Self-published authors can make their books available in several different formats: print, digital, audio, etc. For each format, unless you do not plan to sell your book, an ISBN is required and recommended. Here is some important information you need to know about ISBNs before self-publishing your book.
1. What is an ISBN?
The term “ISBN” stands for International Standard Book Number, so please don’t say “ISBN number.” That is redundant. The ISBN is an internationally recognized unique identification number that registers and identifies a book all over the world, associating the publisher and all other information (metadata) to one book.
Each book format needs its own ISBN, so if you publish your print in hardcover, softcover, eBook, and/or audio versions, each will need a unique ISBN. The ISBN protects each version from copyright violations and is used by libraries, bookstores, and wholesale distributors to correctly identify, track, and catalog all of the important information of each version of your book. Assigning an ISBN to your book is not the same as copyrighting your book. That is a separate component and an official copyright registration must be done in addition to securing your ISBN.
2. How is the ISBN Different from the Barcode?
ISBNs are separate from barcodes. The ISBN is the identifying number, while the barcode is how that number is translated for readability by a scanner. You will only need a barcode if you plan to sell the print version of your book in brick-and-mortar stores. The barcode associated with your ISBN contains additional information, including the price of your book. It is your choice whether or not to have the price of your book printed on the back cover, and of course, the retail outlet can sell your book at whatever price they decide, based on the retail price you have set.
3. Should I Buy My Own ISBN or Use a “Free” ISBN?
A single official ISBN costs $125.00, so many authors wonder why pay that fee when some self-publishing services, such as Amazon KDP and Smashwords, offer free ISBNs. While it may make sense financially, there are drawbacks to using free ISBNs. First, the service that supplies the free ISBN lists itself as the publisher, instead of you and/or your independent publishing company. Second, when you own your own ISBN, you keep control of the metadata information associated with your book. The metadata is you describe your book to the world, how it shows up in searches, and the keywords most applicable to your book. Last, having your own ISBN allows you the most freedom when deciding where, when, and how to distribute your book. Although owning your own ISBN add an additional cost to your book self-publishing budget, the benefits you receive far outweigh the cost.
4. Where Can I Buy My Own ISBN?
For U.S. publishers the official place to buy your own ISBN is Bowker Identifier Services. Be sure to obtain your ISBN from Bowker, not from “unofficial” sites that seem to charge less. One unique ISBN costs $125.00, but if you plan to publish your title in more than one format, or plan to publish more than one book in the near future (purchased ISBNs do not expire), it is much more cost effective to buy a package of 10 ISBNs for $295.00, which means each unique ISBN only costs $29.50. If you plan to be a really prolific writer, you can also purchase a package of 100 ISBNs for $575, bringing the cost per ISBN down to only $5.75 each. When you go to the site, you will first set up an account, and then fill out the form for your book. You will then be assigned the unique ISBN for every publishing format you desire.
5. When Should I Purchase my ISBN?
As we explained, ISBNs do not expire, and it is more cost-effective to buy a package of at least ten. So you can purchase ISBNs even before your book is completed. But once you are at the book cover design stage, you will need the ISBN and barcode purchased an assigned so that they can be properly placed on the back cover. Once again, if you plan to publish only one book and to publish that one book in print only, one ISBN will be sufficient. But if you want to publish each title in more than one format, or publish additional titles later, your best bet is a package of at least ten ISBNs.
Pam and her team would love to talk to you about how we can help self-publish your book. Please feel free to contact us via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by filling out the form on our contact page.