The Truth About ISBN Numbers

Scan this image and you will read an emphatic YES.

There are many authors out there who want to publish their books, and publishing through Amazon Kindle or Nook for free seems to be a growing route for most people who desire to circumvent the traditional publishing methods.  The traditional method means sending query after query to a long list of literary agents and then waiting patiently for the automated e-mail rejections.

However, publishing independently is not without cost if one wants to do it correctly.

The biggest and most expensive hurdle is not hiring an editor and it isn’t even marketing the book once it is published (most of this can be done for free through Twitter and Facebook).  The most expensive part of indie publishing is getting an ISBN (international standard book number).  Bowker holds a monopoly on this industry and is the sole proprietor of these handy markers for books everywhere.  The ISBN is how book sellers find your book, and is unique to your book or e-book.

Let us be truthful here.  Just because you get a free ISBN when you publish a book through Amazon’s CreateSpace, doesn’t mean you can then use the same ISBN for your Nook or iTunes editions.  Each “edition” of your book must have its own unique ISBN.  One ISBN is $125, so you are wasting your money buying only one.  I throw down $250 at a time for 10 of them, so that I can keep all of my ISBN numbers separate.  I am only now starting to do this, and am learning some hard lessons about the process.

Here is how to make your dollar stretch a little further, though:

Break down and buy 10 ISBN numbers for $250.  Wait to publish the print edition of your book first through CreateSpace to get a free ISBN through them.  WHEN PROMPTED, upload the Kindle edition of your printed CreateSpace edition because it will be linked to your print edition anyway and will not require an ISBN.  Use two of your ISBNs to create a Nook edition and an iTunes edition.  In this way, you will have to publish 5 books before needing to get any more ISBNs.

NOTE: Amazon will not let you participate in Kindle Direct Publishing if your book is for sale in other formats.  The only con of this is that Prime Members will not be able to borrow your book for free (but you still get paid).  It will still get international distribution, though.

Having your own ISBN gives you several advantages (from the Bowker website):

  • ISBNs are the global standard for identifying titles ISBNs are used world-wide as a unique identifier for books. They are used to simplify distribution and purchase of books throughout the global supply chain.
  • Most retailers require ISBNs to track book inventory Without an ISBN, you will not be found in most book stores, either online or down the street from your house. Buying an ISBN is your first step to insure that your book is not lost in the wilderness.
  • Buying an ISBN improves the chances your book will be found Buying your ISBNs and registering your titles on My Identifiers, insures information about your book will be stored in our Books In Print database. This opens up a world of possibilities that your book is listed with many retailers, libraries, Bowker Books In Print, Bookwire, as well as online services like Google Books, Apple’s iBooks, Chegg and the New York Times.

Published by Roger Colby, Novelist, Editor

Roger Colby is a novelist and teacher who has taught English for nearly two decades. He is also an avid reader of science fiction who feels, like many other sci-fi readers, that he has read everything. He writes science fiction for the reader who is looking for the next best thing, something to excite them into reading again. This blog is his journey as a writer and his musings about writing. He also edits manuscripts for a fee and is an expert at helping you reach your full potential as a writer.

6 thoughts on “The Truth About ISBN Numbers

  1. ISBNs are clearly benefiting the big business: You can buy one for $125, or 1,000 for $1,000. How is it that they haven’t been sued by the EU for abusing their monopoly?

  2. Good information, Roger. Many years ago when my writer’s group & I self-published our first chapbook, we sprung the cash to get our 10 ISBNs and haven’t regretted it. 🙂

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