Welcome to ISBN 101: A Crash-Course in ISBN
Posted On: 2014-01-29
by: Mercedes Tabano

29, 2013
The word ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. Because a book's title cannot be copyrighted and many authors have similar names, this led to a great deal of confusion when people were looking for certain books.

Too often, they would order it from their favorite bookseller only to discover too late they ordered the wrong book.

In the 1970's the ISBN was born. The ISBN gives each registered book a number as unique as a fingerprint. When you order a book by this number, you are guaranteed to get the right book every time. This is true even if you are searching for a book from a different country.

There are many different softwares that claim to be able to create ISBN's. However, what they are actually creating is a barcode. The ISBN is the identifier number. The barcode is a scannable version of that number. Even with the software, you will still need to insert your purchased ISBN number. Once your book has both the number and the barcode, then it can be sold in stores and added to libraries.

Can I Just Use Amazon's ISBN?

Amazon gives you a free ISBN when you publish your printed book through CreateSpace. The advantage of this ISBN is that it is free, and that it gives your book that 'real book 'feel. Amazon ISBNs look like any other barcode, and that can help boost credibility. Best of all, you still retain the copyrights.

Where this barcode falls short is in the retail selling world. Because this barcode is tied to Amazon, this book cannot be scanned or sold at a bookstore, gift shop, or any other offline establishment. It also will not end up in libraries unless you donate a copy.

When You Need Your Own ISBN

There are several situations where having your own ISBN is a good idea. If you only ever plan to sell on Amazon, then you don't need one. However, if you ever plan to sell in book stores, gift shops or anywhere else with a computerized inventory system, then your own ISBN is required.

Additionally, libraries only select books with IBNS. While it's true they'll take your donated copy, you will find that your name will grow much faster if you are able to get into libraries without donating your book.

Some self-publishing sites, like Smashwords, require an ISBN. Another benefit of the ISBN is that it's portable. If you decide to leave Amazon, you'll be able to take your book, it's off site reviews and all its good press with you. If you do not have an ISBN, then you're starting from scratch promoting it again, even though it's the same book.

If you are a fiction writer with dreams to win a contest, then an ISBN becomes invaluable. While some contests do accept self-published works, none are currently accepting books without their own ISBN.

Buying ISBN's

In America, ISBNs can only be purchased from Bowker. They offer several self-publishing packages including ones with the barcode, ones with services, or just the numbers themselves. The plain numbers option in bulk is best for indie publishers.

If you plan on publishing more than one book, or even the same book as both a Kindle and CreateSpace version, you will need multiple ISBN's. A single ISBN from Bowker is $125. However, a 10 pack is $250.

If you plan to publish over 5,000 thousand books, you can get ISBNs for as little as $1 per number. When you buy in mega bulk, like Amazon does, you are literally paying pennies per number. This is the option preferred by major publishing houses.

There's no one right answer to 'should I get an ISBN?' The answer depends on your plans for your book and your indie publishing empire. If you ever see yourself severing ties with Amazon, selling books offline or entering contests, then an ISBN is a must have. However, if you only plan to sell your book on Amazon, then the free ISBN they offer might be good enough.

Hope you enjoyed this ISBN crash-course!

Until Next Time,
Mercedes Tabano