An ISBN is an International Standard Book Number, and it identifies a book format and title to all booksellers, readers and libraries. It is not a book cost which you should cut from your plans.

While you can choose to publish privately for company profiles, client guides, etc, having an ISBN opens up your book to be ready for purchase through traditional book retailers, online bookstores, libraries and book finder tools. (See my favourite book price checker, https://booko.com.au/ – try a book search on your own book.)

The Benefits of Using an ISBN

  • Having an ISBN assigned to your title enables you to obtain a CiP (Catalogue in Publication) entry from the Australian National Library.  This in turn means that your book can contain data helpful for librarians when cataloguing your book.
  • ISBNs are the global standard for identifying titles. ISBN 13s are used worldwide as a unique identifier for books. They are used to simplify distribution and purchase of books throughout the global supply chain.
  • Most retailers require ISBNs to track book inventory. Without an ISBN, you will not be found in most book stores, either online or in the CBD. Buying an ISBN is your first step to ensure that your book isn’t lost to those who might be interested.
  • Buying an ISBN improves the chances your book will be found
  • Buying ISBNs and registering your titles ensures title information about your book will be stored in the “Books In Print” database. This means that your book is listed with many retailers, library suppliers, Bowker Books In Print, Bookwire, as well as online services like Google Books, etc.

According to Thorpe Bowker, “over 100 million people access this data when searching for books; and it all starts with buying an ISBN.”

How many ISBNs do I Buy?

While you are supposed to buy an ISBN for each specific version: MOBI, PDF, ePub, paperback, hardback, (if any), most of us get away with two: ePub and paperback. The MOBI for Kindle ISBN is taken care of by Amazon (they assign an ASIN), thanks Amazon, and you don’t seem to get any particular benefit from using up one there.

You can even forgo the ePub version if you’re trialling publishing, because most aggregators like Smashwords will assign you one for free. However, it doesn’t have the same cachet as publishing under your own imprint.

If you are a serial author, you can buy a block of 10 ISBNs for $88 from Thorpe-Bowker’s MyIdentifiers website.

What Happens with the Title Records and ISBN

When you register your ISBN with its title data (or ‘metadata’), this is added to all the book records available globally. This is held by the International ISBN agency, as well as companies like Barnes & Noble, Google Books, Apple iBooks, and many services that allow you to search Library systems.

Then your book will be listed in Books In Print, a global database used by those who buy and sell books commercially.

There are many companies not affiliated with Bowker who purchase them in their names and package them into their publishing assist service.

Look Before you Leap into Publishing Assist

Before you buy an ISBN from anyone, determine who will be the registered owner of the ISBNs. If you publish through a publishing imprint that’s not your own, then this company is required to register your Title Data. Some are a bit lax about this. This can also make it difficult to add or update Title Data records when you, the author, moves on to other things. 

The workaround for this is to register a new ISBN for a revised version (e.g. 2nd edition) and send this new number to the old publisher to update the existing ISBN records. For this, you will need to have the book artwork and cover available, as well as know your book size, retail pricing, distributor, rights, and so on.

If you want to be the bearer of your own ISBN, speak to me about book coaching, a service which helps you fill in the five page ISBN form.

Additionally, I have made a video for uploading a title to IngramSpark (self-publishing print on demand platform), now offered to coaching clients to view, as it is more difficult to go back and forth with this process.

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