When exporting an Adobe InDesign CC 2014  file to a Reflowable or Fixed Layout EPUB format, there’s a field in the Metadata Export Options dialog for an “Identifier.” Although InDesign automatically fills in this field with an URN (unique identifier number), this is where an ISBN number can be entered.

What is an ISBN?

An International Standard Book Number, or ISBN, is a 13-digit number used as a commercial book identifier.

Why is an ISBN important?

An ISBN facilitates the sale of a book to bookstores and libraries and allows the publisher to manage the book’s metadata and discoverability. Books are listed in Bowker’s Books in Print, which is used by all major search engines, bookstores, and libraries.


Here is some general information about ISBN numbers:

  • An ISBN is assigned to each edition and variation of a book. Ebooks, paperbacks, and hardcover editions of the same book each require a different ISBN. Revised editions of the same book that contain substantially new material (anything besides a spelling correction or punctuation correction) will require a new number. Numbers cannot be reused. An ISBN is not required if a book is not placed in stores, libraries, or with wholesalers.
  • Only two major ebook vendors require an ISBN: Sony and Apple. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Google do not require one.
  • ISBNs are issued by the registration agency covering a country or territory. Bowker is the only company authorized to administer the ISBN program in the U.S., at www.myidentifiers.com.
  • There are four unique parts to an ISBN: Country Identifier, Publisher Identifier, Title Identifier, and a one-digit Validation Number (1-10, with X representing the number 10). The publisher assigns the full number to a book—in the case of an InDesign EPUB, by entering it in the dialog shown above.
  • New publishers who are planning to publish multiple books should apply for their own publisher prefix. Be wary of purchasing single numbers at a reduced cost because a publisher who uses a reassigned ISBN will not be correctly identified as the publisher of record.
  • Charges vary depending on the number purchased, starting at $ 125 each. Blocks of 10, 100, and 1,000 are sold for $295, $575, and $1,000, respectively. It is advised to estimate the amount of ISBNs will be required for a five-year period. There is a service fee to process the ISBN application, and processing time is five days from when the application is received by the agency.
  • Once a number is assigned, it needs to be reported to R.R. Bowker. A free listing is included in various directories. Register the title with Books in Print at www.bowkerlink.com.

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Posted by: Monica Murphy

Monica Murphy has worked in the publishing industry for over 30 years supporting publishing operations of various sizes. In her role as Technical Product Manager for Technology for Publishing, she shares her publishing application expertise supporting a broad range of publishing clients in InDesign best practices, cross-platform content workflows, and InDesign Template strategies. Her weekly tip and blog posts have a committed following in the InDesign community, and as a long-time participant in the InDesign pre-release community, she regularly analyzes and provides feedback for upcoming features. Monica manages the authoring and publication of Technology for Publishing’s handbooks on InDesign, InCopy, and other associated titles.