Buying an ISBN in the UK

There are many head winds facing a self publisher. One of these is the cost of buying an ISBN in the UK. The price structure for buying ISBN’s strongly favours big companies while severely penalizing small publishers.

If you are publishing a single book and so just want one ISBN, you will get hit the hardest of all.

This is the price structure for buying ISBN’s in the UK as of today.


  • A single ISBN and you pay an eye watering £89.00
  • 10 ISBN’s then you pay £164.00. i.e. £16.40 per ISBN
  • 100 ISBN’s then you pay £369.00 i.e. £3.69 per ISBN
  • 1000 ISBN’s then you pay £949.00 i.e a mere £0.95 per ISBN

A large publisher who wants to buy more than 1000 ISBNs is invited to negotiate the price. Which would suggest it would be significantly less than even £0.95 per ISBN.

This information is taken from the Nielsen website HERE. Nielsen are the people who run the ISBN scheme in the UK.

The net result of this is that the big firms (like Amazon, Macmillan, Penguin etc.) who publish thousands of books get their ISBN’s for virtually nothing. Meanwhile small companies take a hit.

Worse still is the fate of the self publisher who wants to produce a single book on (say) a local topic. It will by its nature possibly take many months to recover the cost of buying an ISBN alone!

If ever there was a disincentive to recording local knowledge for posterity then the ISBN pricing structure must take the lead.


This obviously plays into the hands of companies (like Amazon) who offer a “free” ISBN. For the ISBN which costs them pennies they get sole publishing rights.

But worse, it also plays into the hands of unscrupulous “vanity” publishers. These are the people who plague the internet and prey off new authors. These parasites often end up charging their clients many thousands of pounds. They slowly add “costs” while offering a “free” ISBN. Often this is for a service that would fall short of that which could be offered by the average 12 year old school student.

I can understand that Neilsen may wring their hands at the cost of issuing single ISBN’s. But surely a scheme could be devised that would at least reduce the cost to the self publisher to a mere 10x that of the large publishing houses (i.e. £9.49).

The current system stifles new authors and encourages exploitation. It needs to be fixed.

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