Getting 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).
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
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:
Don’t worry. You can totally guess for #3. It’s “expectation”, after all.
Next, download and fill Borang 2
Borang 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.
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 email@example.com.
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!