ordering it.

In educational and academic publishing, where references are often made by educators and lecturers to specific page numbers or information in a book, ISBNs become especially important; they enable learners to identify and purchase the correct edition of that book.  

Must all books have an ISBN?

No – only books that are being sold to the general public through bookstores, retailers, libraries and distribution warehouses require one. Books published for private distribution or personal interest (e.g. family, business clients, club, church members) do not need an ISBN.

If you apply for an ISBN you will be required, by law, to submit one copy of your book free of charge to each of the five Legal Depositories (National Libraries) once it has been published. You can read more about Legal Deposit further below.

Do magazines and newspapers use an ISBN?

No. Any publication that is serial in nature (has different issues) will have an ISSN. An ISSN (International Standard Serial Number) is issued and controlled by an international ISSN body. If you are publishing a magazine, quarterly journal, annual directory, or any other publication that has multiple issues, email us to order your ISSN.

Where can I obtain an ISBN for my book?

Essentially, any publishing service provider can apply for an ISBN on your behalf, but only the National Library of South Africa (NLSA) issues them. While ISBNs are issued free of charge by the NLSA, publishing service providers will typically charge a small fee to cover their time making the application, ensuring safe receipt by following up with the NLSA if necessary, and forwarding the number/s on to the author.

If you are a Quickfox Publishing client, you will automatically receive an ISBN for each book format. We make application on your behalf, generate the relevant barcodes, and submit copies of your book to the legal depositories (see legal deposit below). We also provide free ISBN advice.

If you are publishing under the Yes!Press imprint, your ISBN will be assigned by Amazon and they will take are of the legal deposit requirements in the US. If you purchase your own ISBN by using a Yes!Press package add-on, then we will apply for it and fulfil the legal deposit requirements on your behalf. The cost includes us printing a digital sample book to send to the NLSA. Alternatively, if you are printing in bulk (more than 100 copies), five copies will need to be sent and we will remove these copies from your print run before delivering the balance of your books.  

You are, however, most welcome to obtain your own ISBNs by contacting the NLSA directly, and you will take care of your own legal deposit. The NLSA will provide you with instructions and the necessary forms when you apply for your ISBN.

While it’s very exciting to receive an ISBN for your book, it’s best to apply for one closer to publishing when you are sure that the name of the book won’t change, and you can fulfil your legal deposit timeously.

What you need to know about barcodes

What is a barcode and do I need one?

Barcodes are used at point-of-sale for quick retrieval of your book information such as name, product code and price. It also helps the distribution chain effectively manage the products in their care. A barcode can only be generated once you have an ISBN number.

If you intend selling your book through bookstores, online stores and libraries, your book will need a barcode. All distribution warehouses also require one.

If you are bypassing the distribution chain by selling your book privately, or if you are publishing an ebook, then a barcode is not necessary. Selling through some informal channels may require that you have one, so it’s best to check this beforehand, especially if you are printing large quantities of your book. Smaller quantities are less problematic: should you later require a barcode for your book, you can apply barcode stickers to the back cover.

How much does a barcode cost?

The cost for a single barcode (ISBN or EAN) is R250. Discounted pricing is offered on bulk barcode orders.

Ordering a barcode

Once you have an ISBN number, you can order your barcode online. Your barcode will be emailed to you within 1-2 business days from date of application and proof of payment.

We can supply a barcode to anyone with an ISBN number, regardless of the country in which the book is being published. However, you must apply for your ISBN in the country from which you will be conducting your publishing operations.

NOTE: We also supply barcodes for 13-digit EAN. An EAN is used on products that are NOT books (e.g. music CDs, DVDs, games)

What you need to know about legal deposit

What is Legal Deposit?

The Legal Deposit Act No 54 of 1997 provides for the deposit of books, magazines and other information-bearing documents to designated places of legal deposit. The Act provides a broad legislative framework for the number of copies to be deposited, their format and quality, information required from publishers and producers, when copies must be deposited and action to be taken against defaulting publishers and producers.

What does this mean for you, the author?

When obtaining an ISBN for your book from the National Library of South Africa (NLSA), you are legally required to send one copy of your book to each of the five places of legal deposit (the five main national libraries). If you print or distribute fewer than 100 books, then only one copy is required by the main place of legal deposit in Pretoria.

We take care of this requirement for all of our authors. If you are not using Quickfox Publishing for your ISBN application, do check with your own service provider whether legal deposit submission is included in their service. Failure to send books off for legal deposit will prevent you from ordering further ISBNs in the future.

Visit the NLSA website for more information about legal deposit and the issuing of ISBNs.

The purpose of Legal Deposit

The purpose of legal deposit is to collect, preserve and make available to present and future users the documents that contain the intellectual and cultural heritage of the country.

The preservation of the documentary heritage facilitates access to all published material generated within the country. Thus legal deposit is one of the pillars of freedom of information. It enables our country to fulfill two fundamental moral obligations to mankind as a whole.

These are:

  • To record everything the country has produced (in compliance with UNESCO/International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions Programme of Universal Bibliographic Control)
  • To ensure that at least one copy of every published document is preserved and available for consultation by scholars, potentially from all over the world

Legal Deposit has more specific benefits for creators and for publishers or producers:

  • It ensures that a creator’s work is not lost for posterity and that it is available for future research.
  • It has the potential to make all users of places of legal deposit aware of what has been published or produced.
  • It forms the basis for the compilation of national bibliographies and other databases that alert potential users nationally and internationally to the existence of books and other documents and thereby promote their distribution and sales.
  • It forms the basis for the collection of international book production statistics by UNESCO which is a valuable source of business information to the book trade. It can also develop into such for other media.

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