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How to apply for an ISBN number from Zimbabwe and other African countries


Africa is a magical continent. From majestic sunsets through to that wild animal that somehow wondered into your backyard. Simply put, we have a different way of life from the rest of the world. For authors, nowhere is this difference more apparent than when you are wondering how the hell you can get your hands on an ISBN number for your new paperback. This article sheds light on how to obtain an elusive ISBN when you live within the African continent.

My friends and fellow self-publishing authors from the US and UK are laughing at as right now. For those living within Trump’s America or the United Kingdom some distance away, applying for their golden ISBN digits is only a few mouse-clicks away. For those British or American authors who might disagree, lets have a quick recap.

The First-world ISBN application process

Applying for an ISBN number for a US author – Bowker Identifier Services. ($125 for one ISBN)

Applying for an ISBN number for a UK author – The Nielson ISBN Store. (£89 for one ISBN)

That’s right, ISBN numbers are a few clicks away for authors from distant shores. The price tag for these “first-world” ISBN numbers is interesting. The cost of a single US ISBN number would cover the monthly cost of a domestic house-helper here in South Africa – That is food for thought.

The Proudly South African ISBN process

For those Saffers who are reading this article, I have covered the ISBN application process for South African authors Ad Naseum in the post right here. In short, although getting your ISBN number in South Africa is a free process, it is still process wrapped in red tape none-the-less. Spoiler alert: You email our National Library with an ISBN application.

So, what are the options for my African Brothers and Sisters? How can authors from African countries get their own ISBN numbers?

Before you apply for an ISBN number – Do you really need one?

Before you proceed further, know this: In many cases you do not need to apply for an ISBN. That’s right, you might be able to save yourself the time, frustration and bribe money if you:

  1. Are only looking to publish a Kindle eBook on Amazon. Amazon does not really care if your eBook has an ISBN number associated with it or not. If the Amazon Kindle eBook is your only destination I recommend saving yourself the tears of dealing with your local ISBN-authority.

eBook ISBN is Optional


  1. If you don’t mind Amazon being listed as the publisher. This applies to those smart African-based authors looking to reach new readers through the Print on Demand model. This cheap method of printing your paperback is offered by the Amazon-owned Createspace platform, within a few clicks it is possible to obtain a free ISBN for your paperback. Note: Createspace will be listed as the publisher, not the you.

  2. For those authors publishing ePUB eBooks through the eBook distribution platform Smashwords – The same free-ISBN option is given to you. Get a free ISBN number for your ePUB eBook. Smashwords will be listed as the publisher.

free Smashwords ISBN


Option 1 – The easy way

How to apply for a ISBN number from within Africa

Before we delve into the process – yes, this process will also work for authors from countries outside Africa 😊

As an author living within Africa the process is as simple as:


Step 1: Visit the International ISBN Agency website.


Step 2: Select your country from the drop-down list.

Now here is where it can become tricky.

Zimbabwe ISBN application


Step 3: Visit the website listed under your specific country. Follow the instructions to apply for an ISBN from the website.

If that does not work OR there is no website listed then move on to Step 4.


Step 4: Email the specific contact person/ people listed for your country. Ask them to explain the ISBN application process.

If you have still not come right with Step 3 or 4 then move to the next step.


Step 5: Call the department/ institution listed. This step is always last in our arsenal of options. Visitors from other African countries will understand well the frustration of trying to hold a telephone conversion with a government official who would rather be playing Minesweeper.


Hopefully you have made it through Step 1 – 5 with a bright and shiny new ISBN number. If the process is anything like ours here in South Africa, it should have been free and just taken an investment of your time.


Option 2 – The hard way

What to do when the official ISBN routes fail – Using an example of authors living in Zimbabwe

You might have followed all the official routes and still be ISBN-less.

  • Maybe your email/ phone calls to the relevant institution are left unanswered.
  • The institution website that should contain a helpful ISBN process is broken.
  • Perhaps the officials who are tasked with helping you have decided to make your life difficult, just because.

Here is a simple example of how to find details of your specific countries ISBN process when the official routes have failed. To help my advice make sense I will use the example of an author living in Zimbabwe. The tips and tricks I show you can easily be applied to your specific country. Pay attention and please feel free to ask for clarification at the end of the article.

Note: The steps that follow might are technical and might seem like Gobbledygook to some authors. Feel free to ask for help in the comments!


Step 1: As per the steps above visit We enter our country of residence as Zimbabwe. Our search shows that ISBN numbers are obtained from the institution named National Archives of Zimbabwe. (Sounds rather important, doesn’t it?).

Note: No website address is listed for authors to visit.


Step 2: As I hate calling any government-led institution, my first point of call is to find the institutions website to see if they have an easy to follow ISBN application process. You could spend some time Googling for the institutions website, however here is an easy shortcut.

To find the ISBN Institutions website, take their official email address and remove the prefix, including the “@”. For example, here is the listed email contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. I remove the “archives@” and just enter into the browser. Presto – Here is website in question:


Step 3: Now that we have their website, is there an easy to follow ISBN process listed? No. A cursory glance at the painful-to-look-at website of the National Archives of Zim website shows that the ISBN page appears to be broken or missing.

Oh dear, the official ISBN route from the website is broken – now what?


Step 4: Search Google for any pages on the National Archives of Zimbabwe website that have anything to do with ISBNs.

               Here is how we translate this into Google-speak: “ ISBN”.

Perfect, we bypass the broken links on the website to find the available pages that pertain to the ISBN-process.

Google Search for Zim ISBN


Step 5: Using the Google-search above we make it simple to find the ideal link to visit.

Here is where authors living in Zimbabwe can download ISBN application documents.


Step 6: Complete the downloaded documents and email them to the listed email address of This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


I really hope that this article helped you. Hopefully you were able to successful apply for an get your ISBN using the easy method. If you had to use option 2 (the harder way) I at least hope you learnt something new.


If you liked what you read (thanks for reading to the end!) – Please leave me some love in the comments section 😊


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