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Applying for an ISBN from PNM

Applying for an ISBN from PNMGetting an ISBN from Perpustakaan Negara Malaysia (PNM) is really easy—and it’s free! Whilst many ebook distributors/aggregators provide free ISBNs and/or have their own tracking system (eg: ASIN on Amazon and GGKey on Google Play), E-Sentral does not. They require you to apply for one from PNM, as we mentioned in our post on publishing on E-Sentral.

What’s an ISBN?

ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number and is a unique number associated with your book. An ISBN is assigned to each edition (except reprintings) of a book, which means that your e-book, paperback and hardcover would all need a different ISBN. If you want a quick reference, pick up the nearest book, turn to the back and look at the barcode. There will be a 13-digit number (or 10, if the book is super old)—that’s the ISBN!

Why do I need one?

The quick and easy answer is that it’s the simplest way to track and catalogue your books. For print, it’s how the cashier can ring up your sale quickly, by scanning the barcode. Like we mentioned earlier, some online retailers have their own tracking system and do not require an ISBN, but you can also link an ISBN to books sold on those platforms if you wish to. They (meaning Amazon and Google Play) can get away with is mainly because they’re big enough.

If you’re going through a distributor or aggregator such as Smashwords or D2D, you will need an ISBN because it’s a requirement to distribute to sales channels such as Kobo, Apple, and Overdrive.

Do I need a different ISBN for each of my different ebook formats?

According to best practices, each sellable format of your book should have a unique ISBN. Which means that your ISBN on E-Sentral should be different from the one on Smashwords (but this would be the same for all platforms that Smashwords distributes to since they only distribute the epub version).

Confused?

Don’t worry. Just take it that each place you upload to BY YOURSELF probably needs a different ISBN. If you’re not the one uploading it personally, then the distributor or aggregator you use will kau tim that for you.

Okay, so how do I get an ISBN from PNM?

You need two things: a printer and a scanner. (Well, and a laptop, and internet access, and paper, but who’s counting?)

First of all, go to this page on PNM: http://www.pnm.gov.my/index.php/pages/view/18

That’s where you’ll get all the technical info we’re skipping over and the forms you need.

Download and fill Borang 1

Screenshot of Borang 1

Borang 1 is the application to be a publisher.

  • If you’re applying as an individual, you’ll need to scan your IC for them.
  • If you’ve opened a company/sole proprietorship, you’ll need to scan your Borang D plus the Pemilik printout from SSM that shows you are the owner.

The most difficult questions to answer (hah) are these:

Screenshot of Borang 1, section 2

Don’t worry. You can totally guess for #3. It’s “expectation”, after all.

Next, download and fill Borang 2

Screenshot of Borang 2Borang 2 is the actual application for the ISBN. For this one, you need to state the print shop (if you’re printing the book) or the website (if it’s an ebook).

You’ll need to send them the copyright page and the cover of the book with your form.

For first time applicants, leave the Publisher Identity section blank—the officer processing your form will fill it up for you. If you’ve applied before, you’ll need to fill this in based on the Publisher ID PNM gave you on your first application.

Screenshot of Borang 2, section B

If you’re printing your book, you’ll need to add in the printer’s name. If you’re publishing it as an ebook, you fill in the website, e.g. E-Sentral.com.my, Amazon.com, etc.

You’ll need to provide an estimated publishing date. Please do yourself a favour and don’t put it too soon—just in case anything goes wrong. You can also just fill in the month you target to publish it, instead of an exact date. Why? Because you have to submit your published book/ebook within 30 days of that date… and if something goes wrong and it’s terribly delayed, you can be fined up to RM3K!

Email everything to PNM

Once you have everything ready, email them to isbn@pnm.gov.my.

Well, you can go old-school and fax it over, but we’re guessing most of you don’t have a fax machine anymore (we don’t!). OR if you live near to the library, you can also walk/drive over and hand deliver your forms.

And you’re done!

Other things to note:

  • Only apply for a publisher ID and your ISBN when you’re almost ready to publish your book. We tried registering as a publisher without registering for any ISBNs yet (because we hadn’t yet compiled the info) but the officer asked us for the Borang 2 at the same time in order to process the Borang 1.
  • After the first application and registration as a publisher, you only need to submit Borang 2 for subsequent ISBN applications.
  • Processing usually takes about 3 – 5 working days.
  • Once you have your ISBN, you can proceed to upload to E-Sentral or print your books!
  • Remember that you’ll have to submit 5 copies of your print book or 2 CDs of your e-book to PNM within 30 days of publication. (Yes, CDs. THAT IS CORRECT.)

Let us know if you have more questions on applying for an ISBN with PNM!

26 comments

  1. Yuki says:

    Hi, thanks for the article. I have a few questions I hope you can help me answer.
    1) Does PNM approve or disapprove (can they even do that?) issuing an ISBN based on the content of the book?
    2) Is this procedure the same if the ebook has already been published on Amazon, and you are retroactively getting an ISBN for paperbacks?
    3) Finally, how is this process different when you’re using a pen name and prefer to keep your real name confidential. Is there a database on PNM where someone can look you up and associate your pen name with your real name?
    Thanks again!

    • admin says:

      Hi Yuki!

      1) As far as I know, they don’t approve or disapprove the issuance of the ISBN because all they ask for is the cover and the copyright page (i.e. they don’t look through the contents before publication). However, you are required to submit 5 physical copies (or if e-book, 2 cds) to them, so I suppose that’s where they could review it and issue a ban, if they wanted to, but that’s after the fact.
      2) The procedure is the same. If you’re only applying for ISBN for the paperback, you’re not obliged to give them your Amazon links 🙂
      3) In Borang 1 when you register as a publisher, you have to provide your IC (if you’re applying under your own name) or your company registration documents (if under your company). When you fill up Borang 2, you provide your publisher number/details but you can fill up whatever author name you like in the book details. I assume all this would then be in a database in PNM… so technically PNM staff could look you up by your publisher ID and associate that. I don’t work there, though, so I don’t know how secure their database is!

  2. Annie says:

    Dear Admin,
    Thank you for this article about steps on how to apply for an ISBN number in Malaysia. I am co-authoring a book with another author and intend to publish it on my own. But I encountered a problem in trying to apply an ISBN number for my book from PNM. The feedback that I have received from PNM is that I need to apply for an ISBN number under a company. Do you think you can help shed some light on how to go about applying for an ISBN number with dual authorship like my case ? Thank you for your kind attention and assistance. Regards, Annie

    • admin says:

      Hi Annie!
      To apply for the ISBN from PNM, you need to register as a publisher under your IC or under a company name. As there are two of you, it would be quite impossible to register both your names as publisher, which is probably why PNM suggests applying under a company. To set up a partnership, you just need to register with SSM for RM60 per year.
      Alternatively, you can draw up a contract/agreement with your co-author where one of you agrees to be the publisher. This means that one of your names, eg, Annie, will appear as the publisher, whilst the book is authored by Annie + Co-author. The one who registers as the publisher would then be the one legally responsible for all business/publishing-related matters, including any legal matters relating to the book. It would be best to set down in the agreement how monies and costs, and other legal responsibilities will be split between the two of you, just in case something crops up in the future. As this goes into business matters, it’s best to seek legal & business advice.
      All the best!
      anna

  3. Tracy says:

    Hi Admin,

    I have a few questions about the ISBN code:
    1. If i want to publish my ebook in more than one website, for example Kindle and Kobo, do I need to apply for two ISBN or using the same ISBN number?
    2. Is there any fees and charges when applying for ISBN number? If yes, how much money do I need to prepare for it?
    3. After getting the ISBN, can i still edit some part of the content of the book?
    I am planning to publish my first e-book and I need more information about the ISBN.
    Thanks admin.

    • admin says:

      Hi Tracy!

      1. If you’re uploading them separately, you should apply for two ISBNs as they are considered different publications.
      2. If you’re applying through PNM, it’s free. You’ll only need to budget costs for burning 2 CDs per book and postage (unless you plan to hand deliver)
      3. Yes you can! You have 30 days after getting the ISBN to publish the book and send the copies to PNM.

      Hope this helps and all the best with your ebook!

    • Jimmy says:

      Hi,
      I would want to ask,
      Copyright page and books covers have to send in along with Borang 1 and 2?
      But I have not gotten ISBN digit yet, that means my copyright page will not have ISBN digit, which means I couldn’t send in my copyright page right?
      So, do I receive ISBN first by sending in Borang 1 and 2, then only send in copyright page?

      Thanks!

      • admin says:

        Hi Jimmy,

        Yes, you need to send in copyright page and book cover with your Borang 1 & 2. You can take a screenshot of the relevant page from your working file.
        They just want to match the copyright information to your Borang, so you can leave a line/space to fill in the ISBN number later.

  4. Travis Fong says:

    Dear admin,
    Thank you for your advise and insight in the article. I wanted to ask if having an ISBN means that my work is automatically copyrighted? Would have have to go somewhere else to legally protect my intellectual property? As I understand, ISBN is just a unique identifier for the book and edition. I have not seen anything online regarding the need to copyright so i’m a bit confused. Thank you in advance!

    • admin says:

      Hi Travis,

      You’re right–the ISBN is just a unique identifier for the book and edition. It has nothing to do with copyright, though it can help provide evidence on when the ISBN was issued or the book was published.

      Your work is automatically copyrighted to you once it is in tangible form, eg you type it out or write it down. You don’t technically need to do anything extra to exert your copyright, especially with computers where you can trace exactly when you created the file and started writing it!

      If you are worried, you can get a Statutory Declaration to register your copyright, though this is not compulsory/necessary.

      Hope this helps!

  5. Charles says:

    Dear Admin,

    Really thanks to your useful information.

    The above you did mention to email everything (scanned documents) to PNM. I guess this is very easy and it’s free of charge.

    May I know how does PNM reply to us and come back to us with the assigned ISBN number and barcode? They will use email or send hardcopies to us ?

    Thank you for your kind advice.

    Best regards.

    Charles

  6. Ming says:

    Hello,
    May I ask if a foreigner can register/apply for an ISBN and e-ISBN in Malaysia? And if so, is the procedure the same as you have outlined above?
    Thanks in advance.

  7. Jasveena says:

    Hey hi Anna,

    I’m Jasveena, from the Malaysian Writer’s Community. I saw that someone had asked about getting an ISBN for a book that has multiple authors. I think this would indirectly mean that I have to register under a company name. I will do it under my company name.

    I have two questions. We’re very close to launching right now, which is on the 4th of May 2019. The launching will be inaugurated by the Minister of Education. I understand that it takes about 3-5 days to get the code back from PNM. I was wondering if we could print about 200 copies without ISBN, just for the launch purpose. Is this legal?

    For the copyright page, do we just use an existing copyright page from books or come up with our own copyright page? Does this involve getting a lawyer to get a copyright page?

    • admin says:

      Sorry this is a little late–
      Yes, you should apply for ISBN under your company name.
      An ISBN isn’t technically a legal requirement, so you could do that. However, most bookshops won’t take books without an ISBN so you won’t be able to sell it elsewhere after the launch.
      You can use the existing copyright page from other books as a template and amend it to the details of your book. No lawyers needed.

  8. wong thiam boon says:

    Hi Admin,
    I am applyinf for a ISBN number for my book. In Form B2 – second page top section, what is Penerbit and ID Penerbit and do we need to fill them in ?

    • admin says:

      Hi Thiam Boon,
      Penerbit is the publisher of the book. An ID is provided by PNM when you first register using Form B1. If this is the first time you’re applying for an ISBN, you need to fill up both B1 and B2. In B2, fill in the same name/company you’re using in B1 and leave the ID blank. PNM will fill up the ID for you once they’ve assigned it.
      If you’ve published before, you should have been given an Identity Penerbit (formatted ISBN xxx-xxx-xxxxx). You should then fill in the same Publisher name and this ID.

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