ISBNs, Bar Codes & Library of Congress Numbers

Obtaining an ISBN

As we present your books to bookstores and libraries, especially the book chains (Barnes & Noble, Borders, etc.) and large library wholesalers (Baker & Taylor), they want information in a standardized format. As you probably know, one of the most important ways books get classified is through the numbers R.R. Bowker assigns to them (ISBNs).

Increasingly, our customers are refusing to look at books that don't have ISBNs, so we strongly suggest that you assign ISBNs to all of your titles. Ideally you should print the ISBN on the back of the book and include a barcode. To get the forms for ISBNs, please call Bowker's ISBN agency at: 908/665-6770; you can also get more information and download an application on the web at

Many of the most basic FAQs about ISBNs are answered here:


Updating Bowker & Books-in-Print

Once you have obtained your ISBNs, one of the easiest and most effective ways to sell more books is simply to make sure your online information at Bowker is correct & up-to-date. This information gets resold to thousands of stores as Books-in-Print.

IMPORTANT: Checking and updating the data on each of your books can done online via Bowker Link . Currently, setting up a publisher Bowker Link account for ISBNs you already own is FREE. Please contact the Bowker Link customer service with any questions.

Once you begin updating your books via Bowker Link, pay special attention to the "distributor" fields. If SPD is your only distributor, make sure we are listed as the primary distributor. If we are one of your distributors, make sure we are listed. More and more entities large & small (including Barnes & Noble) are relying on Bowker data to update their own systems.


Bar Codes

Along with ISBNs, many chain and large independent bookstores are increasingly refusing to carry books without bar codes. For online information regarding bar codes, we recommend beginning with one of the following sites to gather information, them proceeding to Bowker Bar Code Services or another bar code service.




Library of Congress Numbers (CIP and PCN)

There are two mutually exclusive programs through the U.S. Library of Congress that give publishers pre-pub numbers which they can print on or in their books.  The following is from the FAQ pages of each program.  Note that "self-published works" and "on-demand works" are automatically excluded from getting CIP numbers.  Many smaller presses are denied CIPs for various other reasons as well.  PCN numbers can only be assigned to U.S.-based publishers, and may have other restrictions that could lead to being denied a PCN number.

Many SPD books without either number have sold extremely well to libraries.  Exactly how important these numbers are to library sales is difficult to determine, but they do signal to potential library buyers that the publisher has gone through a professional cataloging process.

CIP (Cataloging in Publication Program)

The Cataloging in Publication program creates bibliographic records for forthcoming books most likely to be widely acquired by U.S. libraries. The bibliographic record (also known as CIP data) is sent to the publisher and printed on the verso of the title page. A machine-readable version of the record is also distributed to libraries, book dealers, and bibliographic networks worldwide via the Library's Cataloging Distribution Service (CDS).

PCN (Preassigned Control Number Program)

The Preassigned Control Number (PCN) program assigns a Library of Congress Control Number (aka Library of Congress Card Number) to titles most likely to be acquired by the Library of Congress as well as some other categories of books. The publisher prints the control number in the book and thereby facilitates cataloging and other book processing activities for libraries and book sellers who obtain copies of the book. An initial bibliographic record is also created for many of these works when the number is assigned. This record is not distributed and is not printed in the book.

The CIP program and PCN program are mutually exclusive. Titles processed in one program are not processed in the other program.

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