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When you have a book ready for publication, there are two sets of numbers that can be used to identify the book and its variations on the open market. The ISBN and ISSN are optional numbers when self-publishing, but are included on a majority of books because it makes them easier to sell through bookstores and online retailers. These numbers typically appear on the back cover of a book, but may also appear on the dust jacket somewhere or on a copyright page within the book. Sometimes they are included in all 3 places.

In the ISBN vs ISSN debate, how are these numbers the same? How are they different? Are you going to need one of them, both of them, or neither of them for your next book? Let’s get those questions answered today.

Here Is the Definition of an ISBN

The ISBN is an International Standard Book Number. Since 2007, this number is a 13 digit number that helps to identify a specific book variant that has been published. Every different type of the same book which gets published needs to have its own ISBN. This means a hardcover book and a paperback book, although the manuscript is exactly the same, are going to have a different assigned ISBN because they are each a publication variant.

Here Is the Definition of an ISSN

The ISSN is an International Standard Serial Number. It is an 8 digit number which is used to identify books, publications, or media that is produced on a regular basis. Many print journals, for example, will have an ISSN assigned to it. Unlike the ISBN, and ISSN will not contain a publisher identifier within the assigned number.

The Differences Between an ISBN and a ISSN

An ISBN should not be assigned to periodicals that have specific issues that are published. As long as a title is published more than once per year, then an ISSN is a more appropriate assignment to that publication. This is why you’ll often see magazines, monthly short story serials, or other regularly published works throughout the year have an ISSN assignment instead of an ISBN assignment.

For authors who are publishing a book, however, an ISSN would be inappropriate. The ISBN is assigned to a single book type that is published by authors and publishers within a given year. Because each publisher is identified, a book with different publishers will have different ISBNs.

For example: a US author has a hardcover and trade paperback published in the US by a specific publisher, but internationally those two books are published by a different entity because the rights to do so have been sold. This would require 4 different ISBNs to be assigned to the work, even though every publication is based on just one manuscript.

Do I Need To Have an ISBN or ISSN?

The simple answer is “no.” If you plan to publish a book on your own and you don’t want to distribute that book through retail outlets or bookstores, then an ISBN may not be necessary. It may still be a good idea to invest into an ISBN and have it included just in case to make sure future sales options aren’t limited, but that is a personal choice for a self-publishing writer to make.

Publishers are not legally bound to use them when they are publishing serials or periodicals. If you publish in multiple mediums, however, like through a blog and then in a print magazine, two different ISSNs would be necessary to identify the two separate publications.

For some personal publications, an ISSN would be inappropriate. This includes blogs on the internet that do not have a commercial purpose.

The more complex answer to the above question, however, might be “yes.”

Both ISBNs and ISSNs can be incorporated into barcodes. They may not be mandatory for publication, but their allocation and registration can be useful for some writers and publishers who want to have their works identified. ISBNs are assigned before the book is published and brought to the market, whereas ISSNs are not assigned more than 3 months before the publication of a first issue.

By understanding the differences between these two numbers, you can make sure that the correct ISBN or ISSN is assigned to your work when it becomes published. Apply for your number if necessary today, include it within the design of your book in some way, and you’ll create an easy method of sales and tracking that can make it easier for retail outlets to represent your work.

Melissa G Wilson

Melissa has been a leader in the book writing, publishing and marketing arena for the past two decades. To date, she has helped more than 100 thought leaders write, publish and market their books. Her clients include executives such as Dan Weinfurter a seven-time Inc 500 winner and Orlando Ashford, President of Holland Cruise Lines.

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