Pages

Publishing: Everything the Indie Author Needs to Know about ISBNs for Self-published Books

Headshot of Jim with a pet dog

The Watchdog and his dog

A terrific and comprehensive post on the topic of ISBNs, the unique international identifier given to every book, from ALLi Watchdog Giacomo Giammatteo. His advice will equip you to make the right decisions for your own self-published books.

Everything You Need To Know About ISBNs

Be warned—this is a long post, but it covers a lot of ground, so bear with me. The first section deals with everything you need to know about ISBNs, or close to it. And the second section is devoted to a question I get asked all the time: Do you need an ISBN for eBooks?

To begin, we’re going to dig a little deeper into the details of those crazy numbers.

Do You Need an ISBN?

#Let’s Take a Closer Look at ISBNs

It seems as if a lot of confusion is tangled up in a string of numbers. And they’re not just numbers—they’re identifiers and they’re damn expensive.

In many countries ISBNs are free, provided by the government through the library system or another administrative branch. In the US and the UK, ISBNs are controlled by Bowker and Nielsen. I’m going to refer to Bowker most of the time since I’m more familiar with them, being based in the US. With the exception of pricing, the rest of the information should be similar.

First let’s take a look at exactly what an ISBN is and what it does.

From Bowker’s Website

ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. The purpose of an ISBN is to give your book a universal ID, which makes it easy for bookstores, libraries, readers, publishers, or anybody to find or refer to your book.

Every ISBN consists of thirteen digits (since 2007) and whenever it is printed it is preceded by the letters ISBN. The thirteen-digit number is divided into parts of variable length, each part separated by a hyphen.

The five parts of an ISBN (13) are as follows:

  • The current ISBN–13 is prefixed by “978” or “979”.
  • Group or country identifier which identifies a national or geographic grouping of publishers.
  • Publisher identifier which identifies a particular publisher within a group.
  • Title identifier which identifies a particular title or edition of a title.
  • Check digit is the single digit at the end of the ISBN which validates the ISBN.

That all sounds confusing, I’m sure. Let’s see if we can clarify some of this with an image.

Photo of an ISBN with named parts

The Parts of An ISBN

ISBN for Murder Takes Patience[1]

  • Look at the top. The first three digits 978 identify that the numbers that follow constitute an ISBN for a book.
  • The next single digit –1- indicates the book is part of the English language group of territories: US, UK, CA, AU, NZ. Those countries might also be represented by a 0.
  • The third group of numerals –940313- is the publisher identifier. In this case, it is my company, Inferno Publishing Company. This group also indicates how many ISBNs were purchased. Anyone who knows how to read an ISBN will realize this was bought as a part of a block of 100 ISBNs. If it had been seven digits instead of six, it would have told us the publisher purchased a block of 10, while five digits would indicate a block of 1,000.
  • The next two numerals –09- specify the title, edition, and format as designated by the publisher upon registration.
  • The final digit –2- is the check digit. It is determined by a mathematical formula and I have no damn idea how they arrive at it.

What this means is that any bookstore, agent, publisher, library—anyone who is familiar with how ISBNs work—can readily identify your publisher number and determine how many ISBNs were purchased in that block. If you purchased one or even ten, they know you’re likely a self-published author. If you purchased 100, there is a good chance you’re a small publisher, and if you opted for 1,000 or more, it seems pretty obvious you’re a larger publisher, or a distributor, or someone who deals heavily in ISBNs. If you purchase only one ISBN the numerals following the country code are always “692” which identifies that ISBN as a single purchase. This applies even if you purchased it from CS using their $99 option.

But I’ve Seen ISBNs That Don’t Look Like That

I know what you mean. If you go to Amazon or almost anywhere, you might see an ISBN that looks like this: 9781940313061, with no hyphens. How do you decipher it then?

It’s easy.

Example One:

If I go to Bowker’s ISBN converter, I can convert my 13-digit ISBN ( 9781940313061) for A Bullet From Dominic, to a readable 10-digit one, like this: 1–940313–06–6.

What does that tell them?

As discussed earlier, the first digit tells them the book is in English. The next group of six numerals identifies “Inferno Publishing Company” as the publisher. And the two numerals following that, “06” indicate that this is from a block of 100 ISNBs. (If it had been from a block of ten, it would have been a single digit.)

On the other hand, if you were to use CreateSpace to purchase your ISBN, this is what the numbers would look like: 978–1–4839–4649–5. Notice that the publisher grouping is only four numbers, which tells us it was purchased as a block of 10,000.

Joanna Penn was kind enough to let me use her great book, Crypt of Bone from the Arkane series, as an example.

Cover of Crypt of Bone by J F Penn

After converting the number using Bowker’s tool, I get this: 1–4839–4649–5, and if we plugged her old information into a Google™ search, this is what we saw.

Google search results listing details of Joanna Penn's book

As you can see from the snippet included with the Google search results, it identified CreateSpace as the publisher of the book.

So what? See below for comparison.

Example Two

If anyone wants to know more about who published this book, all they have to do is analyze the number and/or do an Internet search. Let’s plug this number (978–1–940313–09–2) into Google and see what happens.

Notice that two of the search results show Inferno Publishing Company as the publisher.

Comparison

In order to do a proper comparison, I felt it necessary to go into a little detail on the various options CS offers for ISBNs. I took this from CreateSpace’s website.

What Are My ISBN Options?

You have four ISBN options:

  • A CreateSpace-Assigned ISBN.
  • A Custom ISBN.
  • A Custom Universal ISBN.
  • Your own ISBN.[2]
X Price Imprint Distributors
CreateSpace-Assigned ISBN Free CS Publishing Platform CreateSpace
Custom Universal ISBN $99 You choose You choose
Provide Your Own ISBN Existing ISBN Required You choose You choose

Details Of Each Option

Free CreateSpace-Assigned ISBN

  • CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform is your book’s imprint of record. If you select Amazon.com or Amazon’s European websites as distribution channels, this imprint will be reflected on your book’s detail page.
  • You can sell your book through Amazon.com, Amazon’s European websites, a CreateSpace eStore, and all Expanded Distribution channels.
  • This ISBN can only be used with the CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
  • Your book’s ISBN information will be registered with BooksInPrint.com®
CreateSpace used to offer a custom $10 ISBN. They no longer do.

Custom Universal ISBN ($99)

  • You can use this ISBN with any publisher.
  • You choose your book’s imprint of record. If you select Amazon.com or Amazon’s European websites as distribution channels, this imprint will be reflected on your book’s detail page.
  • You can sell your book through Amazon.com, Amazon’s European websites, a CreateSpace eStore, and some† Expanded Distribution channels.
  • Your book’s ISBN information will be registered with BooksInPrint.com®

Provide Your Own ISBN

  • You can purchase your own ISBN from Bowker or through your local ISBN agency.
  • If you are reprinting your book, the title, author name, and binding type must remain the same. A new edition requires a new ISBN.
  • Your book’s imprint must match what’s on file with your ISBN.
  • You can sell your book through Amazon.com, Amazon’s European websites, an eStore, and some Expanded Distribution channels.

Quick Analysis

With option one and two, you can only use the ISBN with CreateSpace. That means if you want to use Ingram also, you’re out of luck unless you purchase a new ISBN. And if you have to purchase an ISBN anyway, why not do it to begin with.

With the Custom Universal option ($99), you can also use Ingram but only if you do not opt into CreateSpace’s expanded distribution.

If you’re thinking—I don’t want to use Ingram—you might check the post I did on that. If you sell many print books at all, you’ll make more money using both CreateSpace and Ingram.

What About CreateSpace Being Listed As Publisher?

The question is—does it matter who shows up as the publisher? Readers won’t care, but some bookstores might.

It has long been rumored that independent stores don’t like to carry books published by CreateSpace. I wondered how much of that was true so I got on the phone and called some. This was by no means a scientific study; I simply spoke to about a dozen stores and asked them if it mattered. I expected them to say no, it didn’t matter. But to several stores it did.

Out of 13 stores that I asked, 7 of them said they would not carry a book by CreateSpace as the publisher.[3]

If your strategy depends on selling through brick-and-mortar stores, you might consider buying your ISBN through Bowker or Nielsen.

Now to answer some other questions.

Where Does The ISBN Go On A Book Cover?

Here are the front and back covers of my book, Murder Takes Patience. Note the ISBN and barcode on the back. (And yes, that was a shameless plug for my book.)

Covers of book

isbn 3

Where To Buy ISBNs

As stated before, if you’re in the US, there is only one place to purchase an ISBN in your name, as a publisher—Bowker. Here is the link to My Identifiers. Even if you buy the ISBN from Ingram or CreateSpace you have to agree to Bowker’s terms, as the other companies are simply acting as agents for Bowker.

If you are in the UK, you buy them from Nielsen. To look up the agency for where you live, go to this site and use their search tool.

How Many ISBNs Should I Buy & What Do They Cost?

As to how many should you buy…that is a question only you can answer. It depends on how many works you intend to produce, what your philosophy is about using ISBNs, and what your cash flow is. Here are a few facts to help with the decision. Remember, this is for dealing with books only, not music or any other product.

Product ISBN required ISBN recommended
ePub digital book X
Kindle digital book (mobi) X ?[4]
Paperback N/A
Audio book N/A
Hardcover book N/A

In addition to the products listed above, you will also need ISBNs for the following:

Situations Where You Need A New ISBN

  • Any variation of the print books, for example, if you choose a 5 x 8, and a 6 x 9, you’ll need separate ISBNs.
  • If you decide to produce a book with large print you’ll need a separate ISBN.
  • Foreign languages need separate ISBNs.
  • Any significant changes to text/content needs a new ISBN.
  • Change in title needs a new ISBN.
  • Changing the binding requires a new ISBN.

When You Don’t Need A New ISBN

  • Change of price.
  • Minor corrections to text.
  • New cover.[5]
  • Changing vendor who prints books.

So, To Answer The Question—Do You Need An ISBN For eBooks

The decision to use your own ISBN or even whether to use one at all for digital books, is a decision you’ll have to make. Below are a few suggestions that you might consider.

  • If you plan on only producing one book and budgeting is a consideration, you might consider an ISBN from a supplier like CreateSpace or IngramSpark.
  • If you just want to print a book and don’t intend to sell it online or through stores, then you don’t need an ISBN.[6]
  • If you plan on a long-term strategy of branding your publishing company, you probably want to purchase your own ISBNs.
  • If you are concerned with long-term visibility and discoverability through SEO as well as customer, bookstore, and library searches— you should buy your own ISBNs.
  • If your strategy includes aggressive penetration into the brick-and-mortar stores and/or libraries, you definitely should have your own block of ISBNs.

Remember, once an ISBN has been issued it can’t be resold, re-assigned, or transferred. An imprint can be assigned, but the original purchaser will be listed as the publisher of record.

Note:

  • Just because you have an ISBN number doesn’t mean it is listed in the Books in Print database. If you want to ensure your books are listed, you need to submit your title information with Books in Print. (US site.)

Back To The Original Question—How Many ISBNs Should I Buy?

This all depends on your cash flow and long-term strategy. I’ll give you an example from my experience.

A few years ago, I bought 10, thinking that would be good for a long while. But now I have 10 books out in both digital and print. That has taken up 20 ISBNs. I plan on doing audio books, which will take 10 more. I am working on getting them translated into at least two languages. If successful that will require 20 more. That brings me up to 50. And I plan on launching 5 books next year. If they all follow the same path, it will add 25 more ISBNs, bringing the total to 75 ISBNs.

When I started I hadn’t thought of all this. If I had I would have purchased 100 to begin with instead of 10, and then 100. It would have saved me about $200.

Cost of ISBNs

In the chart below, I’ve listed the standard sources—Bowker and Nielsen—but also listed CreateSpace and IngramSpark for those who aren’t concerned with being the publisher of record.

Please note, there are no discounts for quantity with CreateSpace or IngramSpark.

Quantity ISBNs CreateSpace IngramSpark Bowker Nielsen
1 Free/99 85 125 112 [7]
10 Free/990 850 275 225 [8]
100 Free/9,900 8,500 575

Note:

If you have really big plans—like building your own publishing company—you can purchase 1,000 from Bowker for $1,500, bringing the price down to $1.50 each. (Gives you an idea of how much CreateSpace and IngramSpark make, doesn’t it?)

Speaking of money, it was only about one year ago that Bowker would sell 1,000 ISBNs for $1,000—now it’s $1,500—a 50% increase. Not bad.

Let’s Review a Few Facts:

  • An ISBN is required for print books[9]. You don’t have an option.
  • If you use the free one or the $10 one from CS, you cannot use it elsewhere, which means if you decide you want to take advantage of Ingram’s distribution later on you’ll have to buy another one.[10]
  • If you use the $99 ISBN from CS, you can use it elsewhere, but only if you don’t opt for expanded distribution.[11]

Note:

I don’t see the benefit of using a CS $99 ISBN, especially when you can buy one from Ingram for $85 or even better, 10 from Bowker for $275.

Now back to what we mentioned at the beginning of this post…

Do You Need an ISBN for eBooks?

Proponents for using ISBNs with eBooks cite a number of reasons:

  • They make you look professional.
  • They make your books easier to find (more discoverable).
  • They get your books into more places.

Opponents of using ISBNs with eBooks cite these reasons:

  • ISBNs cost money.
  • They have not been proven to increase sales.
  • It’s an antiquated practice that isn’t needed for eBooks.

The Truth About eBooks and ISBNs

Let’s analyze the pros and cons.

  • No question that to do ISBNs the right way, they cost money. But it’s not much if you invest in at least 10 at a time.
  • I don’t think there’s any doubt that they make you look professional, but some would question whether that helps sales.
  • I would like to think they make your books easier to find, but that might be a minor point only true for a very small percentage of people.
  • The primary plus for me is that using an ISBN for eBooks will get you into more places, which means potentially more sales. And one of those places are libraries.

Libraries

Libraries are becoming more of a factor in eBooks, and OverDrive is the biggest supplier to libraries in the world. OverDrive requires an ISBN. If you choose not to have them for your eBooks, you’re cutting out a major distribution channel. OverDrive services more libraries and schools than anyone in the world (more than 30,000), and they also supply books to retailers around the globe, including Books-A-Million, Ciando, etc. Sales in 2013 were more than $100 million. That’s not small change.

And if you need more convincing, take a look at this news from Library Journal in a January, 2015 article.

Public and school libraries that are part of OverDrive’s global network circulated 137 million ebooks, digital audiobooks, and other digital media in 2014—a 33 percent increase compared with 2013, according to statistics released by the company. Ebook circulation rose 32 percent, to 105 million, while digital audiobook circulation grew 38 percent, to 32 million. The OverDrive network also recorded 401 million visits to public library and school library websites powered by OverDrive, a 77 percent increase.

Another thing to note is that OverDrive has an app and a presence on every major mobile device. This is not a stodgy old company living in the past. And, of course, big publishing knows that.

But if you’re an indie without an ISBN assigned to your eBook, the doors to OverDrive distribution and sales will be locked. Indie authors can get into OverDrive through Smashwords, and eBookPartnership, among other distributors.

Other Factors

Besides OverDrive, there are other channels that require ISBNs. Take a look at this from Draft2Digital’s website:

You may choose to disable the free ISBNs, but this will block your book from distribution to some sales channels unless you provide your own ISBNs.

And this is what Smashwords has to say about it:

We require ISBNS for iBooks, OverDrive, Kobo, PageFoundry, and ’txtr.

I know what some of you are thinking…that you can get a free ISBN from Draft2Digital, and that will solve your problem. You’re right. But what happens if you decide you want access to the retail channels Smashwords distributes to that Draft2Digital doesn’t?

No problem, you simply get the free ISBN from Smashwords.

But then you see that Bookbaby has some great channels that neither Draft2Digital or Smashwords distribute to. And then you notice eBookPartnership has even different channels.

And the list goes on and on and on. Pretty soon, you end up with four different ISBNs for the same book, and a few of them you might have had to pay $15 or $19 for.

Now let’s throw another wrench in the mix.

Suppose you sign up for Bookbaby or Draft2Digital and use their ISBNs, and six months later you decide you don’t want to use them to distribute your books anymore; you want to use Smashwords. No problem, right?

Wrong.

Now you’ve got books with Bookbaby-assigned ISBNs or Draft2Digital-assigned ISBNs, and guess what—you can’t use them anywhere else. If multiple vendors supply retailers that require ISBNs, you could end up with a mess on your hands.

Wouldn’t it have made a lot more sense to just buy an ISBN yourself? Not only would you have access to all channels and retailers, but you’d look more professional, too.

Bottom Line

Whether to use ISBNs on ebooks is a personal decision. You have no choice if print books is part of your distribution strategy. Some authors take the least expensive route and, in many cases, it hasn’t affected sales a bit. Other authors buy blocks of ISBNs and adhere to the same practices that traditional publishers have used for years.

I don’t have a lot of personal proof that using ISBNs for ebooks will drive tons of sales, but I have no doubt that it will. The book business is continually changing, and the ways that people read books change with it. Add up the numbers with OverDrive, Scribd, Oyster, and others. A lot of books are being read and bought on these platforms.

The question you have to ask yourself is—Will you be one of them?

As for me, I’m one of those authors who tries to keep everything in sync, so I use ISBNs for all my books—print and ebook and soon to be audio.

Will it help with discoverability?

I don’t know, but I hope so.

One Final Thought

We indies are competing with traditional publishing on all fronts, and that means not just with storytelling, but with editing, book covers, layout, distribution, etc. We have to come across in all ways as professionals. To me, that means having ISBNs on all of my books, with my company listed as the publisher of record—not CreateSpace, or Smashwords, or Bookbaby, or anyone else.

As I said, I don’t know if it will help me sell books, but it definitely can’t hurt. I’m willing to invest that much to find out.

If you enjoyed this post, please share.

 

  1. The number on the bottom is the 10-digit ISBN and the “51799” tells the price. “5” tells the scanner it is in US currency, and the next 4 numbers tell the price. So this book costs $17.99.
  2. Both custom ISBN options are offered through an agreement with Bowker®.
  3. I have to wonder if part of this was because they presumed that a book by CreateSpace meant “indie author”, and they don’t carry indies. I didn’t have time to dig into this angle further.
  4. Bowker and Nielsen recommend separate numbers for mobi and epub, but not many people do that.
  5. As long as it doesn’t change the complete perception of the book.
  6. Ingram used to require ISBNs for any printing order, now they don’t. They even sell them for universal use.
  7. Includes a one-time set-up fee of $46.
  8. plus VAT
  9. If you plan on selling them online or through brick-and-mortar stores.
  10. This also means you’ll have different versions of your print book showing up.
  11. See this post for details on using a CS ISBN with Ingram.

#Authors - here's everything you need to know about #ISBNs by @murdertakestime Click To Tweet

, , , , , , , , ,

65 Responses to Publishing: Everything the Indie Author Needs to Know about ISBNs for Self-published Books

  1. FirstOla November 8, 2017 at 11:56 pm #

    I see you don’t monetize your website, don’t waste your traffic, you can earn extra cash every month because you’ve got
    high quality content. If you want to know how to make extra money,
    search for: Boorfe’s tips best adsense alternative

  2. Anna Castle November 8, 2017 at 8:45 pm #

    Am I too late to ask another question? I just finished producing my first audiobook through ACX. I chose the non-exclusive distribution path, because this series is wide in both ebook and print, so I want the audio to be available everywhere as well. I have an ISBN for it, since I bought 100 after realizing how quickly I use them up. But ACX doesn’t seem to provide a place for it. I wrote to the Help desk and they said they would provide an ASIN and not to worry my little self about it. (Grrr.)

    So do I just go ahead and register the new format at Bowker, the way I did ebook & print, and then use the ISBN everywhere else, presumably? I’m especially keen to get this one into Smashwords, through which I can reach Overdrive. I’m a great consumer of audiobooks from Overdrive through my library, so I want my books to be there too.

  3. Kunzang October 15, 2017 at 9:15 pm #

    Hi
    We are just about to publish our first book through Ingramspark. We have purchased our ISBNs for hardcopy and ebook. Our book designer has now asked if we want to include the ebook ISBN on the copyright page (clearly marked as such) as well as the paperback ISBN. She said she has seen it included sometimes and sometimes not. I am wondering which is more conventional at traditional publishing houses, i.e. what is the norm. We are wanting our books to look as professional as possible.
    Thank you
    Kunzang

  4. Marlena Harris August 27, 2017 at 5:41 am #

    I loved the point about ISBNs for eBooks making them more discoverable even if only by a small percentage of people, because I am part of that percentage. I actually have used ISBNs to locate other books published by the same publisher. I learned how to figure out what the next check is so that I can just put the ISBN in and find the next book.

  5. Jane August 20, 2017 at 10:41 pm #

    Thank you for this useful post. I started out with self publishing without knowing too much and took the free createspace ISBN. Now that I am more familiar with the process and understand the importance of an ISBN, I now have a problem with what to do with the previous books and ebooks that sell on Amazon, print books all caring createspace ISBNs and ebooks were given some version of Amazon’s ISBNs. What a headache. I have decided to buy a block of ISBNs but I am confused in what to do with the previous books and how to go about converting them if that is even possible. I currently have 5 books along with 5 ebooks. Please advise.

  6. Tucker D August 8, 2017 at 3:21 pm #

    When referencing the ISBN number in the front matter, using createspace (and we purchased the $99 ISBN), can I use the 978- European number, or do I print the 10-digit US number. I didn’t think it mattered but wanted to doublecheck. Thanks for all this info. Very helpful.

  7. STUART SCHNEE June 27, 2017 at 9:37 am #

    Is there any problem selling a book in the US (via Amazon etc) if the ISBN is from a foreign country? thanks

    • Debbie Young June 27, 2017 at 10:57 am #

      Nope, doesn’t matter where your ISBN is sourced – it’s an international standard. So that makes life simpler, thank goodness!

  8. Teddy Raye June 8, 2017 at 8:53 pm #

    Many thanks for this informative and comprehensive article. It cleared up a lot of questions for me.

    • Giacomo Giammatteo June 22, 2017 at 2:16 am #

      glad it helped. Let me know if you have more questions.

      • C July 16, 2017 at 3:02 pm #

        I have a question…
        Why the push to get into libraries? Aren’t people reading your book for free? So what is the value in that profit wise?

        Thxs,
        Colleen

        • Debbie Young July 16, 2017 at 3:48 pm #

          Here are four reasons that I can think of, Colleen:

          1) most countries have a scheme that pays a small fee to authors every time one of their books is borrowed
          2) it will raise awareness of your books before potential readers at no cost to you
          3) it will give you a good feeling to know that people who may not be able to afford to buy books can still read yours
          4) most library users are also book buyers, and many go on to buy books they have read in libraries or other books by the authors whose library books they have enjoyed

      • Adrienne Enfinger August 8, 2017 at 3:01 am #

        Giacomo Giammatteo,

        Thank you for this informative and easy to understand post. When purchasing ISBNs myself do I have to have a “real” company. As in, a company that is registered, licensed, or what have you or do I just make up a name and that’s it? How does paying taxes work if I make up a company to purchase ISBNs and then earn money off my book sales?

        Thanks,
        Adrienne

  9. Alena June 1, 2017 at 4:58 pm #

    Thank you very much for the article! Very useful!

  10. The Perfect Author May 25, 2017 at 11:41 am #

    I am searching for Is ISBN required for ebooks? and this article clear my doubt. Thank you so much.

  11. Yousuf Siddiqi April 23, 2017 at 8:55 pm #

    Hi,
    I am self publishing my book. My printer is in India. Do I require ISBN from an Indian agency? Or can I apply ISBN from a US agency and mention it on the Copyright page?
    Regards,

    • Noah PIKES July 17, 2017 at 9:29 pm #

      I just learned today that as a self-publisher, writing in English, ISBNs must be registered with the ISBN agency in the country where you are officially resident. For me, who is resident in Switzerland, it means that the registration process has to be all in French, in which I am far from fluent, especially when writing in it. AND all the information and rules concerning ISBNs were also in French.
      This is doubly strange as the 2 previous editions of my book were published by a specialist
      publisher in the USA.

  12. J.L. Callison March 23, 2017 at 6:30 am #

    Thanks. Very informative. I appreciated the comments following as well, for they helped clear up a couple of questions generated by the blog post.

    I have already purchased a block of numbers, but was questioning the need for seperate numbers for Smashwords and Kindle. Seperate numbers it is for me. Necessary? Probably not, but I need every possible advantage, and for the price difference of adding one different number, I don’t see the advantage of pinching that particular penny.

    • Giacomo Giammatteo June 22, 2017 at 2:18 am #

      Feel free to write if you have questions. I don’t monitor this site as often as I should since I got sick.

  13. Sabra March 2, 2017 at 9:37 pm #

    Do I have to register my “publishing company”? (The name I choose to use with my ISBN rather than CreateSpace)

  14. Carrie D. Miller January 9, 2017 at 4:03 am #

    This is a very eye-opening article. I’m so glad I found it. I never thought about the professional-looking aspect of it. I have a lot to think about.

  15. Carolyn J. Crawford Davis January 5, 2017 at 11:29 pm #

    WARNING BEWARE OF GETTING THE “MOST POPULAR INDEPENDENT PUBLISHERS PACKAGE” $55 FROM PUBLISHERS SERVICES. http://www.isbn-us.com On that website page they do state that ““Independent Publisher” is referenced publisher- Ideal for direct to consumer sales” What they do not state is that this ISBN number is useless for Create Space. If you get your own ISBN number, you must state that you are the publisher, which is not allowed on this very deceptive package. You must go to the $125 Publishers Package which has listed down at the very bottom of the list of benefits, “Create Space”.

    After three phone calls to David, very charming man at Publishers Services, in which i was trying to figure out what the problem was…why Create Space would not accept my ISBN number…and 3 phone calls to Create Space, I finally found someone at CS who directed me to Bowker, the actual publisher of Books In Print. They told me I had purchased the wrong type of ISBN…all it could list was Independent Publisher.

    I went back to Publishers Service and the still charming young man and asked if I could upgrade my number, no. Could I get a refund, no. Once again he tried to convince me that I should just take the freebie offered by CreateSpace and go away. I asked to speak to a supervisor and was put on hold. I am positive that the time was used to explain my complaint, because when I spoke to impatient, curt Patti she had loaded the page on the $55 package and essentially implied that I hadn’t paid attention to the warnings that the ‘Most Popular Package’ could not be used for Create Space and that somewhere elusive there was a notice of the purchase being nonrefundable.(The only notice I could find was the absence of ‘Create Space’ o the list of benefits.

    I am certain that the charming David knew on the first phone call what the problem was and tried to divert me into taking the CS offer, rather than just admitting that their presentation had been deceitful.

    I went to Bowker at https://www.myidentifiers.com and purchased the $125 package. We’ll see if that one works.

  16. DENNIS DE ROSE October 21, 2016 at 8:29 pm #

    Giacomo, you wrote a fantastic article, very detailed. I have a question. A year ago I read a few articles that mentioned writers clubs buying a block of ISBN’s to sell to their members at steep discounts. I cannot find that info at present. Have you run across that? I would like to share that info with a few hundred writers to save them some money. Thanks for your input.

    • Giacomo Giammatteo June 22, 2017 at 2:21 am #

      Sorry. I just saw this, Dennis. I don’t know anything about that particular offer. I’ll try to find out.

  17. Cheryl Cowtan August 12, 2016 at 1:19 pm #

    Thanks for the great information on ISBNs for self-publishers.

    CANADIAN ISBNs are free (like healthcare ;).

    “To obtain one, you must be a Canadian publisher or self-publisher physically and permanently located in Canada.”

    More information can be found at Library and Archives Canada http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/services/isbn-canada/pages/isbn-canada.aspx#d1

    Some points to be aware of if you are a Canadian self-publisher:

    -An ISBN is required for the sale and distribution of a publication.
    -Each different format of an electronic publication (e.g., Kindle, Kobo, EPUB, MOBI, PDF) that is published and made separately available shall be given a separate ISBN.
    -are issued within 10 business days.
    -Since 2007, ISBNs have changed from 10 digits to 13 digits. ISBN-13 is now the exclusive ISBN to be used on books and book-related products.
    -To obtain a full 13-digit ISBN, you must first apply for an ISBN Canada online system account. (for self-publishers, this can just be your name and home address)
    -The Canadian ISBN Agency does not provide barcodes; they are issued by private companies.

    Note that lag time of 10 days. Get your ISBN in time to meet your launch deadline.

  18. Jerry Pipes August 6, 2016 at 6:00 pm #

    Great post. Thanks for the info!

  19. best diy wireless alarm system July 5, 2016 at 7:46 am #

    Almost 13 million homes from the US face the threat of burglary annually
    causing huge decrease of property and quite often life also.
    What an automobile alarm can do in your case is to alert you, and anyone within hearing range, that your particular vehicle is now being
    tampered with or someone is wanting to try it. Radio shack home security systems It is extremely essential to complete so inside region of Dallas because those want safety
    of these homes.

    Either way, getting help quickly when a burglar is going off loudly is simple to
    do. Smoke alarms consist of simple smoke detectors to more thorough security systems with fire doors along with effective features.

  20. tbh hmu a July 5, 2016 at 6:59 am #

    Existing anywhere other than the exact moment you are
    in creates a false world around you. Usually a moving tail while sleeping means that they
    are stalking something in their dreams. What does
    hmu means

    CBC blood test results can determine if a person is sick
    or has developed a disease or illness. In 2004, PHP
    5 was released with performance enhancements and increased support for object oriented programming.

  21. Rory Graham July 1, 2016 at 11:46 am #

    Thank you for an excellent and information article.

    Two questions

    Might I resell ISBNs I buy?

    I am in the UK, might I use a free ISBN from another country?

    • Giacomo Giammatteo July 18, 2016 at 1:21 pm #

      Rory: Sorry for the late reply. No, you cannot resell ISBNs and you need to use the ISBNs from your own country.

      Giacomo

  22. Carol Cooper June 28, 2016 at 4:03 pm #

    Thank you very much, Jim. A hugely informative post.

  23. Diane Tibert June 28, 2016 at 11:07 am #

    Thank you for providing the detailed information for ISBNs for countries who must buy them. I live in Canada, and they are free. I wrote a post about how to obtain them as a Canadian citizen, but I didn’t have a lot of information about how others outside of Canada got them.

    I’ve added a link from my post to this article to help non-Canadians learn more about them. For Canadians to learn about our ISBN system, they can check out my post here: https://dianetibert.com/2012/04/30/getting-the-numbers-isbn-cip/

    I wrote it in 2012, and it still applies. There is less information to complete now when you assign an ISBN, so it’s easier.

    As you mentioned, it only makes sense to get your own. If you are in it for the long haul, it will definitely be worth it in the end.

  24. Jane Davis June 25, 2016 at 9:05 am #

    Question: I use my own ISBN numbers for my paperback editions (Createspace and Clays, slightly different sizes and Clays require a wording to be inserted to show the book is printed by them), but currently don’t use them for e-Books. I publish via KDP (who allocate an ASIN only), D2D (who allocate their own ISBN) and Smashwords (who allocate their own ISBN). If I decide to use my own ISBNs, can I use the same ISBN for publishing on each of these different platforms? (Smashwords used to insist on the wording Smashwords Edition but no longer do so, as I understand it.)

    • Orna Ross June 25, 2016 at 10:04 am #

      Hi Jane, you “can” do whatever you want — you’re indie! But best books business practice is to use a different ISBN for different formats. If you think about what an ISBN is used for, it becomes clear. Supposing I’m a librarian and I want to make the EPUB version of your book available in my library, together with the hardback. The ISBN is how I will be able to distinguish between the various formats of your books on offer, automatically, through the established process in place. I don’t want the .mobi or the softback, but without a different ISBN for each, how do I distinguish without having to contact you — which could well be enough to put off the librarian, or bookstore owner, or whomever is interested.

    • Giacomo Giammatteo June 25, 2016 at 8:53 pm #

      You can use your own ISBN no matter where you publish. So, with Smashwords, Draft2Digital, and any other.

      Giacomo

    • Giacomo Giammatteo July 18, 2016 at 1:23 pm #

      Yes, I use all my own ISBNs and you only need one for each ‘type’ of book. The distributor doesn’t matter, so you could use the same ISBN with Amazon, Apple, Nook, Smashwords etc.

      Giacomo

  25. Will Entrekin June 25, 2016 at 3:46 am #

    TL; dr

    Why you don’t need an ISBN, and what you should invest in instead:

    http://willentrekin.com/why-you-dont-need-an-isbn-and-what-you-should-invest-in-instead/

    Spoiler: definitely not necessary for ebooks. I guess it can help get into libraries, but libraries aren’t fans of indie authors anyway. Fact is, no major retailer requires ISBNs for sales, and if you’re relying on ISBNs for discoverability, you have greater problems.

    • Orna Ross June 25, 2016 at 10:11 am #

      On the contrary, many libraries throughout the US and the UK are now actively seeking good self published titles. As are many independent bookstores. If indie authors want to be part of the wider book business (outside online retail), ISBNs are necessary. (Of course many indies do not, and are happy to sell only ebooks online through one retailer; it’s the author’s choice.) Because one of our main aims at the Alliance of Independent Authors is to see indies take their rightful place within the wider industry, we recommend that authors own their own ISBNs. ISBNs are not a marketing tool, a discoverability tool, or anything like that. Owning your own ISBN is simply a piece of business housekeeping that gives your book the best chance within the industry, and establishes you — and not your retailer — as the publisher of record, if that is something you care about.

    • Giacomo Giammatteo June 25, 2016 at 9:05 pm #

      Will: thanks for the note. While a lot of what you say is true, some needs further evaluation. Libraries are indeed becoming a factor. In the past year I have gotten almost 30 books into libraries. Not many, I know, but the commission alone is enough to cover quite a few ISBNs if you purchased 100 at a time. ALso, if a bookstore, or anyone else does a search for my books, they’ll see the same publisher for all my books with every retailer. If I went the route of letting the distributor do it, it would show different publishers for Smashwords, Draft2Digital, Bookbaby, etc; I’d rather look professional even if it costs a few bucks.

    • Trinity July 9, 2016 at 12:03 pm #

      so you didn’t read their article, but you want others to ready yours? hm. so rude. and your info on libraries and indie books is outdated.

  26. Doris June 24, 2016 at 6:47 pm #

    GREAT POST!
    Another issue I wrote about last year:
    http://www.savvybookwriters.com/who-is-the-publisher-check-the-isbn/
    e-Books that do not contain an ISBN are charged 22% VAT, while e-books with an ISBN are charged a rate of only 4% – which makes a book without ISBN more expensive for the buyer / less revenue for the author.
    Italy has implemented new legislation that charges a higher rate of VAT on e-books that do not have an ISBN.

  27. A couple of other small amendments to add.

    OverDrive no longer supplies Waterstone’s as the Waterstone’s ebook store is now closed.

    In similar vein Smashwords no longer supplies Oyster.

    • Orna Ross June 25, 2016 at 10:13 am #

      Thanks Mark! Jim will amend, just getting back into the swing of things.

    • Giacomo Giammatteo June 25, 2016 at 8:58 pm #

      True, Mark. I started writing this before those changes happened, then I got sick. But that’s no excuse for not fixing it. Thanks for the update.

      Giacomo

  28. Elisa June 23, 2016 at 8:49 pm #

    Newbie question, please bear with me. From what I read a good fit for me would be to buy and control my own ISBNs. Do I need to be a formal publishing company or can I do that as an individual? My books are in english but I am from another country, so I’m worried about the legal and financial ramifications of owning a company in the US.

    • Orna Ross June 25, 2016 at 10:16 am #

      You need a company name but as long as you are established as a sole trader (i.e. registered for tax purposes) that works. But what country are you in? Many governments provide ISBNs free of charge.

  29. LM June 23, 2016 at 7:43 pm #

    Very helpful post! With all the issues of piracy, plagiarism, etc., I wonder if one could consider an ISBN (along with filed copyright) as another form of protection should you find yourself in the situation of having to prove, protect ownership of your work?

    • Orna Ross June 25, 2016 at 10:14 am #

      yes, it gives you a proven date of publication …. though we recommend ignorning piracy issues and just concentrate on writing and publishing.

  30. clare Weiner June 23, 2016 at 7:16 pm #

    Really useful checklist here. I use Nielsen and never doubted I would use ISBNs as that is the professional way (and ‘look’!) – though that was pre-ebooks being so big in the market … I bought 10. Very useful to review and shall keep article for reference if needs be any time. …

  31. Karen Myers June 23, 2016 at 4:47 pm #

    1) On the cost calculations when buying ISBNs directly (US example)…

    The decision point isn’t block by block, as in “do I need 10 or do I need 100”? Instead, it should be “Will I ever need 11 or will I ever need 101?”

    If you’re prolific, why not buy a block of 100 for $575? Because if I get to 101 uses, then I would need to spend another $575. If I buy a block of 1000 (which I did) at a time when it was only $1000, then as soon as I hit 101 units, I’m better off. With 7 novels and several shorts, in all the formats, I’m already using more than 50 ISBN units, and at 4-8 titles/yr times 3 formats (print, epub, mobi), I’ll easily hit 100 in 2-3 years (novels & shorts).

    When your ISBNs end up costing $1.00 each, it vastly simplifies the concern about “does this new format really need another ISBN?”

    2) The other reason for ISBNs…

    It’s not just libraries that need universal identifiers — so does all commerce. We’ve barely seen the beginnings of online retail worldwide for print and ebooks. Right now we’re pampered by Amazon/Kobo/Apple and a few others and think that’s the whole book world we need to accommodate.

    ISBNs are just a special case of SKUs.

    (What follows is an excerpt on my older article on this topic. http://hollowlands.com/2014/03/why-you-should-buy-isbns-for-your-books/)

    ISBNs exist for exactly the same reasons that all businesses which trade in products require identifiable SKUs (Stock-Keeping Units). Pick up any product from any store and you will likely find such a product number, and a bar code to go with it. The SKU for the blue sweater in size 12 is different from the one for the blue sweater in size 14 or the red one in size 12. The SKU always identifies a single instantiated product, not a range of products. It’s used to eliminate any ambiguity about what the customer wants to buy [which is why there’s a recommendation to have different ISBNs for different ebook formats].

    In most cases, an SKU is private to a particular vendor. A manufacturer puts an SKU on a component part he ships to an assembler. That company puts its own SKU on the assembled product, and the wholesaler who buys assembled products from all over the world puts his own SKUs on his inventory items. The retailer who buys from the wholesaler ultimately adds his own SKU, and when you buy that flashlight from RadioShack, that’s the number you see.

    What makes the book trade different is that it was able to organize an SKU standard that travels with the product from the manufacturer all the way through the retail system, worldwide. That is a very remarkable achievement, unique to media. Because of that, all the players in the book trade, from manufacturers to wholesalers to bundlers to retail outlets are able to use the same SKU for the product along the way. That doesn’t mean that a retailer might not also assign a private SKU to an item (e.g., Amazon’s ASIN) for its own use (Amazon sells a lot of things besides books and they all have an ASIN number). But retailers who only sell books can use the item’s inherent SKU, its ISBN, as the product number, and many of them do.

    Think of a small retail store, perhaps online only, somewhere in Poland. It sells ebooks and a few book-related items (readers, perhaps). All it needs for SKUs are the ISBNs the ebooks come with and a few assigned SKU numbers for its other goods, like readers, which it will assign using the EAN-13 standards (which have the same format as ISBNs). Its accounting system can use the ISBN as the SKU for each item it sells. it can order ebooks from aggregators and wholesalers and distributors using the universal SKU system they all understand: the ISBN.

    There are hundreds of such small online ebook retailers today, and soon there will be thousands. All it takes is a website design and a little start up cost. They don’t need capital for inventory. The barriers to entry are very low. You will never be able to deal with them directly, and they will get their ebooks from aggregators and distributers, not directly from publishers. In many countries, online ebooks retailers will grow like mushrooms where print retailers won’t. Think of Africa or parts of South America where modernization skipped landlines and went straight to cellphones, where everyone has a cellphone and that’s how they read books.

  32. Karl Drinkwater June 23, 2016 at 3:18 pm #

    Really useful, many thanks. I went a similar route – bought 100, use 1 per paperback, e-book and audio version (so 3 ISBNs per book written at present). There was lots of learning and many hoops at the start, but it should be a fairly future-proof system now.

    You briefly mentioned including the price in the barcode but I’ve never done that because I imagine a whole article could be written about the pros and cons of that alone. In my case I just want one barcode, and am selling to the US and UK and elsewhere, so whatever currency I chose would be wrong for some markets. That means it is just easier to avoid all that and skip the price in the barcode, though others might differ in that view.

    “Bowker and Nielsen recommend separate numbers for mobi and epub, but not many people do that.”
    I’d noticed that too, and ignored their recommendation. In Nielsen’s case it is more to do with them not tracking Amazon sales I think, so isn’t a benefit to the author. I just use one ISBN for the e-book version. If you went down the route of different ISBNs for filetypes (even though the content is the same) you’d also need one for PDF, one for online reading, one for .docx and so on if those formats are available – plus yet more as new formats become available. Likewise with audio books, just one ISBN, even though they may be downloaded in mp3, wav, some proprietary format, online streamed etc. If the content is identical it would be a waste to have to use multiple ISBNs for every change in file suffix.

    One issue in the UK is that Nielsen say that you have to register for their title editor and add details of each book to that – I just discovered that there is no need or advantage to that, since it seems my books were added by my distributor (Ingram Spark) anyway. I wish I’d known that at the start, it would have saved weeks of back and forth creating an account with Nielsen, which I’ll probably now spend weeks trying to close!

  33. Anma Natsu June 23, 2016 at 3:09 pm #

    As a note, apparently Amazon no longer offers the $10 option as of sometime recently. Another author pointed out the option wasn’t available, and I checked the CreateSpace website and it is indeed gone from the options and documentation.

    • Giacomo Giammatteo June 23, 2016 at 3:51 pm #

      I didn’t know that. Thanks for pointing it out. I’ll amend the post.

      Giacomo

      • Debbie Young June 23, 2016 at 4:34 pm #

        Post now amended, thanks to Anma for pointing that out. 🙂

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Fabulous Novel Action Plan - M D Flyn - October 17, 2017

    […] Publishing Action Plan 6 mo-2 yr ISBN purchase 10 for $250 or 1 for $125; You need separate ISBNs for ebooks, print and audio Formatting DIY (Vellum on Mac, Jutoh) $200 or $30 ea, or paid $150 Paid cover design, $50 premade, […]

  2. AskALLi Members’ Self-Publishing Q&A w/ David Penny & Debbie Young October 2017 | Self-Publishing Advice Center - October 6, 2017

    […] Publishing: Everything the Indie Author Needs to Know about ISBNs for Self-published Books […]

  3. Ask ALLi Member Q&A with Joseph Alexander and Orna Ross | Self-Publishing Advice Center - June 17, 2017

    […] Publishing: Everything the Indie Author Needs to Know about ISBNs for Self-published Books […]

  4. 5 Interesting Links for 07-08-2016 | Tales to Tide You Over - March 4, 2017

    […] A detailed review of what ISBNs are and some of the reasons to purchase your own. http://selfpublishingadvice.org/isbns-for-self-published-books/ […]

  5. Global Reach for Self-published Books | Self-Publishing Author Advice from The Alliance of Independent Authors - July 21, 2016

    […] Publishing: Everything the Indie Author Needs to Know about ISBNs for Self-published Books […]

  6. Weekly Roundup of History, Archaeology and Writing Wisdom June 25- July 1 | Judith Starkston - July 2, 2016

    […] I participated on Sunday in a panel on publishing—traditional and self, pros and cons and how to’s. One of the issues that came up a couple times, mostly for those working the self-publishing side of things, but interesting for any author, had to do with ISBN numbers. There’s more to these essential identifiers than you’d think. So, since the resourceful Anna Castle shared this article that tells all on the subject and from a reliable source, I’ll share it with you. One of those posts that a writer might want to stow for future reference unless you’re already a pro at the self-publishing thing. And if, as a reader, you wondered what the different parts mean, here’s the answer, among many others. Click here for “ISBN’s for Self-Published Books”  […]

  7. Legendary Author Advises New Writers to Self-Publish Because “Big Publishers Suck” - July 1, 2016

    […] Giammatteo in SelfPublishingAdvice/ALLi […]

  8. Top Picks Thursday! For Readers and Writers 06-30-2016 | The Author Chronicles - June 30, 2016

    […] A self-publisher has to know a lot about a lot. R.J. Crayton explains what the Kindle “delivery cost” is and how it affects you, and Giacomo Giammatteo has everything indie authors need to know about ISBNs for self-published books. […]

  9. Monday Must-Reads [06.27.16] - June 27, 2016

    […] ISBNS – the Complete Lowdown for Indie Authors | Self-Publishing Author Advice from The Allian… […]

  10. ISBNS – the Complete Lowdown for Indie Authors – Snapzu Entertainment - June 26, 2016

    […] View Full Post […]

Leave a Reply