What’s an ISBN For?

EAN-13 bar code of ISBN-13 in compliance with ...

EAN-13 bar code of ISBN-13 in compliance with the “Machine-Readable Coding Guidelines for the U.S. Book Industry”, Revised 1/97. (The referred book being The Logic of Scientific Discovery by Karl Popper, 10th edition, German language, ISBN 3-16-148410-X resp. ISBN 978-3-16-148410-0) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

ISBN officially stands for International Standard Book Number, but I think of it as an International Search Bin Number . This number identifies not only the book but also its publisher. The 13 number format now identifies the country in which the publisher does business. It allows a reader, a book seller, or anyone interested to look up a specific book world-wide and order it while being positive the book they are ordering is the book they actually want. In the United States, publishers and authors that self-publish get ISBN’s from Bowker. The process is simple and can be done online. ISBN’s are sold individually, or in packs of 10, 100, 1,ooo, 10,000, or 100,000. Some of you might be saying, I’m self-publishing so there isn’t a publisher. Oh yes there is a publisher. That publisher is you, the author. Unless, as a self-publisher, you are using a Print on Demand service, then they become your publisher. Deciding how to do that is a whole different blog that I will write another day.

I did some research on what materials need an ISBN because I kept reading differing opinions. Here’s the scoop about ISBN’s and books. If you are writing a book and planning to self-publish, each form of the book needs a different ISBN. For example, I theoretically have a book called “Pickles Like to Dance” that I want to self-publish in paperback, hard cover, audio, and eBook. I will need 4 different ISBN’s for “Pickles Like to Dance”. By having all four with a different ISBN a person searching for the audio book will be assured what they are ordering is in fact an audio book because it has its own specified number. eBooks distributed through a single channel like Amazon do not need an ISBN, but if you distribute your eBook in multiple places it is a good idea to put an ISBN on it also. If I chose to publish “Pickles Like to Dance” in different languages, each language needs its own ISBN. Getting all these numbers can get expensive but if you are planning to sell to bookstores or libraries they are a must. If you buy a pack of 10, all ten do not need to be used all at once.

Before you run out and buy a bunch of ISBN’s do some research on the places you want to sell your book. Print on Demand services usually have them for authors, some will charge for it and some won’t. Decide for yourself how important it is for you to have your eBook uniquely identified.



Filed under Publishing, Self-Publishing

2 responses to “What’s an ISBN For?

  1. Pingback: The ISBN Tangle | The Wandering Barefoot Editor

  2. Pingback: Steps to Self-Publishing | The Wandering Barefoot Editor

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