Free ISBN Applications for South African Authors

South African ISBN application

How to use this ISBN application service

First. This free service is shaped specially for South African authors to obtain a 13-digit ISBN. This unique ISBN then normally finds its way both onto a book’s back cover (with a barcode) and the Copyright page in your book’s first few pages.

Second. Before being tempted to click that submit button, there are a few things you need to know.👇


  • South African authors only. You’ll need to be able to provide valid South African address and contact details.
  • Allow at least 19 days for your ISBNs to arrive in your inbox ⏳
  • We allow free ISBN applications for up to 2 titles each calendar year. For extra titles, a R75 donation is requested, per title.
  • Copies of your physical book will have to be couriered to the NLSA Legal deposits once printed 📚
  • Don’t duplicate the application with us. Already applied for your ISBN with the National Library? Rather follow up with them.
  • Check your spelling. Spelling your email address incorrectly means you will never receive your ISBN 😢
  • We are not affiliated with the National Library of South Africa (NLSA) in any way. We are an author-loving bunch of introverts who survive on  and scraps of food thrown to us. 

About our paid-for ISBN options

⭐ For those authors applying for multiple titles (> 2) in the same year.

⭐ For those authors who want to speed up the ISBN application process

⭐ For those authors looking to correct a spelling mistake or update a book title.

👉Read more?

ISBN Applications form is temporarily disabled. Please apply directly with the NLSA for now. 🙏

ISBN Applications: 2020

ISBN Applications: 2021

ISBN Applications: 2022

ISBN Applications: 2023

Commonly Asked ISBN Questions

How can thank you for your ISBN-help?

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What is an ISBN number?

The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a 13-digit number that uniquely identifies books published internationally.

Why does an author need an ISBN?

The purpose of the ISBN is to establish and identify one title or edition of a title from one specific publisher. The ISBN is unique to that edition, allowing for more efficient marketing of the book by booksellers, libraries, universities, wholesalers and distributors.

What does an ISBN look like?

Every ISBN consists of thirteen digits. The thirteen-digit number is divided into four parts of variable length, each part separated by a dash.

Here is an example ISBN = 978-1-990966-33-0

Does an ISBN have any meaning embedded in the numbers?

The four parts of an ISBN are as follows: 

  1. Group or country identifier which identifies a national or geographic grouping of publishers
  2. Publisher identifier which identifies a particular publisher within a group
  3. Title identifier which identifies a particular title or edition of a title
  4. Check digit is the single digit at the end of the ISBN which validates the ISBN.

How many ISBN numbers do I need?

You will need an ISBN number for each format of the book you plan to publish. Here are examples of the different formats of the book that will each require a unique ISBN # 

  • Paperback
  • eBook (ePUB)
  • Audiobook.

Does an ISBN protect my copyright as the author?

No. Obtaining an ISBN does not unfortunately confer protection to your writing.

Don’t be sad however as certain countries, including South Africa are signatory to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. This means that the copyright of your story is automatic as soon you click that “Save” button in Microsoft Word and does not require official registration as an author might do in the US. Yay 😊

How much does an ISBN number cost?

ISBN numbers vary in cost depending on which country you live in. Here at MYeBook we are happy to help you apply for and obtain your ISBN number, free of charge. This offer unfortunately applies only to South African authors. 

  • Authors in the US can buy a single ISBN from Bowker. This starts from $10, excluding the matching barcode
  • Authors in the UK can buy their ISBN from Nielsen here. Single ISBN starting from £89.00.

How do I apply for my ISBN if I am an author from outside South Africa?

Authors from other countries can find their local issuing authority by visiting the following page on ISBN Agencies.

How long does the ISBN application process normally take?

New ISBN applications we receive take a minimum of 19 days. We unfortunately can’t speed this up as South African ISBN numbers are manually issued by our National Library – no fancy automation yet.

Is applying for an ISBN (from South Africa) as simple as that?

Yup. For reals.

Once your new ISBN has been added to all the right places on your book’s back cover and copyright page you are ready to go to the printers. Once you have your first batch of books from the printers the NLSA (National Library of SA) will require you to courier copies to the various legal deposits – depending on the quantity of books you printed.

If you don’t send copies of your book to the legal deposits, the NLSA reserves the right to withhold any ISBNs from your future ISBN applications.

Why might the NLSA reject my ISBN application?

The most common reason our National Library will reject your ISBN application is that you had a previous application where copies of your book were not shared with required legal deposits.

Where do I need to post copies of my printed book to?

Here is a list of legal deposit libraries within South Africa.

How many copies of my book do I need to courier to the NLSA?

If you are printing less than 100 copies, just post a single copy to the National Library in Pretoria. If you plan on printing more than 100 copies, a single copy of your book should be posted to each of the five legal deposit locations

If I publish my PoD paperback through Amazon or Ingram Spark, how many copies should be sent to the NLSA?

For print on demand books, just a single copy can be sent to the National Library branch in Pretoria.

How do I share a copy of my eBook with the NLSA?

The NLSA will still need a copy of your (ePUB) eBook for their records. Instead of needing to courier a copy thankfully, it can be emailed. (legaldeposit[at]nlsa[dot]ac[dot]za)

When do I need a new ISBN?

If your book is revised and changes by at least 20% or greater you are required to apply for a new ISBN. An ISBN can never be reused or reassigned.

Where do I find the ISBN number on existing books?

You will find an ISBN is printed on the lower portion of the back cover of a printed book together with a barcode. It can also usually be found on the copyright page.

Do I need to apply for different ISBNs if my book appears in different languages?

Yup. Each language is considered a different product.

What is the difference between a barcode and an ISBN?

An ISBN is just a number. A barcode is the pictorial representation of that number making it easier to scan.

How do I obtain a matching barcode for my ISBN?

Our favourite free tool to generate a matching barcode for your newly acquired ISBN can be found using this link here. This new barcode should then be added to your book’s back cover.

If I don’t plan to place my book in stores, libraries or wholesalers, do I still need an ISBN?

Nope. An ISBN will not be needed.

If I just plan to publish my eBook through Amazon, do I still need an ISBN?

No. For authors publishing their eBook through Amazon, ISBNs are entirely optional and will be of no benefit.

What about my print on demand paperback on Amazon, does that need an ISBN?

Yup. For the paperback version sold through Amazon an ISBN will still be needed. The great news is that the Amazon platform will issue you a free ISBN immediately for your paperback. 

4-Part Publishing Video Series

  • VIDEO 1: Is self-publishing really an option for an author?
  • VIDEO 2: A deeper look into Agents, Copyright, Print on Demand for authors.
  • VIDEO 3: Collecting book royalties from platforms like Amazon + Avoiding publishing scams.
  • VIDEO 4: Useful writing resources + The importance of author platforms + Pricing your book.
  • BONUS VIDEO: Thoughts on self-publishing without using the Amazon KDP platform

ISBN Application Appreciation