Acquiring an ISBN Number in Nigeria


If you want to experience the challenges that we as Nigerians face in a nutshell, all you need to do is spend an hour in a government facility.

This post is for those of you who are wondering how to go about getting an ISBN number in Nigeria – hopefully, this entry will adequately prepare you.

An ISBN is a thirteen digit number that allows your book to be identified. It usually sits just above the barcode and is necessary if you intend to sell your print or ebook (though on some platforms, you can sell without it)

Earlier this month, I went to the National Library of Nigeria to apply for an ISBN number for my novella – Thicker than Water. It was not my first time, but the process isn’t all that different, so I will focus on this experience.

The Lagos branch of the NLN is located at No. 227 Hebert Macaulay Street, Yaba. The building is rundown and dim. But before going to the site, I visited their website to refresh my memory regarding what and what I would need to take. The website link is as follows:

According to the website, in order to get an ISBN number, you will need:

1)      A photocopy of Certificate of Registration (in the case of private companies) obtained from the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) OR a National Identity card OR valid Driver’s License for author publisher, should be attached for identification. I am not sure if it was always the case that an author could apply without a registered company, but in 2014, I registered a company in order to enable me to acquire ISBN numbers. But it is good that authors can apply without going to all that hassle.

2)      A formal Letter of application for assignment of an ISBN made on the letter head paper of the Publisher/Author or Institution. This is easy enough, you write the book(s) you are applying for. If you have applied and received before, you include in the letter the book(s) that you have received ISBNs for along with the numbers you were given.

3)      Visual proof of the existence of the publication(s) should be shown. I have only ever applied for eBooks. In my case, I was told the first time to put the book on a CD which I would use as my visual proof.

4)      Evidence of full utilization of ISBN(s) earlier assigned in form of letter(s) of acknowledgement of receipt from National Library of Nigeria of having deposited the required number of copies of their previous publications to the National Library as required by Law i.e. Private Publisher’s -three (3) copies. Ok, let me explain this a bit, and the madness behind it. So the idea is – you come and request an ISBN number for your print book, for example. You show them the manuscript and they issue you and ISBN number. Following this, you go and print the book with the ISBN. You are supposed to then return to the NLN with three(3) copies of the book as proof that you have done what you said you would do, I suppose. However, this logic fails a bit when it comes to ebooks. First of all, the digital ‘manuscript’ you show them, assuming you have completed the book, is not transformed in the period after they give you the ISBN. It is already a finished product. So there should be no need for you to return. Second of all, this time round I came with three copies of my book on three separate CDs. The madam said that it is meant to be four copies. I give them one now and return with three. Ok. Ok. But…it is a digital file. Surely, one should be enough. Abi, can’t you just duplicate the file into a hundred copies if need be?

5)      1 or 2 Single ISBN = N2,500.00. Now we come to payment, the website told me N2,500. When I got there, they said the price was 3,500. I thought, Ok, maybe the dollar has affected them too. But then she said, “2,500 is for the bank.” What?! What the hell does that mean? Who is the extra 1k for? I didn’t fight it, didn’t want them to make my life difficult. Their security guard had already tried to tap me for some money. There was no light and they were just dragging their feet. I didn’t want to stay there long. She went on to tell me that I should go and pay in Zenith Bank, they would give me a receipt, then I should go and make two extra copies of that receipt. The last time as well, they made me go and photocopy elsewhere; I think then, they wanted me to photocopy the documents I had brought. Either way, they know photocopying is necessary, but they make no move to invest in a photocopier. I got lucky – there was an angel in Zenith bank who helped me print two extra copies.

Thankfully, I was able to do what needed to be done, without having to go back. At some point the lady looked at the receipt of my old ISBNs and said it had not been done properly. Bear in mind, they were the ones who administered the receipt. Apparently, they had put my company name. I held my breath. It would not have surprised me if she tried to say it wasn’t valid, but she let it slide. So, Im grateful. There was a man there who turned up with two copies of the bank proof instead of three, and they were just looking at him.

May they not ‘just’ look at you when it is your turn!


If you have any questions, hit me up and I’ll answer to the best of my ability.

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Oyinkan Braithwaite

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