What is an ISBN?

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What is an ISBN? AuthorFriendly.com has a great answer

Is it important for you (as an independent author) to understand what an ISBN is and what difference it makes? Yes! With the proliferation of self-publishing, the importance of the ISBN is being diminished. When I read this article from AuthorFriendly.com, I knew I had to share it. With their permission, I am including it here, as is, in its entirety. It is chock-full of great information that answers the question, “What is an ISBN?” and it shows why knowing this information is important to you.

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The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) system was created to assign a unique identifier to every published book. ISBNs consist of 13 numbers. Here’s what you need to know about those numbers.ISBN Barcode

  • EAN: Currently either 978 or 979, identifies the EAN element (European/International Article Number).
  • Group: Identifies the country or language agency.
  • Publisher: Numbers 6-9 makes up the four numbers of your publisher identifier, which means you and your publishing company. (You’ll need this number when applying for an LCCN. You’ll learn about LCCNs later.)
  • Title: The title or specific edition of your book.
  • Check digit: The check digit validates the ISBN.

What’s wrong with free ISBNs?

Many younger, hipper authors than me bypass the formal book publication process entirely simply by uploading their ebooks directly to the online retailers, none of which require ISBNs. Some of these authors make significant money on their ebooks, but their books aren’t counted in the book systems. If they print their books, they use Amazon’s free ISBNs. They don’t care if the publisher is listed as Amazon CreateSpace and not their own.

Sure, there’s no obligation to publish within the system, to stand up and be counted. But there’s no way for bookstores and libraries to find your books if you do not have an ISBN. Without an ISBN or a publishing house name and logo your book won’t stand up to scrutiny next to those being published by the Big Four publishing houses. Are being counted, being found, and looking professional important to you?

Here’s what’s wrong with free ISBNs for the professional independent author:

  1. Your book will be on record as published by that company when it should be on record as published by you. (Why would you put all that work into your book and then let somebody else’s name be put on it?)
  2. If you use a company’s ISBN and want to publish elsewhere, you’ll need to assign a different ISBN. Pretty soon you’ll have many ISBNs for the same book!
  3. If you want to stop publishing under a company’s ISBN you’ll need to “retire” your book and replace it with a new edition and a new ISBN. That’s confusing to consumers.
  4. Your print book will be forever available from Amazon resellers with the old ISBN.
  5. Bookstores do not generally buy books from the Amazon Expanded Distribution Program because bookstores require a 53% discount (not a 45% discount Amazon offers) and returns.
  6. Booksellers don’t really like Amazon, anyway.
  7. You need your own ISBN to get a Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN) and PCIP block for your book.
  8. Whoever buys your ISBN from Bowker controls the metadata for that book—so it should be you. (More on metadata in a future email.)

But ISBNs are so expensive!

Yes, ISBNs are expensive in the USA. In other countries, they cost much less and are even free! But the three things you need to pay for as a professional independent author are these:

  1. Editing
  2. Design
  3. ISBNs

Attention and budget applied to these three items are the minimum requirements for success.

  • 1 ISBN costs $125
  • 10 ISBNs cost $295
  • 100 ISBNs cost $575

The more ISBNs you own, the more bookstores will take you seriously as a publisher. Yes, they can tell by the digits if you’re a one-book self-published author or a small press with 100 ISBNs!

Purchase your ISBNs at Bowker

To buy your ISBNs visit Bowker’s MyIdentifiers page in your country of publication. Purchase a set of 10 or more. Members of IBPA enjoy a 15% discount. You can also sign up for the Bowker mailing list and wait around for a sale. They discount them fairly often.

When your book is ready to publish you’ll return to your account and fill out all the metadata in your ISBN record. This makes your book discoverable to distributors and retailers, which makes it discoverable to readers.

Assign one ISBN to each format, or sales channel

The International ISBN agency states that you need one ISBN per format. That means:

  • Hardback
  • Paperback
  • EPUB
  • MOBI/KF8 for Kindle
  • Audio
  • Fixed-layout EPUB (can be multimedia)
  • Fixed-layout for Kindle (also multimedia-capable)

List all the ISBNs on the copyright page of all formats of your book. Your copyright page will be universal to all versions of your book, and customers will be able to easily find the various editions.

The exception to the rule

Many authors upload the Kindle version of their book using Amazon KDP and distribute the EPUB (the format everybody else uses), with a distribution service. So assign the Kindle ISBN to the ebook only if you are uploading separately to Amazon. However, if you distribute your ebook to Amazon through IngramSpark, you’ll only use one ISBN for the ebook edition. Why? Because they send the EPUB version to Amazon to create the MOBI file for the Kindle.

When to change the ISBN

Change the ISBN for your book only if you have made major changes to the book content, changed the book title, or released a new edition. A book cover design change does not necessitate a new ISBN. My Self-Publishing Boot Camp Guide for Authors is in its 4th edition soon, and I will have used 12 ISBNs.

Whew! That was a lot of information! Learn more from AuthorFriendly.com and sign up for e-mail news at http://eepurl.com/ca_Nrn.

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I hope you enjoyed the article and learned a good deal from it. It should make you think twice about using CreateSpace’s free ISBNs or that of others who will “take care of that for you.” If you are going to publish more than one book in more than one format, it makes sense to buy a block of ISBNs for yourself. If you need guidance, remember that Hallagen Ink offers Publishing Mentorship sessions. They are recorded so you can refer back to them again and again.

Let me know your thoughts with a comment below. I look forward to hearing from you.

Tanya Brockett helps authors, experts, and entrepreneurs to write and edit a book that their readers will love while empowering them to live a life they love. She is a speaker, editor, writer, and mentor to awesome clients around the world. Connect with Tanya on LinkedIn (/TanyaBrockett), on Facebook (/HallagenInk) and through her website at www.HallagenInk.com. Buy a copy of Tanya’s latest book exclusively at http://www.NewWriterWorkbook.com.

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