I’ve been putting off talking about ISBNs and whether you should use them, mainly because I have not yet made my own mind up. In this episode I try to state the reasons for using them or not. I personally would advise using them for Paperback books, but not necessarily for eBooks.
What is an ISBN?
An ISBN is an International Standard Book Number. It is used, by publishing statics companies and book sellers to track book sales and distinguish individual book titles. The bar code you see on a physical book is the ISBN code in a bar code format, so when the book shop scans a book it scans the ISBN number of the book into its sales system.
What are the advantages and disadvantages?
If you have an ISBN you own (rather than using a free Createspace-allocated one), then your imprint is registered as the publisher of the book rather than Createspace. This makes your book look more like a traditionally published book to Booksellers. It also allows you to use other Print On Demand distributors like Ingram Spark rather than being tied to just using Createspace.
One disadvantage for having an ISBN number for a paperback book is that any regulatory requirement for copies of a book in your country will instantly be informed. For example in the UK you need to provide copies to the British Library and various libraries via the ALDL service, meaning you have to send 6 copies of your book at your own expense to these services. I know the situation is similar in the US with the Library of Congress. I think you are still legally liable even without an ISBN, but having one hastens this requirement.
If you want to have your book available to cheaply order by a book shop (let alone stocked by a book shop), then you want to consider buying your own ISBN and using Ingram Spark as well as Createspace. so they can order via Ingram Spark via Ingram’s book network.
Your book will also look identical to a small press traditionally published book, if the editing and formatting are also to a high standard.
A major disadvantage is, that dependent on your country you may have to pay for ISBNs. In Canada they are available for free, but in the UK (Nielsons) and the US (Bowkers) you have to pay for ISBNs. In the UK this is currently £144 for 10 ISBNs, £342 for 100 ISBNs and £924 for 1000 ISBNs, in the US this is $125 for 1 ISBN (really buy more than one at a time!), $295 for 10 ISBNs and $575 for 100 ISBNs. As you can see they aren’t cheap. Keep in mind that you will need a different ISBN for Paperback and Hardback editions of the book, so ordering a low number isn’t always a great idea.
Another marginal advantage to using ISBNs is that some eBook stores (mostly in Asia from what I’ve seen) require ISBN numbers to be published. Now some of these may be accessible via Smashwords (who will provide an ISBN similar to Createspace for your eBook), but by having your own ISBN you can be registered properly as the Publisher with these services.
I discuss how self-publishing industry experts like Joanna Penn don’t use ISBNs, because they aren’t bothered about sales outside Createspace and the larger eBook stores, but organisations like the Alliance of Independent Authors do recommend them, as they fit into a larger remit of legitimising self-publishers in the wider publishing community.
If you liked this post then you might also like How to Sell Your Books Through Bookshops with Debbie Young and How to Publish an eBook on AmazonInteresting show on whether to use ISBNs for your books on the Begin Self-Publishing Podcast.Click To Tweet