Tuesday, May 21, 2013

ISBNs- Do We Need Them?

Let's start with the nitty-gritty-

What is an ISBN?

ISBN stands for  International Standard Book Number. That, along with a barcode and the book's price are found on all books you buy from a store. I'm talking about physical copies.

The ISBN system is an internationally recognized book identification system that's been in use since 1970. An ISBN is used for a variety of purposes, including inventory control; sales tracking; and order processing by booksellers, wholesalers, distributors, libraries, and universities.
Some books have similar titles, or the same book may have multiple editions published over several years. To help keep track of every edition of every book that's published, each book is given a unique ISBN. The ISBN is displayed not only on the back cover, but also inside the book's interior on the copyright page and sometimes on the inside front or back cover.
In other words, it makes sure your book is not confused with any other book out there. That's pretty darn important, especially if your book has the same or similar title as someone else's.

I have ISBNs for all my books. One for the print versions and one for the eBook version.

All books are not created equal in the eyes of the ISBN.

Print books-all must have an ISBN
If your books are printed with a publisher, they will take care of the ISBN for you.
*If you are publishing your own book, you need to get your own ISBN.

If you use Createspace or another POD -(print-on-demand) publisher/distributor, they will give you choices when it comes to purchasing ISBNs from them.
  • The free option-this option is very tempting simply because it is FREE. There is nothing wrong with choosing this option as long as you understand what it means. Choosing this option will list Createspace as your publisher. It also means that you can not sell your book in physical stores. Bookstores require the ability to return your books for 100 years. If you use Createspace or another POD, the books are not returnable. Createspace owns that ISBN and won't let you use it outside their system.

  • The $10 option- this option lets you imprint your publishing name to the ISBN. This is a better option than #1, but still has its limitations. People won't see Createspace as your publisher. Your book will not be in stores. It will only be available through Amazon.com/expanded distribution and Createspace.com  Createspace still owns the ISBN and the book is still not returnable.

  • The $99 universal option lets you sell the book wherever you want. Yay, you say, but that's expensive. Here's the scoop. Go to myidentifiers.com and buy 10 ISBNs for only $250. A much better deal.
You get the most and best control of your books when you purchase your own ISBNs and have them listed under your publishing company's name. The more you buy at once, the cheaper they are.

The other thing you have to get is a barcode. This is what it looks like-

Createspace will generate one for free for you, but there are strings attached. It will not have the price encoded in it. This means you can not sell it in stores. Stores need the price encoded in the barcode. All Createspace barcodes end with the numbers 9000. 

As a recap- 
  • Your print books must have an ISBN
  • You need to decide if you want to be listed as the publisher or not
  • You need to decide if you want your book to be sold in stores
  • You get the most control by buying your own ISBNs
  • Get your own barcode

eBooks-you must decide if you want an ISBN attached.

It used to be that in order to sell your eBook through Apple that you had to have an ISBN. That just changed. They no longer require it.

Smashwords will assign your eBook an ISBN for free. Again, that is linked to Smashwords and not your own publishing house. You can also opt to have your publishing company's name imprinted on it for $10. They will use this ISBN for all the places they distribute-Apple, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Diesel, etc. You can also assign your own ISBN that you purchase through Bowker.

Amazon lets you list your ISBN, but then assigns your book an unique ASIN number that they use to identify your book

Barnes and Noble uses your ISBN to identify your book if you give them one, or they assign it a unique BN number if you don't.

Apple  uses your ISBN to identify your book if you give them one, or now they assign it  a unique number

While it used to be that everyone got an ISBN for their eBooks so that Apple would carry them, it is no longer the case.

A lot of my author friends are opting out of using ISBNs for their eBooks now and are letting the various .coms assign their own numbers to them. 

I like having my eBooks all listed under the same number on all sites-they are so easy to find and it gives me less to keep track of- so I still buy ISBNs for them. $25 for my own convenience.

My advice? Get a bundle of 10 ISBNs to use for your print books for sure. If you like the convenience of only having to keep track of one number for your eBooks, use one ISBN for each title as an eBook, too. Otherwise, go free, baby.


Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Interesting post. I self-published a book through Create Space 4 years ago, with option #1. I actually have been quite satisfied with it, and have moved on to writing other books that I want to have traditionally published. One of them is now with an agent. But I've always liked Create Space, and many of my writer friends publish through CS.

Saul Bottcher said...

Hi Cindy, I think it makes a lot of sense to have a single ISBN across all online stores.

Many people have a preferred store where they order all their books, either to keep everything with a single account, or because their e-reading device is associated with that store.

Using a common ISBN makes it easier for people to find your book on their preferred store, which can mean more sales. It also helps people to find your book on a site like GoodReads, which again can mean more exposure and sales.

Having said that, how to get around Bowker's prices, without needing to commit to using the services of, say, Smashwords? Even $250 for 10 is extremely pricey just to issue a 13-digit number.

In this article about ISBNs...


...I talk about how an author can access ISBNs in countries like Canada where the government issues them for free. You can get ISBNs for as cheap as 3 for $20 this way.

The article also covers a lot of other ISBN-related questions, such as e-ISBNs, the effect of ISBNs on copyright and ownership, and which updates to a book require a new ISBN to be assigned.

Hope this helps!