Today is Throwback Thursday, and I want to revisit the discussion over the ISBN. I have not given any Indie Author tips in awhile so let’s do it.
What is an ISBN
The short definition is the ISBN is a unique number used to identify a book.
The code captures information about the book’s publisher, title, language, edition, and version. The first form of the ISBN was introduced in the 1960s by Whitaker & Sons Ltd, the British National Bibliography, and the Publishers Association, who set up the Standard Book Numbering Agency (SBNA) British publications.
The SBA then became the ISBN (International Standard Book Number) in the 1970s. It is a group of symbols that identify each book title as a unique product. The number consists of ten digits divided into four groups, usually separated by dashes or spaces, each group having a specific function.
Magazines, academic journals, and other periodicals do not get ISBNs. Instead, they are issued 8-digit ISSNs (International Standard Serial Numbers).
Purpose of the ISBN
The ISBNs principle purpose is to make the identification of any book possible.
ISBNs are not necessary for ebooks because Amazon will automatically assign the ebook an ASIN, Amazon Standard Identification Number. It’s a 10-character alphanumeric unique identifier that’s given by Amazon and its partners.
If you only intend to give copies of your book to family and friends, you don’t necessarily need an ISBN because you’re not selling the book. However, if you want to sell paperback and hardcopy books to bookstores, libraries and want readers to access it worldwide, you need the book to have an ISBN. 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. An ISBN is your first step to ensuring that your book is not lost in the wilderness.
Authors in the U.S. have two choices. Receive a free ISBN given by Amazon, Lulu, or POD (Print on Demand) of choice, or purchase an ISBN from Bowker.
The advantage of the free ISBN is the author saves money. This is an option for new Self-Publishers just looking to get their feet wet. But while it’s easier to get a free ISBN, it comes with some disadvantages.
With a free ISBN, you are not technically the publisher of record. Amazon, Lulu, or whichever service issued the ISBN is the publisher.
In the U.S., getting your own ISBN is not free, and since each version of your book would need a separate ISBN (including if you want to change the book’s publisher, book title, or translate the book into a different language…authors also cannot reuse an ISBN), it can get costly.
But it’s worth it.
The advantage of owning your ISBN is that you own the rights to the book. You have control over the metadata of the book—the descriptions and categories that help libraries, bookstores, and readers worldwide discover your book and decide whether they want to purchase it. Buying your ISBNs and registering your titles ensures information about your book will be stored in the Books In Print database, opening up a world of possibilities that your book is listed with many retailers.
How to Get an ISBN
In Canada, the ISBN is free for Independent Self-Published Authors and Publishers who are Canadian residents.
If you are in the U.S., you should only buy an ISBN from Bowker, the ONLY official U.S. ISBN Agency.
If you plan to write multiple books, it’s best to choose the ten-block option as it is the most cost-effective than purchasing one ISBN. It also makes publishing the next book easier as you can now omit the cost of the ISBN from your budget for the new book.
If you only plan to write one book, though, you certainly can buy one ISBN. Do keep in mind that even if you are writing just one book, you may want to create several versions of that book (hardcopy, paperback), in which case the 10-block can still come in handy since you need a new ISBN for each version of your book.
What is an ISBN and Do I Need One?
An ISBN is a unique number used to identify the book and its data and sell hard copies worldwide. In the U.S., free ISBNs are an option but do limit the author’s ownership. No, you don’t need an ISBN for ebooks sold through Amazon because they will be assigned an ASIN anyway. And no, you don’t need an ISBN if you do not plan to sell the book.
Yes, you need an ISBN if you are publishing a paperback/hardcopy of the book, and you want the book to sell at stores, libraries, and be available worldwide. No, you do not have to purchase an ISBN through Bowker, but it is strongly recommended that you do so you can be listed as the publisher and reap the benefits of owning the metadata. No, you cannot reuse the ISBN, and yes, you need a different ISBN for each version of the book.
Want more Self-Pub tips? Check out more posts here.