The purpose of the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is to coordinate, standardize, and uniquely identify one publication (or edition) published by one specific publisher in one specific format. The original standard was introduced in 1970 and has been revised over time as book and book-like items appear in new forms of media. Today this system is recognized and used in over 160 countries.

The following Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) are designed to provide you with some basic information about ISBNs, how they are assigned, and their usage requirements. For additional information, please visit the International ISBN Agency website where you can also access the ISBN Users' FAQ.


Why Do I Need To Assign an ISBN to My Book?

If you want to sell your book on sites other than the Lulu Bookstore, it must include an ISBN.

  • The ISBN is a unique, internationally recognized identifier of your published work.
  • ISBNs differentiate between product formats (hardcover, paperback, ebook) as well as various editions of a book ensuring customers receive the version they wish to purchase.
  • Orders and distribution for published books are mainly executed by ISBN.
  • ISBNs facilitate electronic point-of-sale systems through the use of barcodes scanned by electronic readers.

Does a Book I Create for My Own Personal Use or for a Very Limited Audience Such As My Family and Friends Require an ISBN?

Generally, no. Publications available on a limited basis, such as customized, print-on-demand publications with content specifically tailored to a user’s request (such as a photo book or personal calendar) do not require an ISBN. 

If a customized publication is being made available for wider sale, for example through a college bookstore, then an ISBN should be assigned.

What Does the Number Mean?

Since 2007, national ISBN agencies have provided ISBNs consisting of 13 digits, grouped to communicate the following information:

  • Prefix Element (978 or 979 – new prefixes will be assigned as new numbers are required to meet demand)
  • Registration Group Element (country, geographical region, or language area)
  • Registrant Element (publisher or imprint)
  • Publication Element (specific edition of the publication released by the publisher)
  • Check Digit

Can I Get an ISBN for My Periodical Publication (Magazine, etc.)?

No. If you are publishing a recurring product (for example, a monthly literary journal), consider getting an ISSN (International Standard Serial Number). ISSNs are free! 

An ISSN is an eight-digit number that uniquely identifies your periodical. Unlike ISBNs, which contain country and publisher prefixes, the ISSN simply identifies the periodical (not the publisher from whom it is available). An ISSN distinguishes a particular periodical from others with which it might be confused. The ISSN also helps library patrons, libraries, and others who handle large numbers of periodicals to more quickly find and identify titles in automated systems.

In the US, ISSNs are administered by the National Serials Data Program (NSDP) of the Library of Congress. According to their site (, periodicals, or serials, are: "...print or non-print publications issued in parts, usually bearing issue numbers and/or dates. A serial is expected to continue indefinitely. Serials include magazines, newspapers, annuals (such as reports, yearbooks, and directories), journals, memoirs, proceedings, transactions of societies, and monographic series."

If this description sounds like what you are publishing, apply for an ISSN. ISSNs are assigned by a network of over 60 centers worldwide coordinated by the ISSN International Centre located in Paris.

For more information, see:

  • US publications: United States ISSN Center
  • Serials published outside of the US: the ISSN International Centre can refer you to the national center in your country of publication.

A separate ISSN is required for each medium; that is, if your periodical is available in both Download and Print formats, you will need a separate ISSN for each distribution format. After you get your ISSN, add it to your periodical.

IMPORTANT: Unlike ISBNs, where Lulu adds the barcode to your back cover, ISSNs are your responsibility. Insert the ISSN in your source file before uploading and publishing. Suggested locations:

  • Printed publication: the preferred location is the upper right-hand corner of the cover. You can also add it to the masthead area, copyright page, or in the publishing statement (where you identify publisher, frequency, etc.).
  • Non-print publication: on an internal location, such as the title screen or home page.

Can I Assign an ISBN to an Existing Project?

Yes, it is possible to assign an ISBN to an existing project if you are given the option to select the 'Global Distribution' Sell option upon project revision.

Is It Possible To Reassign ISBNs When the Books to Which They Were Allocated Are Out of Print?

No, an ISBN identifies a book’s title, edition, and format for all time. Even if out of print, your book may still exist in some shops, and will certainly continue to exist in libraries.

Do I Need a New ISBN if I Reprint an Existing Book With a New Title?

Yes, a new title requires a new ISBN.

Where Do I Put the ISBN?

The ISBN must appear on the published work in the following locations:

  • The copyright page.
  • The lower section of the outside back cover.
  • The foot of the back jacket or wrapper.

For ebooks, the ISBN must be displayed as part of the copyright information.

Where Do I Get an ISBN?

If you create a project eligible for Global Distribution, you will be able to assign a Free Lulu ISBN.

If you would like to purchase your own ISBN, we encourage you to visit the International ISBN Agency. The country in which you, the publisher, live or maintain residency determines which agency you need to purchase your ISBN from.

Important Note: Lulu only offers retail distribution services for print books created in Latin character sets and ebooks written in English.

Does a Change of Format Require a New ISBN?

Yes, different formats need different ISBNs so that a customer who wants to buy a book in hardback rather than paperback can be confident they will receive the correct format.

I Would Like To Issue a New ISBN for Marketing Reasons. Is This Permissible?

No, a new ISBN cannot be issued solely for marketing or promotional reasons. A new ISBN can only be issued when there are changes of text, format, cover design, or binding.

My Project Is Enrolled in Global Distribution. Which Metadata Is Locked to My ISBN?

  • Title
  • Subtitle
  • Contributors (e.g. Author Name)
  • Edition Type
  • Edition Statement
  • Imprint
  • Publication Date
  • ISBN
  • Copyright
  • Book Specifications

If it is necessary to change the locked metadata, you must first remove the project from Global Distribution. Once the project is removed from Global Distribution, you must recreate the project.

If your intent is to re-enroll the project in Global Distribution, you must recreate your project, apply new metadata, assign a new ISBN, and order a proof copy.