Chris Longmuir, our in-house technical adviser is not only a successful author, but a font of knowledge when it comes to Indie publishing. Today, Chris talks about ISBNs and do we need them?
After taking the step of self publishing there will come a time when you need to consider ISBNs and whether you need one, and if you do where to get one and what it will cost, and whether you should avail yourself of the free ones that certain companies offer.
But first of all let’s look at what an ISBN is. It means International Standard Book Number, and is what booksellers and distributors refer to when they want to order books. Each number is linked to a specific book and no other. Not only that, but different editions and different formats have a separate number. So when the bookseller or distributor orders the book identified by a specific number they know exactly what they will get.
This is the reason why paperback versions of the book have a different ISBN to the hardback, and the electronic versions. Not only that but each electronic format requires a different number as well, so the epub version of your book will have a different number to the kindle version, you could wind up with quite a few ISBNs for the same book.
The good news is that while you cannot publish a print book without an ISBN, you can publish an electronic book without one, depending on where you want it distributed. Amazon, for example, allow you to publish kindle ebooks without an ISBN, however if you want to sell your books through the Apple iBookstore, or the Sony Bookstore they will not accept them without an ISBN. I’m not sure about some of the other ebooksellers.
There are some free options for ISBNs, but the use of these can be restrictive. For example, Createspace will allocate you a free ISBN for your paperback book, but this then makes them your publisher. The same with Smashwords, their free ISBN will give you access to the ebook sellers who require you to have one. But again, this means that Smashwords becomes the publisher of this version of your ebook. You cannot take either the Createspace or Smashwords ISBN and use it elsewhere. It belongs to the company who allocated it to you. So, if you do another epub version of your ebook and use the Kobo publishing platform, you need another ISBN, and you will now have two epub versions of your book with two different ISBNs. The same goes for the Createspace ISBN, it restricts you from asking your local publisher to provide additional copies of your book.
Of course, you can buy your ISBNs and become your own publisher. This way you can use Createspace, to print your books for the Amazon market, and also publish copies in the
UK through a local printing firm to avoid the shipping charges, as all author copies come from the . By owning your own ISBN you also get included on the Nielsen database and get orders from outlets that are not controlled by Amazon. The only snag is the cost, because you have to buy ISBNs in blocks of ten, or multiples of ten. US
So what do I do with my books? Well, for my paperbacks I bought my ISBNs, became my own publisher – Barker & Jansen (it’s still me) – and I am in the process of negotiating with a local printer for copies to be published in the
. I couldn’t do that if I’d taken the free one. My kindle books I publish without an ISBN, and I use Smashwords to distribute to other booksellers, using their free ISBN. UK
Oh, and I nearly forgot to mention it, I’ve already had my first sale through the Nielsen database.
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