Getting an ISBN for Your Ebook (for Canadian Authors)

by Carla Douglas

One of the last things you need to do before publishing your ebook is to get an International Standard Book Number, or ISBN. In Canada, ISNBs are administered by the National Library and Archives, and they are available at no cost through an online submission form.  
While it’s not mandatory  you can publish your ebook without an ISBN  we always recommend that you get one, especially if you plan to use traditional methods for distribution. It’s an identification number, and it carries important information about your book: where and when it was published, format, etc. As well, the ISBN can be used to track sales, and it helps to provide information about the wider books and publishing industry. It also stands, finally, as a permanent record that you wrote and published this book, and as such it marks your cultural participation and contribution. In short, it’s better to have an ISBN than not.
Here’s how to get one in Canada:
Go to the Library and Archives Canada (Collections Canada) home page.

Under Services: Quick Links, select The Canadian ISBN Service System (CISS).
If this is the first time you’ve requested an ISBN, click Join.

Fill in the registration details. If you are self-publishing, simply put your own name in the Publisher Name box. Alternately, if you have a name that you publish under  Icon Books, for example  use that. It’s a long registration form and is perhaps a little dated (there’s a space for your facsimile number!), but you only need to fill in what applies specifically to you. You’ll see that there’s an option to remove boxes from the form if they’re not relevant.

If you already have an account at CCIS, then simply log in. This is where things can get a little confusing. Here’s what the form looks like:

In the categories Product Form and Product Form details, you’re offered altogether too many choices. I have learned through trial and error that it is more important to simply make a selection than to try to fine-tune your book’s profile here. So for Product Form, choose Electronic book text. And for Product Form details, choose whatever most logically fits your book. Your ebook is probably not a pop-up book, a mass-market paperback or a lift-the-flap book (all options on this menu). It might well be, however, a picture book. If you’re in doubt, then choose Other operating system. That makes it clear that your book is digital.

Complete the remaining categories as accurately as you can. Choose the subject that best fits your book, given the available choices. Note that your ebook doesn’t have pages, and that it’s okay to place a zero in this box. Further down the page, however, you’ll find a request for specs re your book’s physical properties.

How much does an ebook weigh? This isn’t an existential question – you’ll have to come up with an answer, or you won’t get your ISBN. Sorry! Hint: I just put down 10 for everything, and my answers were accepted.

The form is long and not always logical, but if you fill in all the information, your request will be processed fairly quickly. They’ll tell you that you’ll have a number within 10 business days, but it’s usually much sooner  2 or 3 days, sometimes even the same day.

Here’s one more tip: If you have applied for a block of ISBNs in the past and haven’t used them all, or if you entered Forthcoming for the publication date of a previous book and haven’t updated the information (to let them know the book has been published and is available), then your application for a new ISBN won’t proceed. So make sure you keep track of the ISBNs you’ve been issued, and also keep your CCIS profile up to date.

That’s it. Fill out the e-paperwork, and you’re on your way. If you do run into trouble, the Help menu is quite detailed, and you can also get assistance through the contact form. I’ve had adventures of my own with the ISBN  mostly with remembering to get one in the first place and then trying to get the request form to accept my responses.

Some say that the ISBN is an anachronism in the digital age, but there are also plenty of reasons both to retain it and to encourage its broader use. In many countries  the US and the UK are two examples  publishers and self-publishers have to pay for ISBNs, and this makes the issue more contentious. It’s an interesting subject  and a surprise, too, that the unglamorous ISBN can stir such discussion.

Read More  
Ether for Authors: Can We See You?

Scale: That All the Books Should Be Counted
Do I really need an ISBN for my e-book?

7 thoughts on “Getting an ISBN for Your Ebook (for Canadian Authors)

  1. Regarding the dimensions of an eBook, I always state the perceived length and width of the cover. Weight however, like yourself, I just insert a number. I’ve decided on one ounce, and leave it at that.

    I’m a little confused on the section where you won’t get a new ISBN if a previous title is still forthcoming. I’ve never had this issue. I usually have two or three titles in the works, all of them forthcoming, and still able to request a new ISBN (an ISBN from my original block or a new ISBN block).

    It’s been several months since I last requested a block (I got 100 this time), so I forget how long it took to get it. It seemed like it was in my inbox within 24 hours. Once you have that block, you can have a few dozen books forthcoming, which only makes since because large publishing companies may have a dozen titles in the works.

    With a block, as soon as you fill in the ISBN information for a new title, you have the ISBN instantly.

    I agree that ISBNs should be kept track of by the author/publisher. I have a file just for them. This lets me know without logging into the website what the numbers are for each title and their formats.

    I wrote a post about ISBNs and CIPs in April 2012. It can be found here:

    1. Diane,
      Thanks for your comments and the link to your very comprehensive post about ISBNs.

      And thanks for pointing out what’s confusing. I should clarify. When I went into my account to request a new ISBN, the electronic form kept responding with an error message. I was only able to continue the process after I updated the information on a previous title. The ISBN service wanted my most complete and up-to-date info. In this case I provided the pub. date of the previous book.

      I could be wrong, but not having requested more than one at a time, I assumed the ISBN service required that all available info be up to date. I think that for numbers you’ve acquired and actually assigned a title to, they do want to know the estimated pub. date if the book is forthcoming. Does this make sense?

      Thanks again for taking the time to write. We (Beyond Paper) will be requesting new ISBNs for a couple of titles very soon — I’ll pay special attention to these sections of the form!


    2. Diane,
      I meant to mention the cost of ISBNs in the US — they’re pretty pricey for self-pubs. A single ISBN is $125, but they’re also available in blocks and are considerably more economical that way. I’ve left a comment on your post.

    1. Marcy,
      Thanks for pointing this out. It’s something that came up in a conversation I had a couple of weeks ago — that Library and Archives Canada does require these two copies, and if you don’t send them, they’ll send reminders! Nice to know that they’re keeping track of our documents, but we also wondered, where are they storing all these books? Are they all being digitized? I hope so.

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