Swiss flagsBy JJ Marsh

As Swiss ALLi rep, I’ve had a lot of enquiries about the ISBN – International Standard Book Number.  Here are some answers.

This is the information I shared at TIPE (The Independent Publishing Event), January 2013 in Zürich.

An ISBN identifies your book, like a fingerprint. If you’re based in Switzerland, you need to apply for Swiss ISBNs. Those with an address in the UK, US, Australia, etc, can apply via those countries. In Britain, you have to buy a batch of 10. The US, Australia and Switzerland allow you to buy individual ISBNs but do remember that you will need a different number for each format, paperback, Kindle ebook, Smashwords ebook. Also a single ISBN costs 115CHF, whereas 10 cost 300CHF.

Swiss site (German/French): SBVV

UK site:

US site:

Australian site:

If you come from somewhere other than the above, find your home site here:

Since TIPE, more questions have arisen on the subject …

Do I need an ISBN?

No, not necessarily. Amazon offers a free ASIN (an Amazon identifier), which identifies Amazon as the publisher. Smashwords and Lulu likewise. You receive all your royalties, naturally, but will be ‘published’ by those organisations.

How do I apply for a Swiss ISBN?

The Swiss ISBN site. Available in French and German. Open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday mornings. Beatrice Hédiger, who runs the office, located in Zürich, also speaks English.

I have an ISBN. How can I get my book into Swiss stores?

Sarina Dupont, of Orell Füssli’s English Bookshop: “Previously we took some copies on consignment for three months. After that we checked how the sales went and if we could keep the title for longer. This procedure proved to be time-consuming due to correspondence, paperwork, billing etc. for every individual title. There were more requests than we could handle, so we decided to take no more books on consignment at this moment. It’s a pity, but we have to give priority to daily business.

If the book is in stock with one of the main distribution centres of your country (for example OLF or Schweizer Buchzentrum in Switzerland), it’s easier for a bookshop to order 1-2 copies to give it a try.”

So how do I make my book available via OLF?

Spokesman for OLF: “If your titles are listed with one of the three big UK or US wholesalers (Ingrams, Baker&Taylor, Gardners) any bookshop in Switzerland can order your books.”  For listing in these companies’ catalogues, you need an ISBN (see below).

If I only have an ASIN, can I get listed in the Nielsen catalogue?

Spokesperson for Nielsen Bookdata UK: “For Nielsen, an Amazon identifier is not sufficient. In fact, most international bookdata handlers require an official ISBN.”

And finally, does the ISBN have a future?

The Economist says it’s questionable, Laura Dawson (Bowker) says yes.

If there are ISBN questions I’ve not answered, please let me know.