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FAQ about ISBN

Frequently asked questions and answers about Raja Ram Mohan Roy National Agency for ISBN, Department of Higher Education, Ministry of Education by Government of India.

What is ISBN ?

The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a unique numerical identifier for monographic publications such as books, pamphlets, educational kits, microforms, CD-ROMs, and other digital and electronic publications. Administration of the ISBN system within India is the responsibility of Raja Rammohun Roy National Agency for ISBN which works under the aegis of Deptt. of Higher Education, Ministry of Human Resource Development

Why should I use an ISBN?

If you are a publisher or bookseller it may be in your own interest as you want to sell books. If your books cannot be ordered and distributed by ISBN and if they are not listed in Books in Print-type listings you may find that your books do not sell. People will assume your books do not exist, and even if they do know they exist they may consider it too much of a bother to handle them since they will need to do so using full title and manual ordering

Do I need to have an ISBN?

The international ISBN system does not impose any legal requirement to have an ISBN, and the ISBN conveys no legal or copyright protection.

How to contact ISBN ?

Office Address :
Raja Rammohun Roy ISBN Agency

Department of Higher Education
Ministry of Education
Room No. 13, Jeevan Deep Building,
4th Floor, Parliament Street,
New Delhi.

For General Query (Phone Numbers and Email Id)
Tel: +91-11-2334 1739
E-mail: isbn-mhrd[at]gov[dot]in
(Monday to Friday-9:00 am to 5:30 pm) Office Timings

For Technical Query
Tel: +91-79-2326 8229
Tel: +91-79-2326 8284
E-mail: isbnhelp[at]inflibnet[dot]ac[dot]in
(Monday to Friday-9:30 am to 6:00 pm)

ISBN Helpline Number : 011-23341739

ISBN email ID : isbnmhrd@gov.in

Do books need an ISBN if they are not going to be sold?

It is desirable that all books made publicly available, whether they are available for sale or on a gratis basis, are identified by ISBNs.

What is the structure of an ISBN?

An ISBN is a 13-digit number consisting of 5 parts:

1. GS1element: Identifying the ISBN community, issued by GS1, currently 978 or 979.

2. Registration group element: Identifying the particular country, geographical region or language area participating in the ISBN system. This element may be between 1 and 5 digits in length.

3. Registrant element: Identifying the particular publisher or imprint. This element may be up to 7 digits in length.

4. Publication element: Identifying the particular edition and format of a specific title. This may be up to 6 digits in length.

5. Check digit: the final single digit that mathematically validates the rest of the number.

Where do I get an ISBN from?

All books published in India are eligible to get ISBN from Raja Rammohan Roy National Agency (RRRNA) for ISBN, Ministry of HRD, India. The International ISBN Agency does not issue ISBNs (except to multi-national NGOs). ISBNs are available from the appropriate local agency for the region or country where the publisher is based. If you are applying for ISBN as a company or organisation it is immaterial in which country your company or organisation is registered, it is the location where your company or organisation is based and operates from that is the important criterion. If you have more than one site, possibly in more than one country, then ISBNs should be obtained based on where the headquarters of your organisation 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.

I am publishing in India, but may I obtain my ISBNs from a different agency ?

No. All publishers should apply to the appropriate agency that is responsible for the country in which they are based. If you have genuine reasons that may prevent you from applying to the Indian agency, then you should contact the International ISBN Agency for advice in the first instance but you should not contact another ISBN agency instead.

I am publishing a book in a foreign language. Should it have an ISBN of the country in whose language the book is written?

No. It is the country in which the publisher is based which determines the group identifier, and not the language of the text.

I am not a publisher; can I still obtain an ISBN?

Yes. For our purposes, a publisher is the group, organisation, 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.

My printer offered to arrange an ISBN for my book. Is that OK?

Usually the printer is not the publisher, but someone who takes an order from the publisher to print the book. Of course the printer can help the publisher with the ISBN application forms but it is required that the ISBN registrant element and the ISBN are registered in the name of the genuine publisher, to ensure the traceability of the publication in databases after it has been published.

I am an author/self-publisher and want to publish my (e-)book by means of a self-publishing platform. The platform has given the book an ISBN from its own ISBN registrant element. Is that OK?

In that case the platform will be considered the publisher. This is not recommended practice. If you later break the relationship with the platform and decide to distribute your book elsewhere, you will need a new ISBN of your own. It is therefore better to obtain an ISBN of your own from the start. RRRNA can assign ISBNs from ranges reserved for small publishers or even assign single ISBNs.

What does a publisher have to do to obtain ISBNs?

Please visit www.isbn.gov.in. Also please go through section 2 of this manual. You have to prove that you are publishing from India. In case you are a commercial publisher, we will also ask you about your publishing plans for the next few years. All applicants who are finally allotted ISBN are also asked to submit the metadata of the books for which ISBN has been allotted.

What requirements do publishers have to meet in order to participate in the ISBN system?

Publishers should comply with the implementation guidelines including the scope and assignment rules for ISBN. Publishers must supply to the RRRNA registration agency with the minimum set of metadata elements belonging to the ISBN as described in the ISBN standard and manual.

What happens if I have used all the numbers in my ISBN registrant element?

An additional registrant element can be assigned – allowing for a larger output if necessary. This is an additional registrant element and not a replacement. I use ISBNs for internal purposes/publications that I do not wish to make available to the public.

Do I still have to report them and submit metadata to the ISBN registration agency?

Yes. RRRNA has to keep a complete ISBN register in order to carry out the proper administration of the ISBN system in compliance with the guidelines of the ISBN standard. If you do not submit the metadata of these ISBNs you might end up in the situation of having used up the complete capacity of your ISBNs, yet the ISBN Agency refuses to give you an additional registrant element because in the Agency’s records they are not used up at all.

Fees/costs for obtaining an ISBN from RRRNA

Currently it is free.

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 at the lower right. In the case of electronic publications (such as compact discs, online 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 (e.g., the initial screen displayed when the content is first accessed and/or on the screen that carries the copyright notice). For eligible educational/instructional films, videos, and transparencies, the ISBN must appear on the credit titles. If the publication is issued in a container that is an integral part of the publication (e.g., a compact disc, cassette, or diskette), the ISBN should be displayed on any labels included with that container. If it is not possible to display the ISBN on the container or its label, then the ISBN should be displayed at the bottom of the back of any permanent packaging for that container (e.g., the box, sleeve, or frame).

Can the ISBN be represented as a bar code?

Yes. The ISBN is already in 13-digit format and can be represented easily as a bar code. Bar coded ISBNs may assist distributors and retailers in stocking and selling your publication. Your ISBN agency should be able to provide advice on bar code suppliers to help you show your ISBN as a bar code graphic. To maximise the benefits of bar code recognition and scanning speed it is recommended to print the bar code on the lower right of the outside back cover of the publication.

GS1 (the global organisation responsible for product identification systems such as bar coding which is used to improve the efficiency of the supply chain) asked me to become a member. Is this mandatory?

No. If you only want to use the ISBN in bar-coded form, you do not have to become a member. However, as GS1 provides other trade-related services, such as electronic address numbers (location codes), EDI (electronic data interchange) formats, etc. you may want to become a member. Check with GS1 for information on their services and for details of current member organisations (www.gs1.org/contact/worldwide.php).

Do digital books qualify for ISBN?

Infact, it is of no relevance in what medium a publication is made available. Provided it is text-based, available to the public and a monographic publication not intended to be a continuing resource (serial publication), then it is likely to qualify for ISBN assignment. Downloadable e-books, e-book apps, CD-ROMS or on line publications available on the Internet can be considered to be monographic publications.

Do enhanced e-books qualify for ISBN?

When an e-book is available in enhanced form and, as well as text, includes audio, video or other additional content, it will qualify for ISBN. If the e-book is also available separately without these extra elements then these are different products and should therefore have separate ISBNs.

Do I have to identify different formats for digital publications with separate ISBNs?

Yes, whenever anyone in the supply chain needs to identify them separately, then each product needs a unique ISBN. When there are different formats available that operate on different devices or software programs, the end user has to know what format to order. Therefore each different format has to be identified by its own ISBN. I sell the same e-book in EPUB format but it is available with different usage constraints– in one edition you can copy and print and in the other edition you cannot.

Do I need two ISBNs?

Yes, because these are features that have an effect on what the user can do with the publication (text-to speech, copying, printing, use on more than one device etc.) and the end user has to choose between the versions based on what he or she wants to do with it.

I sell an EPUB and the buyer can choose from a very wide variety of features and combinations of features when he buys the book. Do I have to give an ISBN to the product that is purchased?

No, because in this case we are talking about a customized product where the usage constraints are defined by the user during the purchase. The customized product does not qualify for ISBN at all because it is potentially unique. I offer an EPUB for different rental periods and the buyer can choose from different rental periods at different prices.

Do I HAVE to give an ISBN for each set of renting periods?

You CAN choose to do so, if it accommodates the requirements for identifying the specific combination of EPUB, rental period and price in the supply chain.

Do I have to identify “master files” with a separate ISBN?

When publishers provide a master file to a conversion service, this master file does not need its own ISBN. The publisher will need to assign ISBNs to the different versions that the provider creates, and that will be available to end customers. I am selling identical e-books through different e-book platforms like Amazon and Apple. Each platform puts the files into its proprietary format.

Do I have to give them separate ISBNs?

That is not necessary if the e-book platform supplies the e-books in a format that can only be bought through their own website, and the e-book platform itself does not require ISBNs. However, the publisher can choose to give ISBNs for its own purposes such as for tracking sales. In that case each ISBN should be unique to the version that is distributed by each separate platform.

I offer an e-book conversion service for publishers. What happens if they want us to convert to different versions and the publisher did not assign separate ISBN for each version?

Publishers should provide their conversion service with all the ISBNs that they will need to identify each of the versions that they will produce. If a publisher will not provide ISBNs to intermediaries for this purpose then, as a last resort, intermediaries may assign their own ISBNs. ISBN agencies will provide ISBN registrant elements to intermediaries for this purpose. In this case, ISBNs and related metadata should be provided back to the publisher and to the ISBN agency and other bibliographic agencies.

I am migrating the e-books that I publish to a new version of their file format (EPUB2 to EPUB3). Do I need to give them new ISBNs?

You do not need to give them new ISBNs when the books are no longer available in the old file format, and there is no difference in the user experience between the old version and the new version. In case both versions are on the market simultaneously, and/or the new version has different features, you will need separate ISBNs to identify both versions properly for the end user and the supply chain.

I am migrating the e-books that I publish to another type of DRM. Do I need to give them new ISBNs?

When you migrate to a type of DRM that changes the user’s experience of the ebook you will need a new ISBN. E.g. when you migrate from no DRM to digital watermarking or another type of “social” DRM which does not intrude significantly on the user’s experience, you do not need to assign separate ISBNs. When you migrate from no DRM to Adobe DRM, it means that the device on which you can read the e-book has to support Adobe DRM, and implies that you cannot read the book on just any device. In this case, you will need to assign separate ISBNs.

Does a print-on-demand publication get an ISBN?

Yes. Print on demand is just a method of very short run printing.

Does a customised print-on- demand publication get an ISBN?

Generally, no. Publications that are available only on a limited basis, such as customised print-on- demand publications with content specifically tailored to a user’s request shall not be assigned an ISBN. If a customised publication is being made available for wider sale, e.g. as a college course pack available through a college book store, then an ISBN should be assigned.

I have a homepage on the internet. Does it require an ISBN?

No. Publications that are intended by the publisher to be regularly updated or continued indefinitely (such as journals, magazines, newspapers, updating looseleafs, updating websites) shall not receive an ISBN.

How are ISBNs allocated to multi-format/multi-volume works?

An ISBN must be allocated to the whole set of volumes of a multi-volume work; also, if the individual volumes of the set are sold separately, each volume must have its own ISBN. Even when each volume is not sold separately, the allocation of an ISBN to each volume is advisable. It facilitates the handling of returns (damaged volumes) and eliminates the possibility of confusion over specific volumes. Each volume should list all the ISBNs.

When a publisher assembles a set of books to sell as a special offer, may they assign an ISBN to the set?

If the ISBN is required to identify the set in the supply chain for marketing and ordering purposes then an ISBN may be assigned.

When a distributor assembles books from different publishers in a set, may they assign an ISBN from their own range to the set?

As above, if the ISBN is required to identify the set in the supply chain for marketing and ordering purposes then an ISBN may be assigned, although use of a GTIN should be considered.

I am publishing a course pack. How do I use ISBN?

If the course pack will be available to the public (i.e. it is not restricted to the students on a particular course at a particular institution) you should assign an ISBN to the course pack as a whole. If any part is available separately, a separate ISBN must be allocated to each such part as well.

I am publishing a series of titles. Do I need an ISBN or an ISSN?

The series may receive an ISSN (provided it is envisaged as continuing indefinitely), while the individual items, if made available separately, may receive ISBNs.

I publish books but also calendars, stationery, toys and many other items. As the ISBN only identifies books, what can I do about the rest?

This material can be numbered by other numbering systems, such as GTIN (Global Trade Item numbers which can be represented as bar codes). Modern scanning equipment reads and processes the different kinds of bar-coded numbers.

Is it possible to reassign ISBNs when the books to which they were allocated are out of print?

No, an ISBN identifies a given title and its edition and binding for all time. Even if out of print, it will still exist in some shops, and will certainly still exist in libraries.

Can I reassign ISBNs when the books to which they were allocated were never published at all?


Does a price change require a new ISBN?


Does a change of format require a new ISBN?

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

Does a change of author’s name require a new ISBN?

Yes – for example when an author decides to use their own name rather than a pseudonym.

I am revising a book. Does it require a new ISBN?

A (substantial) change of text requires a new ISBN, and if revisions have been made then the reverse of the title page should state that the book is a revised edition, and the new ISBN should be printed there.

Does a reprint without change of text or binding require a new ISBN?

No, the original number must be retained, provided the publisher remains the same.

I would like to issue a new ISBN for marketing reasons. Is this permissible?

No, if there is no change of text, format or binding which would justify a new ISBN. However, a separate ISBN may be assigned if required by the supply chain (e.g. when a media tie-in version of the jacket is available at the same time as the original version or when there is a choice of colour for the binding, as may be the case with bibles).

I am reprinting a book with a price change. Is a new ISBN required?

No, a price change does not require a new ISBN.

Do I need a new ISBN when I am reprinting a book with a new title?

Yes, a new title requires a new ISBN. Co-publication, merging of publishers Please see para 7 of this manual.

I am publishing a book with another publisher. Whose ISBN should appear on the book?

In the case of a joint publication, both publishers are entitled to have an ISBN on the book. It should be made clear which number identifies which publisher. However, if only one publisher is to hold stock and distribute the publication, then it is recommended that the ISBN of the publisher who is responsible for distribution appears in bar-coded form on the back cover of the book.

I am taking over another firm which already has an ISBN registrant element. All future books will be published under my name. Can I renumber all the other firm’s titles?

Not until they are reprinted under your own publisher name or imprint and carry your publisher name.

In our country the book-trade works mostly without computers. Do I nevertheless need ISBNs?

You are advised to take ISBNs as it offers following benefits-

  • It replaces handling of long bibliographic descriptive records, thereby saves time, and reduces staff costs & copying errors.
  • Correct use of the ISBN allows different product forms and editions of a book, whether printed or digital, to be differentiated clearly, ensuring that customers receive the version that they require.
  • Ensures visibility of the books.

Which agency allots ISBN in India?

Raja Rammohun Roy National Agency (RRRNA) is the sole agency which allots ISBN in India. I am publishing a book in a foreign language.

Should it have an ISBN of the country in whose language the book is written?

ISBN should be applied to the National Agency of the country where the Publisher is based.

Will people in other countries be able to search for my books in search engines in those countries? If not, how can I make this possible?

List of allotted ISBN is available on ISBN portal (url is isbn.gov.in), under the ‘Notification’ field.

I have the ISBN of a book and I want to contact the publisher. How can I retrieve information about the publisher from the ISBN?

The information about the publishers is available with the RRRNA and can be obtained from the agency. This will only work in the case of books that have ISBNs issued from the India ISBN Agency. If, on the other hand, the ISBN is for a book that is not from an Indian publisher, then you can try searching in the Global Register of Publishers at www.grp.isbn-international.org.

My company’s postal address, telephone number, email address or website address has changed. Do I have to notify my ISBN Agency?

Yes, you can update the desired information after logging into your ISBN account.

I am moving my company to another country. Can I continue numbering my books with my current ISBN registrant element?

Fresh ISBN should be obtained from the national agency of the country where the Publisher has shifted.

I have stopped publishing, do not sell my books anymore and will not use my ISBNs any longer. Do I have to notify my designated ISBN Agency?

The publisher should notify about discontinuation to RRRNA.

I am an Indian citizen but I live permanently in another country, can I apply for ISBN with RRRNA?

As per the International ISBN Agency’s norms, the Publisher should be based in the country in which he/she is applying from. You are advised to contact the appropriate national agency: https://www.isbn-international.org/agencies.

How does RRRNA decide the size of ISBN block to be allotted?

For existing publishers, ISBN block is allotted, based on the consumption of the previous allotted ISBNs. For new publisher, block of 10 ISBN is allotted.

How long does it take to process an ISBN application?

The standard service time is at least 2 working days.

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