ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number and is usually associated with the barcode on the back of books.  This number is assigned to a publication from the “publisher’s” prefix group – ultimately from R. R. Bowker – http://www.bowker.com.  A number only applies to the publication from that publisher in that format only.  In other words, if you have an ISBN on a hardbound book, your softbound edition can’t use the same number.  Some printers have numbers that can either be used for free, or for a small fee for publications.  Additionally, regardless of who produces the book, you can purchase your own block of numbers.  This may help if you don’t plan to stay with the same production company.  If you use printer A’s ISBN for the first edition and for your second printing use printer B – you can not use printer A’s ISBN on the second edition.  For more information, check out Bowker’s site above.  An ISBN barcode may be required if you wish your book to be carried in some bookstores.

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