The In’s and Out’s of ISBN Codes

isbn-978-0-7334-2609-4To those that are unaware of the ISBN number, it stands for International Standard Book Number and it’s the long code that you see on the back and the inside of all books in print. It’s the same thing as the barcode and it is always mentioned on the Copyright page in the Front Matter.

It allows your book to be recognisable and searched for. It holds the title, the author, the publishing company, and even which format. The following conversation happened between me and the internet while I was publishing my book, The Christmas Number One.

Q. Do I need an ISBN?

A. Yes, you do if you want your book to be a proper book.

Q. Where can you get them from?

A. There is one licensed agency that provides official ISBN numbers per country. Here are some links; the US Agency is called Bowker, the UK Agency is called Nielsen, and for other countries you can find the agency here.

Q. How much do they cost?

A. They are expensive for single ISBN numbers but exponentially cheaper if you buy them in bulk. Current UK prices: 10 for £126, 100 for £294, 1,000 for £774.

Q. How many do I need?

A. You need a different ISBN for every format of every book you publish. So, an eBook and a paperback will need 2 ISBN’s. Theoretically you should have a separate ISBN for every format of eBook, so 1 for a .mobi file, 1 for an .epub file etc. But I’ve seen enough evidence out there to go with just 1 ISBN for all eBooks and 1 for the paperback. To clarify, that means 2 per book.

Q. You don’t need an ISBN to publish on KDP, so what’s the point?

A. For Kindle publishing they provide a unique identifying number called an ASIN but you can also attach your ISBN if you have one. I have not purchased my ISBN’s yet because I realised too late but when I do I will update my book on Amazon with the appropriate ISBN number. If all you’re ever going to do is publish an eBook on Amazon then maybe there’s no point, but I want to publish in paperback, and in other outlets too, so it’s a necessity for me.

Q. How long do they take to process?

About 10 days for standard prices. You can fast track it though, at an extra cost, if you need to.

Q. Does it matter if I don’t get my own?

Other companies that publish your book for you, offer the ISBN as included in the price. However, according to The Book Designer there are 2 reasons why you need your own ISBN number:

  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 bibliographic 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.”

I hope all of this has helped you to navigate through the ISBN minefield. Next up in the ‘How to Publish a Book’ Guide is ‘Why The Last Minute Read Through Is So Important’.


2 responses to “The In’s and Out’s of ISBN Codes

  1. Michael,
    I recall that Smashwords (?) automatically gives you an ISBN when you e-publish through them. Of course, they take a nice cut of sales.

    • The problem with that John, is that the publisher would be Smashwords on the register, and if anyone ever wanted to search for the book then the ISBN would take them there. With websites etc these days not sure how much of a problem that is but still, a level of control over your book is given away.

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