Working with Bowker ISBNs

You should know going in that if Bowker didn’t have a monopoly, there is no way it would stay in business. The interface is that bad. But if you’re intrepid, you can get the ISBN and barcodes you need for your book, and be the “publisher of record”.

Things to Know

  1. When you go to, it’s not clear where to find the identifiers you purchased.
    • Where you need to go is
    • Somewhere, somehow, I stumbled across that URL, and saved it.
      Otherwise, I’m not sure I’d ever find my way back.
  2. When you go to the MyIdentifiers URL, you don’t see your identifiers.
    • When you go to, and login, you see a page that lets you buy ISBNs and barcodes and stuff, but doesn’t show you the identifiers and things you’ve already purchased.
    • To manage ISBNs you’ve already purchased, click your login name at top right. That takes you to your Profile page.
    • On your Profile page, click the My Identifiers tab.
      That move takes you to, which lets you manage ISBNs and barcodes you’ve purchased.
  3. In many cases, choices are unclear, with precious little help for choosing.
    • A lot of the time, the list of choices is short, and you can figure out what you need without too much trouble. But some of the lists are huge.
    • On the Format and Size tab, in particular, under Format Details, there is a list of about 300 choices — some of which look like they might be applicable.
    • The one you probably want, though, is way down near the bottom: Trade paperback (US).
      That’s what most publishers will be creating, I suspect.
    • Then, down under Trade Catalog, you probably want US open market edition.
      (Again near the bottom, but it’s a short list.)
  4. You can upload a low-resolution PDF “proof” for indexing.
    • When the book goes to layout, you’ll be reviewing various low-resolution proofs until it’s ready to go to print.
    • When the final proof is approved, a high-resolution printer’s copy will be created.
      That’s the version that goes to the printer, or CreateSpace, or Ingram/Spark, or wherever.
    • For indexing, though, you don’t need the final version.
      The final low-resolution proof will work just fine.
      (To tell you the truth, I’m not sure how valuable the indexing really is, given a decent title and book description.)
  5. The file you upload should be named with the ISBN.
    • Found this item in the middle of a several-page help file:
        “Each PDF should be named by ISBN (example 9780123456789.PDF)”
  6. Once you fill out the fields correctly, and the ISBN is assigned, it is no longer possible to upload a PDF of the book for indexing.
    • There is no warning that the upload field will disappear, but that field is only present until the ISBN is assigned.
    • Other things can be still be edited, oddly enough — but the one field that represents an addition, rather than a change, is no longer present in the form.
  7. There are no online support options.
    • You can’t even send an email, as far as I can tell.
    • The only option I can find is a phone number: (877) 310-7333,
      and that only works from 9 to 5, Eastern U.S. time.
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