How to Get an ISBN For Free from the Government of Canada

Mar 13, 2018 | Market

What You Need to Know About ISBNs When You Live in Canada

Editor’s Note: We have quite a few Canadian folks in our Write | Publish | Sell Facebook group, and there are a few differences between Canada and the US when it comes to publishing. We asked our friend Michelle Cornish, author of the forthcoming thriller, Murder Audit, to share her experience on obtaining an ISBN when you live in Canada. Thank you so much, Michelle! 


isbn in canada


Over the last year I have learned A LOT about being a self-published author. I still have a lot to learn and I know I will make many more mistakes but that’s how you learn! One of the big mistakes I made was using an ISBN from CreateSpace when I first published the print version of my book.


What is an ISBN and why do you need one?


ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number and it is a unique number that identifies each edition and version of a book or book-like product. An ISBN is separate from a bar code which can be purchased from various online providers. You may even be able to get a barcode from your book cover designer. If they don’t provide this as part of their cover design services, they may be able to recommend a reputable place to purchase one.


You MUST have an ISBN for your book if you will be selling a print version. The ISBN isn’t required for ebooks but in Canada it’s free to get one so it’s up to you if you would like to have an ISBN for your ebook. This is a separate ISBN from the one you get for your print book.


Why the CreateSpace ISBN isn’t good enough


Here’s where I screwed up big time!


I was so excited to get my print book out into the world that I didn’t realize using the free ISBN from CreateSpace meant CreateSpace was my publisher and I wasn’t free to put the book on other print-on-demand platforms. Once I realized this, I started the process of transferring the book from CreateSpace to IngramSpark. Having your own ISBN means you are free to use any platform you like to publish your book. Every author should be aware of this when it comes to ISBNs.


How do Canadians get an ISBN for free? 


If you are in the US, you can purchase your ISBN through Bowker. It’s $125 per ISBN but they do have package deals if you plan on writing more than one book. Don’t use this service if you live in Canada! Canadians can get ISBNs for free through the Government of Canada and the process is surprisingly simple.


Step 1 – Create a free ISBN Canada account here. You will enter your name and address and information about your publishing company (if applicable). You do not need to publish under a separate entity. You can operate under your personal name but if you are concerned about the advantages and disadvantages of operating under your name or a business name, please check with your accountant. It will take up to 10 business days to receive confirmation of your account.


Step 2 – Once Library and Archives Canada have created your account, you will receive an email from them that contains your user name and password. You will need this to access your account.


Step 3 – Now that your Library and Archives Canada account is active, you can start requesting ISBNs. Go to ISBN Canada and choose “login”. Once you are logged in, you will see a menu on the left hand side of the screen. Choose the “manage logbook” option.This will take you to a new screen where you will see your ISBNs once you have created them. To create an ISBN, choose “assign new ISBN” just under where it says “manage logbook”.


After you click “assign new ISBN” you will be taken to a screen where you enter the information about your book. Here you can also choose to be emailed a copy of the ISBN. The ISBN will be assigned immediately and you can start using it.

Step 4 – When your book is published, send a copy of your book to The Library Archives Canada for their collection! Learn more about how to do that  here. 


The Library Archives Canada site has a handy video you can watch to learn more about ISBNs. You can watch it here. What questions do you have about ISBNs? Leave them in the comments below.


Michelle Cornish


Michelle is a freelance writer, CPA, and author of Keep More Money: Find an Accountant You Trust to Help You Grow Your Small Business, Increase Profit, and Save Tax. When she’s not writing, Michelle enjoys painting and spending time with her family in the sunny Okanagan, BC, Canada.  Learn more about Michelle at


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