“Do I Need an ISBN to Digitally Self Publish?”

More trouble than it's worth?

At the start of every journey, there is a little hiccup.

You know, a tiny thing that pops up and, all of a sudden, triggers a procrastination effect which cascades into a full stop. If you have young children, that hiccup might take the form of an unexpected run for the potty or a daughter who refuses to wear anything except her pink bunny slippers to go out into the winter snow. If you’re a writer, it’s all of those little technical issues that just seem so daunting.

Like getting an ISBN.

A Little Background

What is an ISBN? The acronym ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. It’s purpose is to provide a unique identifier for each and every book. Why? well, to make it all simpler to find and order. Incredibly, circumstances do arise where authors with similar names write books with similar titles. An ISBN allows each to be uniquely identifiable. It’s assigned to each edition, and variation, of a book. ISBN’s are only for books, magazines use a different numerical system called the International Standard Serial Number (ISSN).

To get an ISBN, you need to buy one (or get one from a publisher). You can only buy them from your nation’s authorized provider, in the US that’s R. R. Bowker. They are sold in singles or in batches, with prices starting at $125.00. You can buy ten ISBN numbers for $250, so that’s a significant savings.

Bottom Line: You only need to buy one if you are selling through iBooks or the Sony Bookstore.

It’s all because of tracking

Barnes&Noble/PubIt, Google eBookstore and Amazon Kindle provide their own unique identifiers for any ebook they sell. If you want to put an ISBN on that book, you can, but it is not necessary. Apple and Sony do not provide indexing services for their books, so you have to. The way you do that is through an ISBN. Will this ever change? Probably not, but stranger things have happened.

If you want to put out a print version, it will need an ISBN. That ISBN must be different from the eBook ISBN (unique ISBN for each edition, remember?). It can add up.

Getting the Most for Your Money

You can reduce this up front cost significantly by using Smashwords, CreateSpace, Lulu, or other similar services. BUT, before you do, think about the real cost. Kindle is 70% of the ebook market. Nook is 25%. iBooks and Google are growing and almost nobody mentions Sony anymore. Indie authors are reporting their digital sales are over 100 times more than their print versions. Most of them say they only have print copies for signature editions and gifts. So, before you make a decision on this, do a quick look at the economics:

Smashwords takes 10% of your profit and keeps control of your digitally converted files. An ISBN costs 450 copies when equated to 10% of $2.99. If you think you will sell more than 450 copies though Apple’s iBooks, buy your own ISBN and submit it yourself. If you just want to go where 95% of the market is (for no cost to submit, I might add), stick with Nook and Kindle and forgo the ISBN.

As for print? If you only plan to use those print editions for gifts and special copies, just use a local print shop or a vanity press like Blurb and save yourself the cost and heartache.

About Rob McClellan

Rob is the founder of ThirdScribe, a unique author services platform and social network. As a naval officer and diver, he spent a majority of his career doing a lot more than you would think with a lot less than you can imagine -- a skill that has proven extremely valuable in the start-up world. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter or Google+.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *