The Skinny on ISBNs
by Fern Reiss, CEO, PublishingGame.com
All books sold in bookstores must have ISBNs. But if you
don’t play your cards right, you might make a big
mistake with this most basic of publishing labelers. Here’s
what you need to know about ISBNs:
An ISBN—otherwise known as an International Standard
Book Number—is a unique identifying number for your
book. Every book in the world has its own ISBN, and the
ISBN helps to ensure that the books are identified, ordered,
and shipped correctly. In the U.S. you can only purchase
ISBNs from R.R. Bowker company; in Canada you can only
get them from the National Library of Canada. The barcode
on a book’s cover includes both the ISBN and scanning
information. ISBNs can be purchased directly from Bowker
Whoever owns the ISBN is the publisher.
For some reason, there’s a lot of confusion over this issue. Whoever
owns the ISBN—whoever purchased it—is the publisher of record.
So, if you pay to have your book published through one of the many POD companies—then
they, not you, are the publisher of the book. If you want to self-publish,
you must buy your own ISBNs. Similarly, do not sell someone else one of your
ISBNs. If you are the purchaser of the ISBN, then you are the legal publisher
of the book.
Each version of the book needs its own ISBN.
You’ll need a separate ISBN for the hardcover, softcover, audio, video,
and e-book versions of your book. Even if the content is the same, each unique
version requires a unique ISBN—so that when bookstores and libraries
order by ISBN, they automatically get the version they want.
Buy as many ISBNs as you can afford.
You can’t order just one ISBN from Bowker; you must order a block of
10, 100, 1000, 10,000, etc. Bowker charges $225 for ten ISBNs (plus a $14.95
registration fee), $800 for 100 ISBNs (plus a $39.95 registration fee) and
$1,200 for 1000 ISBNs (plus a $119.95 processing fee.) Since you only need
one ISBN, many first-time publishers want to purchase the smallest block possible.
However, everyone in the publishing industry, including
booksellers, librarians, and reviewers, can tell how many
ISBNs you have purchased by examining your ISBN. Purchasing
only ten ISBNs marks you as a one-book publisher. Not everyone
in the book world will care—but some of them will.
If you want to present yourself as a serious independent
publisher, as opposed to a one-book self-published author,
you’ll need to go for one of the larger, more expensive
blocks of ISBNs, despite the increased cost.
Start from the middle.
Don’t start assigning ISBNs with the first number in the ISBN logbook
that Bowker sends you. (The first number ends in a ‘0,’ a dead
give-away to everyone that you are publishing your first book.) Instead, pick
a random number from the middle of your logbook. Consider saving consecutive
ISBNs for different versions (hardcover, softcover, audio, e-book) of the same
Think carefully about price.
Keep in mind that whenever you reprint your title—regardless of a price
change—you must maintain the original ISBN, according to Bowker. So don’t
plan to just put in any old price here with the idea of changing your price
down the road. Be sure you spend the time to figure out the ideal price for
your book—you’ll be living with it for a long time.
ISBNs are getting longer.
Because of worldwide standardization issues, Bowker is in the process of changing
all ISBNs from a ten-digit number to a 13-digit number. But because most
publishers surveyed by Bowker have enough leftover numbers for the immediate
future, Bowker probably won’t be selling 13-digit numbers in the near
future. If you want to be ahead of the game, or if you’re planning
to print so many books (never a great idea!) that you will still have stock
when the new digit requirements become mandatory, you can convert the 10-digit
number that Bowker assigns you to a 13-digit ISBN. (Information on how to
do this is included in Day Number 8 in The Publishing Game: Publish a Book
in 30 Days, or use the easy ISBN calculator on the http://www.PublishingGame.com
And remember that although buying a larger block of numbers
may sound expensive (in fact, it may make the purchase
of ISBNs your third or fourth largest publishing expense)
you’ll be living with the results for a long time.
If you’re going to publish, you might as well do
Fern Reiss is CEO of PublishingGame.com (www.PublishingGame.com) and Expertizing.com (www.Expertizing.com) and the author of the books, The Publishing Game: Find an Agent in 30 Days, The Publishing Game: Bestseller in 30 Days, and The Publishing Game: Publish a Book in 30 Days as well as several other award-winning books. She is also the Director of the International Association of Writers (www.AssociationofWriters.com) providing publicity vehicles to writers worldwide. She also runs The Expertizing® Publicity Forum where you can pitch your book or business directly to journalists; more information at www.Expertizing.com/forum.htm. Sign up for her complimentary newsletter at www.PublishingGame.com/signup.htm.
Copyright © 2011 Fern Reiss