What is ISBN?

International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is an internationally recognized system whereby code numbers are assigned to books for easy identification and speedy exchange of information among publishers and all segments of the book industry and allied sectors. Specifically, it is a unique and unchangeable code number assigned to one title, one binding, or edition of a published work.

An ISBN is not mandatory and does not convey any form of legal or provide copyright protection on a work. It is essentially a product identifier used by publishers, booksellers, libraries, internet retailers and other supply chain participants for ordering, listing, sales records and stock control purposes. The ISBN identifies the registrant as well as the specific title, edition and format.

What are the Benefits of the ISBN?

  • The ISBN is a unique international identifier for monographic publications; assigning a number replaces the handling of long bibliographic descriptive records, thereby saving time and staff costs and reducing 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.

  • The ISBN facilitates compilation and updating of book-trade directories and bibliographic databases, such as books-in-print catalogues. Information on available books can be found easily.

  • Ordering and distribution of books is mainly executed by ISBN; this is a fast and efficient method.

  • The ISBN is machine-readable in the form of a 13-digit EAN-13 bar code. This is fast and avoids mistakes.

  • The ISBN is required for the running of electronic point-of-sale systems in bookshops.

  • Many publishing and supply chain systems are based on ISBN.

  • The accumulation of sales data is done by the ISBN. This enables the varying successes of different product forms and editions of publications to be monitored, as well as enabling comparisons between different subject areas and even different publishing houses.

The national lending right in some countries is based on the ISBN. Such schemes enable authors and illustrators to receive payments proportionate to the number of times that their books are lent out by public libraries.

Examples of types of monographic publications eligible for ISBN are:

  • Printed books and pamphlets (and their various product forms)

  • Braille publications

  • Publications that are not intended by the publisher to be updated regularly or continued indefinitely

  • Audiobooks (talking books) either on a physical carrier or accessible on the Internet for download or streaming

  • Digital publications (e-books) either on physical carriers (such as machine-readable tapes, diskettes, or CD-ROMs) or on the Internet (for download or streaming)

  • Digitized copies of printed monographic publications that are available in the supply chain

  • Microform publications

  • Educational or instructional software, films, videos, DVDs, transparencies either on a physical carrier or accessible on the Internet for download or streaming

  • Mixed media publications where the principal constituent is text-based, e.g. book with CD or book with DVD

  • Individual articles1 or issues of a particular continuing resource where these are made available separately (but not the continuing resource in its entirety)

  • Art books and illustrated books with a title page and/or text or captions

  • e-book apps provided that they have a significant textual content and can be considered a monographic publication and are available to the public. Pictures, moving image and sound may be included

  • Maps and atlases


Some examples of the types of material NOT eligible for ISBN are:

  • Continuing resources2 treated in their entirety as bibliographic entities (individual issues may qualify for ISBNs)

  • Abstract entities3 such as textual works and other abstract creations of intellectual or artistic content

  • Printed or digital materials that are intended for marketing or promotional purposes only such as advertising matter, widgets and the like

  • Printed music

  • Art prints and art folders without title page and text

  • Personal documents (such as a digital curriculum vitae or personal profile)

  • Greetings cards

  • Music sound recordings

  • Software, films, videos, DVDs or transparencies that are intended for any purpose other than educational or instructional

  • Digital bulletin boards

  • Emails and other digital correspondence

  • Games

  • Customized or personalized books not intended for general availability

  • License key vouchers to access digital monographic publications on the Internet

What is a publisher?

The publisher is the group, organization, company or individual who is responsible for initiating the production of a particular publication. Normally, the publisher is also the person or body who bears the cost or financial risk in making a product available. It is normally the printer, but it can be the author of the book if the author has chosen to publish their book themselves.

How much does it cost?

Per Public Advisory No. JET-02 dated March 22, 2021, in view of the state of national emergency that the country is facing, the National Library of the Philippines (NLP) waives the collection of application fee for ISBN.

Do I need a different ISBN for each format?

Each format must have different ISBN, which means that if you have one book but will be published in different format, e.g. paperback, hardbound, pdf, epub, etc. each of these will have its ISBN.

How do I get an ISBN?

  • If this is your first time to apply for ISBN, submit the following requirements:

    • National Book Development Board Certificate of Registration/Accreditation as PUBLISHER (visit their website at https://books.gov.ph/)

    • Scanned Title and Copyright Page of the Book indicating the name of the Publisher and contact details

    • Fill-out forms ISBN Fact Sheet and ISBN Information Sheet 

  • If you are already registered as Publisher.

    • Scanned Title and Copyright Page of the Book indicating the name of the Publisher and contact details.

    • Fill-out form ISBN Information Sheet

Other things to Note

  • Apply for an ISBN when you’re almost ready to publish your book.

  • Processing usually takes about 1-2 working day/s.

  • Once you have an ISBN, you may apply for Cataloging-in-Publication through the Catalog Division or email at catalog@nlp.gov.ph, to know more about it visit https://web.nlp.gov.ph/cip/

  • You may now use your ISBN for Barcode and you can proceed to upload or print your books.

  • Should you wish to have legal or copyright protection. You may visit https://web.nlp.gov.ph/copyright/ to know more about it.

  • Remember to submit two (2) copies of your printed books or CD/DVD or email / link of downloadable file of your ebooks to NLP within 30 days of publication. Per section 2 of the Decree on Legal and Cultural Deposit (PD 812) (a) Within one month from the date of any printed book, as this term is defined herein, is first delivered out of the press, the publisher of such book shall furnish, free of charge and in the same finish as the best copies of produced, two copies thereof to the National Library.”

  • Please be aware that details of publisher are registered by the NLP to the International Centre https://grp.isbn-international.org/

1Where individual articles are made available separately by a publisher, they qualify as monographic publications and shall be assigned an ISBN. This does not apply in the case of offprint or preprint copies that are ordered by the author(s) of the article for their own distribution purposes.

2A publication that is issued over time with no predetermined conclusion. Such a publication is usually issued in successive or integrating issues, which generally have numerical and/or chronological designations. Typical examples include serials such as newspapers, periodicals, journals, magazines, etc., and integrating resources such as updating loose-leaf publications and updating websites.

3For example, each separate product form of the novel The Old Man and the Sea is eligible for an ISBN, but the novel itself, as an abstract textual work, shall not be assigned an ISBN.