Self-Publishing: Why I Bought My Own ISBN Number


This post has been updated.


I am NOT going to get into the whole debate about whether you should or shouldn’t purchase your own ISBN. I am NOT going to get into it because what I’ve learned is that it depends on each individual’s vision for his or her book. These debates are also embarrassing to the Indie Author community and makes us as a whole look like amateurs. No one else is arguing about this. Some can’t get around why others would pay for something they can get for free. The answer is simple.

A CS (or Lulu or other POD) issued free ISBN lists Createspace or Lulu as the publisher. If you purchase your own ISBN, you are listed as the publisher. It will have your name or your company name. In the images below you see the difference. My Stella Books were published with a Free Lulu ISBN (all except for Book 3). Renaissance was published with my own ISBN (interestingly enough, Renaissance is also the first of my books to make it into a Brick and Mortar Bookstore):


That’s the major difference. Own ISBN = Your Own publisher.

Not everyone wants Createspace, Lulu, and other POD services as the publisher of their books. Some people have also created their own Self-Publishing Company’s, an LLC or Sole Proprietorship business. Why would someone with their own publishing company want someone else listed as the publisher? Furthermore, what implications does this have for the future? It’s simply a matter of preference and each author’s goal for his or her books. It may not mean much to have Createspace as your publisher but it may mean a lot to someone else. So let’s stop stoning each other. If people want Free ISBNs let them have it and if people want to invest THEIR money into an ISBN, let them have it.

Now that we got that out the way, here is why I decided to invest in my own ISBN numbers.

What is an ISBN Number?

ISBN is short for International Standard Book Number and it is your book’s identity and proof of existence.

The ISBN numbering system is used worldwide and publishers around the globe identify their work in this standardized format. Owning your ISBNs also means controlling the book metadata that goes with it. According to Google and Ingram Spark, the book’s Metadata includes your book’s title, publication date, format, BISAC category you assign to it and more. The BISAC category, according to Ingram Spark, “is intended to guide shelving, categorization, merchandising, and marketing efforts. BISAC codes help signal to potential buyers, retailers, distributors, and search engines what your book is about – the primary genre(s), topic(s), and theme(s) that matter in regards to your book. Without these codes, readers and those within the industry cannot identify what your book is about or if they’d like to stock or read it.

Purchasing one’s own ISBN means ownership and control of the associated metadata attached to the book. This gives you greater control of the work since you are the publisher of the book. Createspace insists that you are the owner of your book even if you use their free ISBN. The only problem with this is that the language is a confusing  and may not mean anything right now, but can have bigger implications later based on the success of this book. It is my understanding that CreateSpace provides ISBN’s free to people using its service, but it owns those numbers and the associated metadata. My question is, if you don’t own the ISBN and metadata, how do you own the book?

I buy my own ISBN Numbers and I also use Createspace freebies when I cannot afford to purchase my own numbers. In the future, I’d like to purchase ISBNs for ALL of my books. I want to do this for the potential for my books to reach new heights. It’s not really about right now or about whether or not it matters to readers because, at the end of the day, readers just want a good book. But business owners are usually more particular and aware of the specifics that customers don’t know about because those specifics are important to the business in the grand scheme of things. So, though this is a fruitless conversation to a reader, to an author it may just help the book to reach new heights and that’s what my decision is about. It’s not about right now, it’s about the future.

It boils down to one basic understanding:

If an Independent Publisher wants to be identified as the publisher, the Indie must purchase their own ISBN and contrary to popular opinion, this is not a waste of money.

Right now it may not mean much but I want to ensure that when the time comes, I can maximize my opportunities. As an Independent Publisher with my own ISBN, I can publish under my company name, I can go to a different printer if I choose, I can open my own account with major companies and opt for national trade distribution, and I can even create my own team of publishing experts. I know that with the vision I have for my work, I have to think beyond today so the ISBN is worth incorporating into my book budget.

ISBNs are expensive so I am by no means saying it’s mandatory that you own your ISBN. But what the future holds, I don’t know and I think it’s wise to invest in the future. Createspace and Lulu say you own your books but with all the debates going on, it seems no one knows for sure. Technically, if you don’t purchase your own ISBN then you are not going to be listed as the publisher. This means that you are not technically the publisher. It looks a little something like this:

  • Publish a book on Smashwords and it is assigned an ISBN number owned by Smashwords, so your book will appear to be published by Smashwords, not you.


  • Publish a book on Lulu and it is assigned an ISBN number owned by Lulu, your book will appear to be published by Lulu, not you.


  • Publish a book on Createspace and it is assigned an ISBN number owned by Createspace, your book will appear to be published by Createspace, not you.

If you use a publishing service company and let them assign your book a FREE ISBN, they will be listed as the publisher, not you.

In my opinion, the value of the ISBN depends on the individual author’s goals and for me, I strongly believe my books have the potential to take off in ways I have not imagined. I purchase my own ISBNs when I can because I want to ensure there are no shenanigans in the future with my books. I don’t want to guess as to whether or not I own my book, I want to know. Indie’s who want their own imprint but can’t afford an ISBN number may also opt for the $10 ISBN option with CreateSpace which allows them to use their own imprint name rather than CreateSpace, and then they can go through expanded distribution. UPDATE: I am not sure Createspace offers this as an option anymore. If they still do, go for it but I don’t remember seeing it the last time I checked. I only remember seeing the $99 purchase option and the free ISBN. If you don’t see the $10 option, I would not suggest paying $99 for a Createspace ISBN. I would suggest purchasing your own through Bowker.

Personally, I do both. Some of my books have ISBN’s I’ve bought and some don’t. However, what I’ve come to realize is this:

Buying your own ISBN number for your book is not for the present. It is not for right now. It is for the future. When you purchase your own ISBN you are thinking ahead.  Who knows where your book will go or how successful it will become? The sky is NOT the limit. Do not forget there are things beyond the sky.

Yecheilyah (e-see-lee-yah) is an Author, Blogger, and Poet of ten published works including Renaissance: The Nora White Story (Book One) is her latest novel and is available now on


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