ISBN 101 For Self-Publishers

by | Nov 19, 2010

One of the parts of book publishing that seems to confound newcomers to the field is the purpose and use of the International Standard Book Number (ISBN). Usually the ISBN appears to be the same thing as the ubiquitous Bookland EAN scannable barcode that graces the back covers of almost all books printed today.

Not only that, but since the rise of companies that perform publishing services for authors, there has been even more confusion about whether you need to own your own ISBN, whether free ISBNs from these companies are “just as good” as getting your own ISBN, and if it’s a good idea to buy ISBNs from re-sellers who offer lower prices for a single number.

Let’s review the basics of this unique identifier and explain what is so important about it, how it benefits self-publishers, and when you can safely forget about it.

Created to Solve Real-World Problems

ISBN was created as a stock-keeping identifier. Originating in the United Kingdom, the concept of a unique identifier for each version of a published book became an international standard in the 1970s.

It was created to solve a real-world problem, and it worked well. The problem was that in the pre-internet age, it was often very difficult to identify a particular book, and more so when a searcher did not have the full title, author and edition information at hand. That’s usually the case when I go searching for a book.

How would you know whether the book you are looking for is the right one? Book titles are not exclusive or protected by copyright, and it’s not unusual for several different books to have the same title. And similar titles will quickly expand the number of possibilities. Add to this the necessity of knowing which edition you are looking for—hardcover, paperback, second edition—and it’s easy to see how identification mistakes are easy to make.

With the use of the unique identifier, one that is attached to each physical format of a book, this problem is basically solved. Every title, and every different edition or format has its own unique number for tracking and search purposes.

Coincidentally the ISBN came into use at the same time that computers were becoming common, and the two were meant for each other. It’s now possible to simply enter an ISBN into a Google search bar to get all the information you need on a particular title.

Who Doesn’t Need an ISBN?

Because the ISBN is used as a basic identifier throughout the book distribution system, any book that is intended to be sold through retail channels will need to have this identifier.

There’s no absolute need for books printed for private use, or for a closed distribution to have ISBN assigned. These might include:

  • Workbooks distributed at seminars
  • Company training manuals for internal use
  • Family histories, recipe collections or other “personal” publishing projects
  • Books that will be used only as premiums, incentives or giveaways

However even publishers of these types of books might make use of this identifier if they plan to someday convert their publication to a commercial use.

Self-Publishing Hits the Scene

You may not realize this, but for many years Bowker issued ISBNs to book publishers for a nominal administrative fee.

But once the self-publishing field began to expand in response to new digital printing technology, Bowker made the process of acquiring ISBNs easier, and a lot more expensive. Now ISBNs are sold like any other commodity by Bowker and a few authorized re-sellers. And to accommodate the needs of these self-publishers, they made individual numbers available for the first time.

However, the price Bowker set for individual identifiers (currently $125) has shocked many new publishers. (You can read an explanation of why the cost is so high in the interview I did with Andy Weissberg).

But keep in mind that it’s rarely a good idea to buy just one ISBN. If you intend to issue your book as both a printed book and an ebook, you will need two ISBNs right from the start, and the cost of buying two individual numbers is the same as purchasing ten numbers (currently $250).

In addition, Bowker is actually registering your publishing company when they issue you your numbers, not your individual books. This is a key step for many self-publishers and that’s a pretty good reason to get an ISBN as well.

The Problem of the “Free” ISBN

In order to mitigate the cost and the bother of registering your company yourself, author services companies started offering “free” identifiers to clients. How were they able to do this?

Bowker’s pricing for these numbers has huge volume discounts, that’s how. For $5,000 you can acquire 5,000 ISBNs. That’s only $1 each, a price at which it’s easy to give them away, saving individual authors quite a heap of money.

And many authors have made use of this savings. You are a good candidate for a free number if:

  • You intend to publish only one book
  • You have no interest in starting a “publishing company”
  • You’re on a very tight budget

But it’s not the right solution for everyone, because ISBN performs many functions for self-publishers.

Know Your Retailers

People who help authors get started in publishing often remind them that this is a business, and should be approached as such. You are manufacturing a product intended for retail sales. In this scenario it’s important for you to know the policies of the retailers who will be selling your book.

For instance, here’s what Smashwords, the big distributor of ebooks, says about ISBN usage:

Smashwords retailers such as Apple and Sony will not accept your Smashwords book unless you have a unique e-ISBN. It is the primary digital identification number that many major online retailers use to track and catalog your books, and to report your sales back to Smashwords.

(Editor’s note: Everything at Smashwords is an e-book, but there really isn’t such a thing as an “e-ISBN”. They are all just plain old ISBNs.)

The Many Roles of a 13-Digit Number

Smashwords also points out one of the other uses of this handy number. In fact there are three main ways these numbers can be of use:

  1. Stock keeping, for inventory purposes
  2. item identification to differentiate similar editions
  3. Metadata

It’s this last benefit of ISBN you should think about when deciding whether to use them, and whether you want to go to the expense of buying your own numbers, or to accept the “free” version.

SEO Title Card - Metadata for self publishers

2 Reasons to Own Your Own ISBNs

Most of the self-publishers I’ve worked with are setting up their own publishing companies and funding their project in the expectation of becoming profitable. In every case I’ve advised them to buy their own ISBNs. Here’s why:

  1. The ISBN contains within it a “publisher identifier.” This enables anyone to locate the pubisher of any particular book or edition. If you use a “free” ISBN from an author services company or a subsidy publisher, that company will be identified in bibliographic databases as the publisher.
  2. Owning your own ISBNs gives you the ability to control the bibligraphic record for your book. This is an important part of your book’s metadata, and is a key component in your book being discoverable by online searchers. This has a powerful influence on your efforts to attract search engine traffic to your title.

Now there’s no reason you can’t publish your books with a “free” ISBN from a reputable company, like CreateSpace. Having their identifier on your book doesn’t have anything to do with the ownership or copyright on your work, you still have complete control over your own content.

And you can be very successful this way, too. April Hamilton originally published Indie Author and several other books that way, and enjoyed great success. But like others who have committed to making publishing their business, she has said she would now buy her own ISBNs.

Part of the reason, as Hamilton explains, is the changing marketplace:

Distribution options offered by print and digital publishing service providers increasingly require that the author/imprint be the registered owner of the ISBN.

Echoing this is this explanation from the Smashwords ISBN guide:

An ISBN helps make your book more discoverable to readers and other book buyers. The ISBN gains you free inclusion in Books in Print, the world’s largest catalog of books, which is licensed to all major search engines and thousands of bookstores and libraries. Your ISBN record will also receive a free online listing at the online Books in Print bibliographic database that’s available on the open Web at https://seo.bowker.com.

Takeaway: If you plan to sell retail you’ll need to use ISBN. For strictly private publications, you may not need it at all. And if you plan to continue in publishing, buy your own ISBN block from the start.

If you have questions about ISBNs or how to use them, please leave a note in the comments.

Resources

To buy your own ISBNs, go to https://www.myidentifiers.com
Bowker U.S. ISBN Agency site
Wikipedia entry on the International Standard Book Number
ISBNs Don’t Matter as Much as You Thought by Indie Author April Hamilton
About ISBNs from Smashwords
Twitter #ISBNhour discussion group link (moderated by @LJNDawson)
UK ISBN Information

TheBookDesigner Articles on ISBN
ISBNs for Self-Publishers: Answers to 20 of Your Questions
How to Create, Register and List Your New Publishing Company
Self-Publishing Basics: How to Read an ISBN

journal
marketing

319 Comments

  1. Veronica

    I have a free createspace ISBN but it is not recognized by any ISBN checker. Here it is: 978-1-5426-9793-4 ….. What did I do wrong?

    Reply
    • Rasha

      I have the same problem with ISBNs I bought from Bowker even though I registered them in the myidentifiers site.

      Reply
  2. Roma

    Hi Joel

    Thanks for the information you are sharing.

    I have read through all of these comments but cannot find an answer to my question, which is: is it obligatory to register one’s publishing company in the country in which one is currently living? Especially when the country of residence is liable to change regularly and one does not necessarily speak the native languages (admin nightmare)? Or can one simply register the publishing company with Bowker and keep it consistent?

    I would really appreciate having this issue resolved

    Thanks

    Reply
  3. Haynes

    Joel, your information is really appreciated.

    I have a friend that I helped to ‘self-publish’ a book that he sells as a fund raiser. He has an official ‘charity’ fund that is administered through a national charitable foundation. As in, he doesn’t accept the funds on the sale of the books, they go to the charitable fund.

    We are preparing to print a second edition and thinking of trying to increase our distribution range. Would an ISBN be of value for a ‘charitable’ publication?

    Reply
    • Sharon Goldinger

      Haynes, having an ISBN is needed to sell the product through retailers. If you’re trying to increase your distribution range, I would recommend having one (and of course, a barcode, which is the scannable version) for the second edition.

      Reply
  4. R. Alan Brooks

    Hey, thanks! This was extremely helpful!

    Reply
  5. Randy Hicks

    If I plan to initially sell a POD version of my book via Amazon/Createspace, it is my understanding that I can use my own ISBN and still get the 70% rather than 35% if I follow their guidelines for that. Am I right so far that using my ISBN or not getting one from them as they don’t require it does not affect the royalty percentage? Second, assuming I’ve now bought my own ISBN from Bowker, if I’m printing the same book in the same format, but from non-Amazon entities, do I use that same ISBN, since it’s the same book exactly and same trade paperback format, just made by and sold by different entities? Thanks so much in advance for your answer.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Randy, there is no 70% royalty available on CreateSpace books. That’s the royalty available on Kindle ebooks if they are priced within Amazon’s guidelines (currently $2.99 to $9.99).

      You earn profits on your book (not a royalty, no matter what they insist on calling it) depending on how much you charge, the discount you give to retailers, and the cost to manufacture each book. You can (and should, in my opinion) acquire your own ISBNs from Bowker. And yes, you can print your book anywhere using the same ISBN, they have nothing to do with Amazon or CreateSpace.

      Reply
      • IVI GRUPP

        If Pronoun.com is still giving any [would be] author a Cost Free ISBN, I see no reason to promote Bowker or any other vendor.

        When I last checked, ISBNs from Pronoun.com had No Strings Attached.

        Budding authors, on low budgets, might save enough for a Scrivener license, or a year’s use of one of those web-based Word ==> Kindle converters.

        Reply
        • IVI GRUPP

          Oopsie…Perhaps the T&C’s at Pronoun have changed since we got our ISBN, apparently, due to pressure from Bowker(?):

          “We give you an ISBN.

          For each of your ebooks, we will provide you with an ISBN free of charge. Once an ISBN is assigned to your ebook, it cannot be transferred to any other book, per the terms of Bowker, the United States ISBN agency.

          Also per the terms of Bowker, whoever buys an ISBN is automatically listed as the Publisher of Record, so you understand that Pronoun will be listed as the Publisher of Record for your assigned ISBN. This designation has virtually no practical consequence and in no way affects your rights, which are unequivocally yours.

          Additionally, again per the terms of Bowker, you agree to use Pronoun-issued ISBNs only for the publication of ebooks on Pronoun. This means you will not use a Pronoun-issued ISBN for any other purpose, and that if you “unpublish” from Pronoun and decide to publish elsewhere, you will need a new ISBN.

          If you prefer, you are welcome to use an ISBN you provide yourself.”

          Excerpt from: https://pronoun.com/author-agreement/

          PS With a little luck, those who got a free ISBN from Pronoun, BEFORE, Bowker’s [added?] conditions will enjoy greater freedom with that ISBN. I must check the date & T&C’s of ours… ;-)

          Reply
        • IVI GRUPP

          The Word ==> Kindle converter I was thinking of is “kInstant”

          I think I paid [well?] under USD $50 for a year’s subscription, with No Limit to the number of books I could convert into Amazon Kindle compatible format. YMMV.

          Reply
  6. Poet Glory Adore

    Please I need an answer, am planing to become online publisher, and I want to be generate my own isbn for the I published fromy company, so do I need to purchase high number of ISBN from bowker and assign it to my book? Or I can just generate my own personal ISBN from my own marching for each book?

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Poet Glory Adore, if your question is, “Can I just make up a string of numbers and call it an ISBN?” then the answer is no, you can’t. The numbers in an ISBN mean something, and you have to acquire your ISBNs from Bowker (or your own country’s ISBN agency).

      Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Jitender, you should acquire your ISBNs from the responsible agency in the country in which your publishing company is located.

      Reply
      • Corine

        Hello Joel. I have been wondering about where to buy my isbn codes . So it’s not related to where you are selling, but to where your company is registered. Correct? So a Portuguese ISBN for example can be located/ used worldwide? Into which national library would such a book be accepted? My guess is Portugal. What if I want to be visible in the American library? Would a CreateSpace ISBN be advantageous ? Hope I am being clear.

        Reply
        • Joel Friedlander

          Corine, you are correct. You acquire the ISBN in the country in which your publishing company is located. Books with your ISBN can be sold anywhere.

          Reply
    • Amar Vyas

      Hi Jitender and Joel,

      The process for getting ISBN in India has changed- one has to fill an online form and follow a bunch of processes. Getting iSBN in India is still free, but it takes about 6 weeks to get the iSBN issues. I would highly recommend watching this How To Video:
      http://ow.ly/s9Zw303rVsU
      Not because I created it but because working with the website takes some patience.

      The website for getting iSBN is http://www.isbn.gov.in

      Reply
  7. K Alex

    I have a quick question in reference to ISBN’s. I plan on only doing softback books so do I need a different ISBN for that?

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      If you plan to publish and sell a paperback through normal retail channels like Amazon.com and in bookstores, you will need an ISBN and a barcode version of the ISBN for the back cover.

      Reply
  8. Laura French

    I’m feeling a bit stupid and hoping you can help me out. I’m self publishing and I bought 10 ISBN numbers. In my account with Bowkers, the ten numbers showed up in a list. In the column on the left, each lines says”Assign Title”. As I understand it, I need one number for my paperback, one number for hard cover, and one for my e-book version. But they all have the same title. So will there be three lines with the same title, but different numbers? I don’t really know how to use the numbers now that I have them and I can’t find anything that explains it. And once I assign the title, is there more to do?

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Laura,

      Thanks for your question, you’ve made me realize it’s missing from my other articles. Basically, Bowker sells you the 10 numbers, it’s up to you to assign them to your individual books. Eash separate edition requires a separate ISBN, so you are correct: 1 for your paperback, 1 for for your hardcover, 1 for your ePub ebook. And yes, the title will be the same, but the format for each will be different, and that’s what’s important. If you’re hiring a cover designer, just give them to your designer and note which is assigned to each edition. Your designer will use the ISBN to generate a barcode for the back cover. You should also note the ISBNs (all 3) on your copyright page.

      Reply
      • Laura French

        Thank you so much! You are so helpful!

        Reply
      • Rasha Morsi

        Hi Joel,

        Do I need to use a different ISBN for my iBook and another for my Nook book (ePub)? I am self publishing and I thought I read somewhere that each e-version needed a different ISBN so I did just that but after reading these responses I am not sure.

        Also, I can’t seem to be able to search for my ISBN and find it. I was trying to adopt the book in my class and the search engine for the adopt option on our campus’ Barnes and Noble site could not find it. Do I need to do something to make it searchable? I had already added all the details in the Bowker MyIdentifiers account (except the actual pdf of the book).

        Thank you very much for your help!

        Reply
  9. miriamed

    If you have an isbn number, and are intending to sell your product, can you make multiple copies of it and distribute them for free?

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      miriamed, I’m not certain exactly how “intending to sell” and “for free” go together, but yes, of course, the ISBN does not restrict you in any way, it’s just a convenient way to track individual editions of books.

      Reply
      • Elizabeth Mueller

        I think she means that ISBNs are available only for books intended for sale purposes.

        Thank you for such an informative post, for your replies to your readers. You rock!

        Elizabeth

        Reply
  10. Sarah Showalter

    Hello! Thank you for this information.

    What I’m hoping you can answer is whether or not you can start of with a FREE ISBN (I’m thinking CreateSpace) and then buy another ISBN later should the book do well enough that you’ll be selling it through other channels.

    I’m hoping mine will do well, but for starters, I’ll simply be doing print-on-demand through createspace and ebook sales through amazon and smashwords.

    Thank you for the information!

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      You could, but I don’t recommend it. Following this plan you would end up with 2 identical books from the same publisher but with different ISBNs, and that’s not a good idea. Invest in your future, buy your own ISBNs. They never wear out or expire, you know.

      Reply
  11. Dongsook Park

    Hi Joel,

    thanks for all the useful information.

    My problem is that I have already had a book published and it has come with an ISBN. However when I Google search for it I am unable to find it!

    I have had the book published in my native Korea and is bilingual, Korean and English so will have an international appeal.

    Is there anyway that I am able to have this ISBN number recognized international?

    Thanks for any assistance,

    Regards,

    Dongsook Park.

    Reply
  12. Jack

    I see this thread is old but seems to still be active so I hope I can get a reply.

    I am from the UK but living in Japan looking to publish my first book. There have been comments of different ISBN distributors. Could you tell me where I should approach? Will there be any complications if I get a Bowker ISBN, have my royalties/profit sent to UK banks, and my home address in Japan?

    Also, I have books of various kinds, and intended to print under my name, i.e. The publishing ‘company’ would also be my name. In one comment you suggested against this but didn’t say why. Can you explain further?

    Sincerely,

    Jack

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Jack,

      You should acquire your ISBNs from the responsible agency in the country in which your publishing company is located, regardless of any other factors.

      Consider how people will respond to a book by Jack Smith, published by Jack Smith publishing, contact Jack Smith for more information. Looks like a one-man-band, doesn’t it? If you don’t mind that, go for it.

      Reply
      • Roma

        My predicament is similar, my question is: is it obligatory to register one’s publishing company in the country in which one is currently living? Especially when the country of residence is liable to change regularly and one does not necessarily speak the native languages (admin nightmare)? Or can one simply register the publishing company with Bowker and keep it consistent?

        Reply
  13. Dave Chandler

    I’m working with another author on my book who has far more experience than I do. It looks like our book will be completed by September, which made me happy because it is a Christmas story, so I was under the impression we could get it out in time for the holidays. My writing partner said I shouldn’t get my hopes up as it takes a long time to get an ISBN.

    Is that true?

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Dave,

      It takes about 5 minutes to get an ISBN if you don’t have an account with Bowker. Most of the time is spent setting up the account.

      However, that doesn’t mean your plan will work, unless what you’re shooting for is to launch and promote the book for Christmas 2017, at least in retail. If you plan to only sell online, you should be fine.

      Reply
  14. Teresa

    Hi, I had a book printed, although Im fully aware it’s not great. I wanted to do it as one of those tick the box on my list of things to try in life. Now I would like to publish it to make it official. Is that the only way to recognise it’s been published getting a ISBN or is printing it enough ?

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Teresa, if you printed and distributed the book to others, you “published” it already. The ISBN is only for use by retailers as a stock-tracking device. If you want to sell your book through retailers, you’ll need an ISBN.

      Reply
  15. Ivan Scheer

    Dear Joel – This is great information thank you. I am a printer in London England and this lovely old man wants me to add an ISBN to his book, we’re printing 250 copies. He intends to sell some (he thinks in the chains!) and thinks that libraries woulds be interested too, it does have an international context.

    Can I get away with buying a cheap online ISBN or do I need to buy the costly one?

    Thanks

    Ivan

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Ivan, I avoid the “cheap online ISBNs” because you often can’t tell whether they are an authorized reseller or not, and it doesn’t make sense to me to “cheap-out” on something like that. For instance, for clients who are printing at CreateSpace and don’t intend to publish more books, or who are simply in it as a hobby, I do recommend the “free” ISBN from CS. Hope that helps.

      Reply
    • Ivan Scheer

      Thank you Joel for your advice. I’m very grateful.

      Regards

      Ivan

      Reply
  16. Kris Moller

    Hi Joel,

    Thank you for clarifying some things I did not know.

    I see you mention CreateSpace. What about Draft2Digital who seem to have a wide footprint? They also offer to provide an ISBN and being a self-publisher a $125 expense is something I would rather avoid.

    I have self-published 2 books via Trafford/Partridge but will publish my next self-help e-book soon via another way. I will eventually also drift into other genres (fiction).

    Thank you in advance for your reply.

    Kris Moller

    Reply
    • R.C.Brad

      Hi Kris

      Can you please tell me if possible about your experience publishing with Partridge.
      Are they the Indian based company?
      They seem to charge very high prices. But if you got good value I guess its fair.
      Kind Regards

      Reply
      • Kris

        Hi R.C.,

        I dealt with Trafford Publishing initially who was then (seemingly) bought by Penguin and renamed Partridge.

        I am aware that there is an Indian-based Partridge but I have not been dealing with them. In fact I have read some very bad reports of all of them (except Penguin) and had a few brush-ups myself.

        I would rather find a new publisher or self-publish some other way, reason being that after the take-over it seems that some of my earlier sales data “vanished” from the database but luckily I had earlier download copies so I am still engaged in that discussion with them. And since then I have all of a sudden received a royalty cheque…which makes me think…

        I published two books with them and found both the book consultants I dealt with in the Philippines to be very helpful and professional. And as always, I deal with people, not with companies. So, if people move along (as one of them did) I always rethink my relationship with an organization.

        In summary, I chose to find another option.

        Cheers

        Reply
        • R.C.Brad

          Thanks for your comments, appreciated.

          Good luck

          Reply
      • Amar Vyas

        hi R.C,

        Pattridge is a vanity publisher in India. There are better options: pothi.com and cinnamonteal.in. Other than the co-founders of both these being guests on my podcast (www.mykitaab.in) I have no affiliation with them, but i know them and they are good folks.

        Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Kris, if you continue to publish books as a self-publisher, I highly recommend buying an ISBN block of your own. Although 1 ISBN costs $125, the more you buy the less expensive they are, so you might want to invest in 10 at $295 ($29.50 each) or 100 at $575 ($5.75 each).

      Reply
      • Joan

        Thank you for this information on ISBN numbers, the cost, etc., from Bowker.

        Reply
  17. Peter Duncan

    Hello Joel,

    Thanks for the very useful post in easy to digest language.

    I have just written a music techniques book for classical guitar which i aim to self publish and sell as an app/ an ebook and a paperback version.

    Do i need different isbn numbers for all three mediums and can they be cross referenced in some way ?

    Also, this book is going to be a series of books for various instruments…I know it’s more economical to buy isbn numbers in batches….should I buy UK or USA numbers? does it make any real difference? are there special isbn numbers for self publishers like myself?

    All feedback gratefully received,

    Thanks very much,

    Peter Duncan.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Hi Peter,

      You need different ISBNs for each different edition of your book because ISBNs exist so you can place a unique identifier on each edition. So no ISBN for an app. There is no “cross referencing” since each ISBN will be unique. You should acquire your ISBNs from the agency responsible in the country in which your publishing company is located. There are no “special” ISBNs for self-publishers, although if you know how to read an ISBN you can usually figure out the size of the publisher.

      Reply
      • Peter Duncan

        Hi Joel,

        Thanks for your reply….much appreciated !

        I think I’m going to buy my own batch of ISBN numbers from Nielsen in the UK (tip from one of your previous correspondents…Meg).

        I have ten books in the pipeline so it’s handy that they seem to be sold in batches of ten. However, since theses books will also be available as Ebooks eventually, I know I’ll have to buy two batches in all…2 x 10….

        I’m a bit confused by the bar code situation….I know these are just scannable duplications of the actual ISBN numbers but will they be provided by Nielsen along with the bar codes ? I read in your replies of bar code generators which adds to my confusion.

        Finally, once I have the ISBN numbers/Bar Codes in my possession can I allocate any of these numbers to my books as I choose or is this something that needs to be done by somebody else….strange question probably ? I have finished my first book and am about to pay for a small print run (30 books) and want to include the ISBN number and bar code on the back cover.

        Any feedback would be very much appreciated….thanks Joel….

        Kind regards,

        Peter Duncan.

        Reply
        • Joel Friedlander

          Peter, I have no idea how Neilsen’s supply the ISBNs and barcodes, since I’ve always published in the U.S. where ISBN is administered by Bowker. They will be happy to try to sell you barcodes, but there are other sources including your cover designer, perhaps your printer or POD vendor, or the various barcode generators you can find with a quick Google search.

          As the publisher, it’s your responsibility to assign the individual ISBNs to your books, and I advise you to keep a permanent record somewhere secure to track your ISBN assignments.

          Reply
  18. Indroneil

    I have written a few books and now intend to be my own independent publisher. I am primarily looking at getting these books printed locally in India (the printing costs are much lower).

    Need to know:
    1) How do I get a ISBN nos. while continuing to be my own publisher
    2) How to reach out to different distribution and retails channels – both in India and abroad

    Reply
    • Joan

      For India:

      Department of Higher Education
      Ministry of Human Resource Development
      Government of India

      RE: Book Promotion: Introduction ISBN

      http://mhrd.gov.in/book-promotion-2

      Hope this helps.

      Reply
  19. Holli Irvine

    Hi,
    I understand I need a different ISBN for each country where I publish and also a Different number for my ebook and paperback. Can I get one free ISBN from create space, for KDL and my paperback and also buy my own ISBN and use it for Smashwords ebook .it seems to use iBooks and Amazon, I need to upload to both create space and Smashwords. Am I right?
    Thank you.
    What is the benefit of publishing myself? Don’t I need Createspace?

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Holli,

      You do not need a different ISBN for different countries. You do need a separate ISBN for each different edition of your book, so one for the paperback and one for the ebook. Best practice is to acquire your own ISBNs, and use the same ISBN to produce your book at CreateSpace and all other POD vendors. Use your ebook ISBN for Smashwords and Kindle (Kindle does not require an ISBN, by the way). When you publish at CreateSpace, you are the publisher, they are your POD vendor. Hope that helps.

      Reply
  20. Anece

    How do I get a barcode for my book?

    Reply
  21. Shaun

    if i buy my own ISBN, would I have to setup a publishing company like a sole proprietorship? I ask because I saw Bowker ask on the application for the company name, and I want to be clear on what I do. I only plan on publishing my own books but would like to be my own publisher. if i’m using someone else to print and distribute like createspace, does that come into play?

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Shaun, CreateSpace doesn’t allow you to list them as publisher, since they consider that all their authors are the publishers, and they simply provide a printing and distribution service. You can put your own name in on the Bowker form, and that’s perfectly acceptable, even if it’s not optimal. Better would be to create a publisher name (see your local authorities on how to create a “fictitious business name”) and use that instead. There are several articles on this subject on the blog.

      Reply
  22. Nancy Tooney

    Bowker sells a ten pack of ISBN numbers together with one bar code. Is this technically a bar code generator or just a single bar code good for on ISBN number?
    If the latter, will one subsequently need to order more barcodes as each new book comes out?

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Since the barcode is simply a scannable version of the ISBN it’s likely that they are selling you one barcode for each ISBN. They do not sell barcode generator software to the best of my knowledge. Many authors get their barcodes from their cover designer, who can usually furnish them at no charge.

      Reply
  23. Jenny Watts

    I am getting ready to print a book through Gorham Printing. I purchased 10 ISBNs in my name. Now I’m thinking that an imprint or publishing company name would be a good idea. Can I register a book with the Library of Congress under an imprint rather than my name even though the ISBNs are in my name alone?
    Thanks very much!

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Yes, it’s up to you how you print the copyright notice in your book, you can show it as © Copyright [year] [author name] or © Copyright [year] [publisher name]. On your copyright registration form, you’ll use your own name. And if you establish a publishing imprint, you can request the bibliographers at http://www.myidentifiers.com change the listing you have there.

      Reply
      • Jenny Watts

        Thank you!

        Reply
  24. Moshe

    We service authors and would like to purchase ISBNs for them. Is there a way to buy a batch of ISBN numbers and then register each to a different author?

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      I suggest you contact Bowker directly to find out whether you can become an authorized reseller of ISBNs. ISBNs are registered with publishers, who then assign them to specific books, not authors.

      Reply
      • Moshe

        Will do, and thanks for a superb article.

        Reply
        • Joan

          FYI

          Authors and publishers both can purchase their own ISBN numbers.

          Reply
  25. Ingrid Foster

    Hi Joel, great information. Thanks so much for sharing!

    Two quick questions, is it legal for me to use an IBSN bought in Australia for a book copyrighted in America?

    Also, if I am publishing a short story that will later be part of a collection, is it a problem to have more than one ISBN associated with that story? They will have two different titles.

    Thanks again,
    Ingrid Foster

    Reply
  26. Meg

    This is a great article, Joel. Thanks very much. I have some concerns though… It seems the costs of self publishing are prohibitively high when you go down the route of buying your own ISBNs! I wonder if you can offer any advice?

    I’m just about to publish an adult colouring book and would love to get into book stores. So, the natural option seems to be to use Createspace to access the Amazon marketplaces in print, and use Ingram Spark to access worldwide distribution at industry standard discounting. Sounds great, but to do this, you need your own ISBNs and barcodes – my eyes popped out of my head when I saw Bowkers prices! Are they having a laugh?!

    There’s no way, as a start up business (when I have already spent my startup budget on editing services for my next novel, seeing as we know how important that investment is!), that this is affordable. I fear that I will be ‘stuck’ on Amazon with Createspace, as it were, with one of their assigned ISBNs (and of course then no way of getting into bookstores with this particular project given CS’s insufficient discounting). If I can then afford down the line to go buy my own ISBNs to publish though Ingram Spark, there’ll still be hassle as I will presumably have to create an entire new file on Createspace – I am guessing one book is not permitted to have two different ISBNs.

    Very frustrating situation in any case.. Can you offer any advice to make buying ISBNs (and I presume barcodes too) more cost effective?

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Meg, it’s up to you how to use your budget. The lowest price I’ve seen for individual ISBNs is $99, and that doesn’t seem like that much money for a really necessary purchase for a publishing business startup. And if you do end up producing the book through both CreateSpace and Ingram Spark, make sure you DO use the same ISBN, since it will be the same book.

      Reply
      • Meg

        Hi Joel,

        Thanks for the reply. :-)

        As I’m based in the UK, I can’t buy one of the 99$ ones on CS and Ingram don’t offer the service in the UK either. But to purchase 10 ISBNs in the UK via Nielson, it’s £144 which is a lot more reasonable. And, the lovely Derek Murphy of Creative Indie has a free barcode generator. So that makes it a lot more cost effective.

        Interestingly, I spoke to Createspace and they said it would be fine for me to submit on CS with their ISBN, purely for distribution through Amazon, and later down the line setup the same book but with my own ISBN with Ingram for worldwide distribution. What I’ll do is submit on CS for now and then sort out my own ISBNs and submit a revised or deluxe version on Ingram. As it’ll be a new edition, I can then resubmit to CS and get the two editions linked. I think that’s the best way around it for now…

        Thanks for your advice as ever, Joel. :-)

        I love being an indie author, but it gets complicated sometimes!

        Reply
        • Joel Friedlander

          Yes, there are a lot of details to the process that come as something of a surprise. The only comment I would make is that I’ve always felt it’s a bad practice to issue the same book with 2 different ISBNs. It defeats the purpose of having a “unique identifier” for each edition of the book, and can be the source of confusion both for distribution partners and buyers. Good luck!

          Reply
      • Gale Chang

        Hi Joel. Could you please tell me the differences between the ISBN available on Amazon for $99 and the one available from Bowker for $125? I understand that with Bowker I will be listed as the publisher. Is that the only difference? Will I get a barcode with both? In your opinion, which is the better option?

        Do you know anything about how CreateSpace distributes worldwide? Would buying an ISBN from them limit the areas where my book would be available, particularly, Asia?

        In the article I read that “If you intend to issue your book as both a printed book and an ebook, you will need two ISBNs right from the start.” Under what circumstances will I need two ISBNs for one book? I read that Kindle editions do not require an ISBN, because the format is only available through Amazon.

        Thank you so much for your time in answering these questions!

        Reply
  27. illyanna Maisonet (@EatGordaEat)

    Dear Joe,

    I have gone through most of the Q+A on here and there’s nothing about cookbooks. With the funds I raised through Kickstarter, I am finally sending my cookbook to the printers. Yes, it is a book, but it’s more of a manuscript to send in to publishers. I’m hoping it’ll give me leverage for a much larger (and more traditional looking) cookbook. I know you told Ed Dugan in an above comment that if authors plan on publishing numerous books, it’s wise to buy the ISBN. But, I don’t even know if what I’m doing with this book is considered “publishing.” To me, it’s just a small cookbook/manuscript that will go out to KS contributors and publishers.

    I’d also like to be able to sell it online, if I can. With that being said, does it need an ISBN?

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      illyanna, there’s no mention of cookbooks, or of any other specific kinds of books because, for ISBNs, it really doesn’t matter what the book is about. An ISBN is simply a unique number that identifies a specific edition of a particular book. If you want to sell your book through retail channels (online or offline), you will need an ISBN. If you don’t, you won’t.

      Reply
  28. Cynthia Henry

    Wow – there is a lot of information. As a person who is still in the process, I have not acquired my ISBN’s yet. Now, I am totally confused. Along with the ISBN’s I understand you also have to purchase the bar codes separately. Being on a budget, is there a way to get a package deal? I was considering Xlibris, they have been seriously stalking me. Now that I have read everyone’s comments, I think I want to get my own ISBN’s. But, no one has mentioned the bar codes.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Cynthia, you might want to take a look at this article before you sign with anyone: Subsidy Publishing: Proceed With Caution.

      Don’t worry about the barcode, and don’t spend any money on it. If you are using a book designer or cover designer to help get your files ready, they will likely be able to supply one at no cost to you.

      Reply
  29. Author Annie Mitchell

    Hi
    if you have isbn on your paperback differnet from your kindle isbn
    and the kindle isbn does not search in google why is it there do you know ?
    someone else set this up for me thanks

    Reply
  30. ed dugan

    My current website is simply a temporary “parking lot” for by books. Another one is in the works. We are moving in the direction of protecting a series of titles with a U. S. Trademark and it seems my best bet is to own my ISBN since I assume we would be considered as the publisher. That seems to be true even if we use CreateSpace, which is our plan. Any comment or suggestions.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      ed, the ISBN has nothing to do with your website or trademark issues, but in general, and especially for authors who plan to publish numerous books and distribute them widely, you would be wise to acquire your own ISBNs and maintain your own listings for both your publishing company and book titles at Bowker.

      Reply
  31. Justin

    First: Thanks for being here. I read your stuff all the time and I find it insanely helpful.

    Second: Can a first edition of a book be published with, say, CreateSpace’s ISBN or their imprint option and then a later edition be created using an ISBN I purchased?

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Justin,

      Sure. A new edition is commonly assumed to have at least 10% of the content of the book changed in some way, or major additions made to it. You could even publish the new edition, under your own ISBN, with CreateSpace.

      Reply
      • Justin

        Thank you very much.

        Reply
  32. shery

    Hi Joel,

    I am a reseacher and I live in another country, I have published my first book as a self-publisher with a ISBN and copyright in my country. With a american friend’s help, I did the translation for english and spanish version, and I am intending to send these books for many institutions around the world as a strategy to promote the animal conservancy program. So could you help me telling what kind of register shoud I get to release it in USA?

    Reply
  33. Felipe

    I’ve seen some companies with more affordable options for ISBN than Bowker. Anyone know if Publisher Servces (http://www.isbn-us.com/) is reliable? Or should I use Bowker?

    Thanks

    Reply
  34. Felipe

    I’ve seen some companies with more affordable options for ISDN than Bowker. Anyone know if Publisher Servces (http://www.isbn-us.com/) is reliable? Or should I use Bowker?

    Thanks

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Felipe, they are an authorized agent for Bowker, so there’s no problem using them. Keep in mind that their lower-priced options, although perfectly fine for “hobbyist” publishers, will not show you as the publisher of your book, and many of the “extras” they offer are largely irrelevant for most authors.

      Reply
      • Robert

        What is the advantage of being shown as the publisher of my book? I may publish several books, but I don’t plan to create my own publishing company.

        Reply
        • Joel Friedlander

          Robert, if you publish several books, wouldn’t you consider yourself to be a publisher?

          Reply
          • Robert

            I’m a little confused. I will be publishing other books that I have written, but no books that others have written. I thought that might be what you meant by ‘hobbyist’ publisher as you used it above. In the context of ‘self-publishing’ then I guess I’m a publisher. I’m just not sure what the advantage is in being known as the publisher.

          • Joel Friedlander

            Robert, at a minimum, anyone looking to contact you via your listing with Bowker (publisher of the Books in Print database and U.S. agent for ISBNs) will find you, not CreateSpace or some subsidy publisher. And since you are, in fact, the publisher, why not accept that role, whether you consider yourself a “hobbyist” or not?

  35. Susie

    I’m getting ready to self-publish 2 books that will be for retail, so I understand I need ISBN #s.
    Is the least expensive way to do this through Bowker, knowing that I don’t want to go back and redo or add something else having to do with ISBNs should my products want to be bought by a zillion people?

    Reply
  36. Tammy

    If I buy an IBSN number, can I use it on both for the Smashbooks e-book and the amazon kindle E-book? I figure that they are both e-books, so it’s the same thing just in different places.

    Please let me know, because I’m really confused about how this all works.

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Tammy, they ePub and Mobi/KF8 (Kindle) formats are different editions and each needs its own unique ISBN.

      Reply
  37. Khadijah Shabazz

    Greetings,
    I am very motivated to get my self-publishing company up and running. I have been doing a lot of research which has me at this point in obtaining a ISBN number. So when I register my ISBN number will that stop another company from using my name? The reason I’m asking is because although I have a DBA in my state it doesn’t cover the whole country. Please advise, thank you for your wonderful service!

    Khadijah

    Reply
  38. Diana Forrest

    Hello, I publised my partners book in 2012, and now have 9 left, are they still valid, and as I want to publish my own book, can I use one of his numbers. Also if music or film is added to the book (created by me) is that alright.
    Thank you very much

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Diana, the ISBNs don’t expire. In fact, I’m still using the ones I was issued in the 1980s. You can add whatever you like to your book, that’s up to you.

      Reply
  39. Claire Prengaman

    My husband wrote a book when he was nineteen and had it published through xlibris (BIG mistake). Anyway, we have canceled the services with them and have the manuscript and want to edit and revise the book. We would be changing grammar, dialogue, and maybe adding some subplot. It already has an ISBN number, is copyrighted, and is registered with the Library of Congress. If we make these changes, will we need to get new ISBN numbers?

    Thanks,

    Claire

    Reply
    • Joel Friedlander

      Claire, you will need a new ISBN in any event since the book will have a new publisher, and the previous ISBN belongs to xLibris. This means that your publication will be a “new edition” therefore requiring a new ISBN. You’ll also want to register a new copyright since you are adding content to the book. Good luck!

      Reply
  40. James Jean-Pierre

    Great post Joel, that’s the reason i’m doing self publishing is to maintain control of certain things. But I wasn’t sure if you have anything about taxing for self publisher or LLC’s.

    Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. ISBNs and Self Publishing – Sebastyan Smith – Author - […] ISBN 101 […]
  2. DIY - Book Front Matter and Back Matter - Annie Jackson - […] you want more details on why it’s important to own your own ISBN, this is a good […]
  3. How To Self Publish A Book – Self Publishing On Amazon Made Easy – Linda's Blog - […] a good resource that explains the difference between the different options available. And this is a great post about…
  4. How To Self Publish A Book – Self Publishing On Amazon Made Easy - Michael J. Goldrich - […] a good resource that explains the difference between the different options available. And this is a great post about…
  5. Guest Post: Linda Covella on Going Indie: Tips & Advice on Self-Publishing in the YA Book Market – Michiko Katsu - […] or “free” ISBNs, so obtain one from a reputable source. See Joel Friedlander’s article on ISBNs and the ISBN…
  6. I secretly turned my wife's 8 years of blog posts into a hardcover book she could sell and surprised her | Beyond Your Blog - […] Pros and Cons of ISBN […]
  7. METADATA 101: A Non-Techie Does Her Best to Explain Metadata (and Why it Matters) In Plain English - Anne R. Allen's Blog... with Ruth Harris - […] The ISBN (or ASIN) is the alpha-numeric string (ZZ12345) that identifies your book to readers and book-sellers. ISBNs can…
  8. Imprint or stuff it? | AnaSpoke.com - […] registering your own ISBN, like this Pearls Before Swine blog. Some, like the well known Book Designer, even advocate setting…
  9. ISBN 101 for Self-Publishers | Blood Merge - […] ISBN 101 for Self-Publishers. […]

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.