Tuesday, July 12

How To Get A Free Canadian ISBN Number

One of the great things about being a Canadian writer is that ISBN numbers are free. Unfortunately, the process of obtaining an ISBN can be frustrating and, until today, I hadn't found a good step-by-step guide.

Randolph Lalonde has written a brilliant guide to what can be, especially the first time, a bewildering process.

Here are his steps for obtaining an ISBN number for an electronic book:

Step 1: Head on over to http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/ciss-ssci/index-e.html
Step 2: Click “Join CISS” (CISS stands for Canadian ISBN Service System)
Step 3: Click Yes – I Accept (Unless you disagree with the conditions on that page)
Step 4: Fill in the publisher registration information. If you’re an independent in Canada, you’re still considered a publisher, so you’re in the right place.
Step 5: Click SUBMIT and follow the instructions on the following page. There’s nothing complicated there. You’ll eventually be asked to wait for an email from the administration.
Step 6: You should receive that approval email on a workday (Mon-Fri). If you get an email telling you that your account wasn’t approved, read it carefully for a reason and either re-apply (if you chose a publisher name that was already in the system, or filled in the form incorrectly, for example), or give the number in the Email a call if there is a more complicated problem. [The current number is 1-866-578-7777 (Select 1+7+3), and God help you.]
Step 7: After you receive the Email with your ISBN prefix and publisher name (keep that Email forever!!) head on back to http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/ciss-ssci/index-e.html and login using your new username and password.
Step 8: Edit your profile if there’s anything you need to alter.
Step 9: Click on MANAGE LOGBOOK (Left hand panel)
Step 10: Click ASSIGN NEW ISBN
Step 11: Fill in the form according to the particulars of your product.
Step 12: Send a copy of the product to Library and Archives Canada. The current address is on the site, I won’t post it here just in case it changes.

There are special instructions for eBook publishers, I verified these with the Government rep on the phone, step by step, even though she was impatient and rude during the entire process.

Step 1: For eBooks the Product Form is [Electronic Book Text]. The term EBOOK is not in this site’s vocabulary yet, but I was told via Email and on the phone that “Electronic Book Text means eBook”)
Step 2: You skip [Product Form Details] entirely, don’t change it.
Step 4: Enter in the [Title] [Subtitle] [Subject] [Publisher Name] normally.
Step 5: For [Projected Publication Date] enter the date you expect your work to be published OR the date it was published.
Step 6: I was told I didn’t have to fill in [Publication Date] but I did anyway because the website insists. I suggest you fill that field in, otherwise the site will probably reject the form.
Step 7: Set [Publication Status] to [Active]
Step 8: Leave [Number of Pages] at 0, since eBook pages are different from one reader device to the next. (The rep on the phone told me 0 is the correct setting for eBooks as well).
Step 9: Leave the Replacement ISBN Information section empty if this is the only ISBN you’ll be using for the eBook. If you’re using this ISBN to replace another, please email the administration through the form at the top of the page. I’m not going to make any assumptions regarding that option.
Step 10: Fill the [Contributor Information] in normally. If you’re the author, select [By (author)] and fill in your name. Skip the rest of that contributor form unless you have to add other contributors by clicking the [ADD] button.
Step 11: Select the language the book is written in under [Language Information].
Step 12: Under [Rights Information] leave it set to FOR SALE WITH EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS IN SPECIFIED COUNTRIES and select [Canada]. According to the representative, only the Publisher sees this setting, and it has no impact on international use of your ISBN. I asked more than once, which she found really irritating.
Step 13: Skip the entire section called [Supplier Information]. (The rep was insistent that I didn’t change or enter anything into that section).
Step 14: You should get a message telling you that you’ve successfully created an ISBN for your eBook. Click on [Manage Logbook] to see it listed on your account.
Don't forget to submit a copy of your work to Library and Archives Canada (Randolph Lalonde has instructions for that as well).

For writers in the USA, I've also written an article with information about purchasing ISBN numbers in the States.

Good luck!

Getting Your Free ISBN In Canada, by Randolph Lalonde
Library and Archives Canada


  1. Karen, thanks for posting this walkthrough!
    Canadian government web forms can be such difficult things to navigate.
    I especially like your description of all the calls you made during the process. That saved me an entire day!

  2. Thanks A.G.! I came across Randolph Lalonde's article after I took out my first ISBN, so when I saw his careful descriptions I knew I had to share it. I'm glad it helped!

    By the way, I read your Sample Sunday excerpt from your book, Prometheus Bound. Nice! http://agclaymore.blogspot.com/p/sample-sunday-prometheus-bound.html

  3. Can this work for authors in America?

  4. Hi Anon, unfortunately only Canadian authors/publishers have acess to free ISBN numbers. :(

    If it makes you feel better only US citizens can publish through Barnes &Noble. :-)

  5. Thanks for the step-by-step instructions. Extremely useful!


Because of the number of bots leaving spam I had to prevent anonymous posting. My apologies. I do appreciate each and every comment.