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How to get a barcode and ISBN for books in South Africa

There are two steps to this process.

Step 1: Get an ISBN

Step 2: Order a barcode

The National Library of South Africa (NLSA) is the official ISBN agency for South Africa. ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number and is a unique 13-digit number that is assigned to each book published in the world. ISBNs are used to identify and track books, and they are essential for the book industry

To apply for an ISBN from the NLSA, you must be a South African author or publisher. The application process is straightforward and can be completed online. Once your application has been processed, you will be assigned an ISBN free of charge


Must all books have an ISBN?

No – only books that are being sold to the general public through bookstores, retailers, libraries and distribution warehouses require one. Books published for private distribution or personal interest (e.g. family, business clients, club, church members) do not need an ISBN.

If you apply for an ISBN you will be required, by law, to submit one copy of your book free of charge to each of the five Legal Depositories (National Libraries) once it has been published. You can read more about Legal Deposit further below.

What is a barcode and do I need one?

Barcodes are used at point-of-sale for quick retrieval of your book information such as name, product code and price. It also helps the distribution chain effectively manage the products in their care. A barcode can only be generated once you have an ISBN number.

If you intend selling your book through bookstores, online stores and libraries, your book will need a barcode. All distribution warehouses also require one.

If you are bypassing the distribution chain by selling your book privately, or if you are publishing an ebook, then a barcode is not necessary. Selling through some informal channels may require that you have one, so it’s best to check this beforehand, especially if you are printing large quantities of your book. Smaller quantities are less problematic: should you later require a barcode for your book, you can apply barcode stickers to the back cover.

How much does a barcode cost?

The cost for a single barcode (ISBN or EAN) is R250. Discounted pricing is offered on bulk barcode orders.

Ordering a barcode

Once you have an ISBN number, you can order your barcode online for R160


Your images will then be emailed to you straight away in 5 formats: jpeg, eps, tiff, bmp, pdf. 



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