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How to obtain ISBN codes

What is an ISBN?

An ISBN is an International Standard Book Number that consists in a code of 13 digits. Each ISBN consists of 5 parts with each section being separated by spaces or hyphens; each part identifies the registrant, the specific title, edition and format.

E.g. 978-88-89637-15-9

Where: 978 is the Prefix element, 88 Registration group element (country or language area), 89637 Registrant element (particular publisher), 15 Publication element (particular edition and format of a specific title), 9 Check digit (mathematically validates the rest of the number).

An ISBN is essentially a product identifier used by publishers, booksellers, libraries and internet retailers and other supply chain participants for ordering, listing, sales records and stock control purposes. 

I am not a publisher, may I still obtain an ISBN?

Yes. A publisher is defined as the group, organization, company or individual who is responsible for initiating the production of a publication. Normally, it is also the person or body who bears the cost/financial risk in making a product available.

Where do I get an ISBN from?

ISBNs are available from the appropriate local agency for the region or country where the publisher is based.  If you have more than one site, possibly in more than one country, then ISBNs should be obtained depending on where the headquarters of your organization is situated. It also does not matter in which country your publications will be printed, manufactured, marketed or distributed – only your location as publisher determines where you should obtain ISBNs.

The Italian ISBN National Agency is: Ediser srl (website; it charges a fee to issue ISBNs.

What should I do to get a block of ISBNs?

You must go to the ISBN Italian Agency web site and fill this form. Once checked your data, the Agency will send you ID and password to login to the site and apply for your Registrant element (the ISBN part that identifies a particular publisher) and the relevant ISBNs. You must pay to obtain a Registrant element (€ 30,00 + IVA only the first time) and ISBN blocks (check the site for up-to-date price).

What if I only want one ISBN?

In Italy it is not possible, the National Agency only provides ISBNs in blocks made by a minimum of 10 codes.

Does a change of format require a new ISBN?

Yes, different formats need different ISBNs so that, for example, a customer who wants to buy an e-book rather than paperback can be confident that he will receive the correct format.

May I need a special ISBN for electronic publications?

No, e-books and other kind of digital publications require regular ISBNs.

Where should I display an ISBN?

On a printed book, an ISBN should be included on the copyright page (also called the title verso page) or at the foot of the title page, if there is no room on the copyright page. If there is no bar code, then the ISBN should also be on the back cover or jacket, preferably on the lower right.

In the case of electronic publications, the ISBN must appear on the title display, that is the first display page or on the screen that displays the title or its equivalent.