If you’re an author who is looking to self-publish a book you’ll need to understand some of the industry standards necessary for successful publishing and distribution. Purchasing an ISBN number is one of them. In this article we’ll cover all the basics you need to know to get going, so let’s get started!
What an ISBN Number?
An ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is a country specific product identifier for any book that is published for distribution and retail purposes. The use of these numbers became a global standard in the 1970’s not only as a way to distinguish between millions of books, but as a way for wholesalers and retailers to track their inventory and identify specifics on books for purchase. The data was (and still is) kept safe in a database accessible by institutions and distribution channels everywhere. The official US ISBN Agency is Bowker, “the world’s leading provider of bibliographic information, connecting publishers, authors, and booksellers with readers” – according to their website. Now that the internet has been introduced and self-publishing is common-place, searching for an author or book could’t be easier with an ISBN and Google.
Unless you’re producing a company manual, family recipe book, or other type of book which you have no intention of selling, plan on including an ISBN purchase as a part of your initial financial investment. There’s really no way around it if you want to sell your book. You’ll realize the value of throwing a few bucks (well, quite a few) at Bowker when your book is made available to some 39,000 retailers world-wide including institutions and libraries.
How to Purchase Your Number(s)
If you are a U.S. or Australian citizen, you can purchase your ISBN number from Bowker’s MyIdentifiers site. Other countries have their own ISBN registration agencies and often with no cost to encourage citizens in creative contribution to their country. In Canada, the ISBN is given out by the Government (if you’re a resident).
In order to purchase your ISBN, you will need to register your name and/or publishing company and other details to Bowker. Once in the system, the completed registration section will then direct you to a purchase page where you’ll be able to print out a form and mail it in with payment or complete online.The MyIdentifiers website states that you have to be a publisher to buy ISBNs, but according to Bowker, “If you are publishing a book, you are a publisher. You don’t need a corporate entity to purchase ISBN’s. You can purchase them under your own name, or create a name for yourself as a publisher – e.g. ‘Laura Dawson Publishing’ This name does not have to be registered in any way.” Once you receive your ISBN number and prepare your manuscript for print, you’ll want to log back in to Bowker and update your account to include your metadata. This crucial data consists of a book description, author bio, an image of the cover along with any other details that you’d like to present to book buyers world-wide.
What About the Barcode?
The ISBN is printed in number form on the first page or so of the book along with other info such as publisher name, copyright, etc. It is also printed in a scannable bar form on the back cover of the book (called the Bookland EAN barcocde) so that it can be easily scanned for purchase at bookstores. Ingram and KDP publishing will produce a bar code for you for free if you leave that space on the back of your book cover whereas Bowker will try and up-sell you an extra $25 to produce one. There are also apps online where you can generate your own barcode if you’re working with a smaller publisher. Note that each version of the book you publish, ie hard back, paper back, any online ebook or new edition must have it’s own ISBN because they are a unique product with different specs and price points.
Cost of an ISBN
Bowker has simplified their system now that print-on-demand is so popular among authors as pretty painless way to get their books in the hands of buyers. In the past, only publishing companies would buy ISBNs from Bowker in larger quantities and for a lesser price. Now, with the volume of self-publishers, they’ve streamlined the process and began to sell single ISBNs rather than just blocks, albeit more expensive. However, the ISBN number/s you purchase is good for the life of the book. Do keep in mind, it’s more cost-effective to buy a block of 10 ISBNs rather than one. The price for a single number is $125, and for 10 it’s $295.00. At some point you may want to publish a new edition of your book or sell it in various formats. Self-publishing authors rarely purchase one ISBN. If you’re using Ingram for your publishing, they will sell a single number at a discount for $85 but again, a single is likely not enough.
Watch out for “free” ISBNs
Finally, there are many POD companies that offer a free ISBN with their services, however, it’s not worth the convenience because the ISBN will be tied to them as a publisher or service and you will not own it. Most authors who do this end up regretting it. Watch the video below for an explanation on the advantage of owning your own number. In addition, you’ll get a walk-through on purchasing at Bowker and uploading to CreateSpace (now known as KDP).
Get going and get your ISBNs!
Now that you know what you need to know, head over to Bowker and just do it. Don’t let another day slip by because now that you have the facts about buying ISBN numbers. The sooner you get your own ISBN block, the better, and the sooner you can get to publishing that book you should have already “gone to press” with so long ago!