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What is Metadata?

Metadata is a term for all the bibliographic information about your book. Good metadata is key and can directly affect your sales, and supplying complete and accurate metadata is important for all types of publishers, indie publishers through to the largest publishing houses. When filling out your metadata, we suggest following BIC Basic guidelines.

Having an ISBN number makes your book visible to the world. Without one, your readers won't know your book exists.

An ISBN – International Standard Book Number – is a unique 13-digit code used to identify books which is usually printed above the barcode on the back of book and in the imprint page. Nielsen recommends that you register for your ISBN number six months before your publication date. It is recommended that your title metadata should be provided to data aggregators such as Nielsen Book, at least 20 weeks before publication to ensure key retailers receive the information in time for their buying cycle. 

When you buy a single ISBN or blocks of ISBNs, these are yours with you identified as the publisher.

There are two options that you can choose from when purchasing your ISBNs.

You can choose the Nielsen Book free listing service, or the Nielsen BookData Enhanced Service which is a subscription service charged for on an annual basis at a per-title rate (or a fixed one-year contract). The free listing service allows you to display basic information about your book with basic support from the Nielsen Book’s customer support team. Nielsen BookData Enhanced service gives you a richer metadata listing and Nielsen Book Research shows that publishers who invest in good and comprehensive metadata will see improved sales. To request a copy of their latest report, The Importance of Metadata for Discoverability and Sales, please contact us.

As the publisher, only you know which service is right for you and the only way that you can make an informed decision is to do the research. We feel that the Nielsen BookData Enhanced Service is worth the investment as it gives your books wider reach, increased visibility and, most importantly, enhances the discoverability of your books.

So how do I register for an ISBN and how do they make my book visible?

  • Buy and register for your ISBN number with Nielsen Book who runs the ISBN Agency for UK & Ireland.  You can purchase your ISBN(s) from the Nielsen ISBN Store
  • Nielsen Book will supply your ISBNs when you register on the ISBN store (if you are doing so for the first time, thereafter you can just login to purchase additional ISBNs)
  • Once you have received your ISBNs, you need to register for Nielsen Title Editor, which will allow you to add your title records, edit your existing metadata and upload jacket/cover images
  • Assign any further ISBNs to different versions of the book as you need to (e-book, hardback, special edition) – reprints will have the same ISBN number unless there are significant changes to your manuscript or cover design
  • Add as much bibliographic information (metadata) as possible including a jacket image.  The BIC Basic Guidelines will help you to provide the most appropriate data
  • Once registered, your metadata for your book will feed out via Nielsen Books’ electronic services which is supplied to all the chain and independent bookshops, libraries and other data users
  • After a few weeks your book will become visible on eCommerce sites like Amazon and Waterstones, assuming you have a trading arrangement with a distributor or wholesaler.  If you self-distribute, then Nielsen Book will have set you up to receive your orders online. You will need to have set up trading relationships with your distributor and the major wholesalers, you will then be able to fulfil those orders. If you would like more information on distribution, click here.
  • If you have appointed a third party distributor, they will fulfil all orders from online and physical retailers

Publishers can buy ISBNs in: 1, 10, 100, 1000. The reason that ISBN numbers are sold in these blocks is so that your books, if you do publish in multiple formats, have the same prefix. Each edition of your book needs to have a different ISBN; for instance, if you print a special edition hardback at the same time that you print a paperback, they count as two editions.

There are several different formats, so there is a possibility that you could need several separate ISBNs for one book that you want to publish in multiple formats. These would appear on your imprint page as set out below:

  • Paperback 978-0-141-97597-1
  • Paperback with flaps 978-0-141-97597-2
  • Hardback 978-0-141-97597-3
  • Kindle 978-0-141-97597-4
  • ePub 978-0-141-97597-5
  • PDF 978-0-141-97597-6


The barcode that is printed on the back of your book is just a scannable version of your ISBN number. Retailers need a barcode in order to sell your book. We can generate these for you in-house, so please contact us for more details. 

Top Tip: Don’t annoy retailers by placing barcodes somewhere difficult to find and scan. 

If you have any questions or queries, please contact us.