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Why you should buy ISBNs for your books

Posted in Just for Writers

An earlier version of this article was published September 6, 2013.BowkerISBN

Avoiding costs

Independent publishers and author/publishers aren’t supporting corporate boardrooms, expense accounts, or Manhattan addresses (by and large), and frugality is a common theme. Avoiding the purchase and use of an ISBN number for their published work (if they are US-based) seems to many to be another opportunity to cut cost.

But let’s step back a minute. I write for many reasons but one of them is to communicate with someone else. I’m sure that resonates with many writers. Right behind that is the sense that I am joining that long river of communication that is the world of books, a stream that has flowed for hundreds of years, and I want my little drops to join in and make that stream just a little larger. Maybe I will communicate with someone who finds my work decades after my own death.

If you want your work to survive and be part of that river, you have to treat what you’re making as an honest-to-god book that could live forever, not just a document that gets thrown up in digital form somewhere and makes you a little money.

Using ISBNs to Future-proof Your Books

My name is my brand. My books belong to me, and my stamp upon them is an ISBN number, a unique and universal identifier that will bring them out of darkness to anyone’s search, years from now and in databases I cannot envision. It doesn’t matter whether the book is printed or in digital form – that’s just a detail. I would no more omit my ISBN from a book I’ve written than I would take away my name.

I’ve heard people comment, well, you don’t need an ISBN to publish an ebook at this site or that, and that’s a true statement. But when you’re caught up in the here and now of the latest development in the explosion that is new indie publishing, it’s easy to lose perspective.

Consider the following situation:

  • I publish a book, digital only. I don’t bother with an ISBN number.
  • I distribute it on Amazon, which assigns it an ASIN number, an Amazon product code.
  • I distribute it on Barnes & Noble, which assigns it an EAN number, a B&N product code.
  • I distribute it on Kobo, which assigns it an ISBN number owned by Kobo, so my book will appear to be published by Kobo, not me.
  • I distribute it on Smashwords, which assigns it an ISBN number owned by Smashwords, so my book will appear to be published by Smashwords, not me.

With the exception of Smashwords, none of these identifiers appear within the eBook itself.

And now, let twenty years go by… Barnes & Noble and Smashwords are out of business. Amazon changes its product code conventions and no longer uses ASIN numbers. There is no searchable database made available by Amazon for the old ASIN numbers. Kobo, which owns the ISBN it provided, controls what the Bowker Books In Print or successor database contains and updates the information about your book in ways you would not approve of, and since you have no ISBN number of your own that’s the only record of your book in Books In Print. Someone who chanced across a reference to your book based on an old copy from Barnes & Noble can’t find it because the B&N identifier is no longer alive, and may or may not connect it with a Kobo record in Books In Print which has a completely different identifier.

Does this seem like a good thing to you?

Old Standards Die Harder

We forget how shallow the history of digital technology is and if we’re not in the information technology industry (I am) we have a natural human tendency to think that whatever’s available today will always be available. But the real world is limited by money and time, and databases, formats, and standards evolve or die on a daily basis. The older standards are the most stable, and the standards for books, embodied by ISBNs, are as stable as anything we have, because books have been around longer as cultural and commercial objects than any other medium.

When I publish a book, and it’s usually in both print and digital form, I always use my own ISBN and control all the Books In Print data about the book. I use a different ISBN (as required) for the print and digital editions, and for each format of print (paper, hardcover) and digital (ebook, mobi).

Think in the long term. Buy a batch of ISBNs (much cheaper in bulk), use them, and help your books speak to other generations for as long as they have anything to say.

Addendum: How big a block of ISBNs should you buy?

Here’s how I think about it…

Bowker offers the following blocks:

  • $125 – 1 ISBN
  • $250 – 10 ISBNs
  • $575 – 100 ISBNs
  • $1000 – 1000 ISBNs

I thought the no-brainer should be 100 ISBNs, but then I started doing some calculations. I’m nearing the end of my first series (it could go on, and I might return to it, but I’m planning to start the next one soon, so let’s call it a full set.) Here’s the ISBN count needed, if I do everything by the rules.

  • 4 novels, 1 omnibus story collection: Paperback, MOBI, EPUB
  • 10 short stories, 2 mini-story collections (no print): MOBI, EPUB

That works out to (5 x 3) + (12 x 2) = 39 ISBNs. It will likely be more as I create bundles, audiobooks, separate Smashwords editions, etc., but let’s ignore that.

This represents a bit less than two years of work (darn those day jobs). Let’s call it two years and 40 ISBNs to keep the numbers easy to handle.

So, why not just buy that block of 100 ISBNs? Because that represents only about five years’ worth of output for me. Do I expect to still be writing in three to five years? Why, yes, I do. If I buy a block of 100, then when I need the 101st ISBN, I will have to buy another block of 100, and then I will have spent $575+$575 = $1150 for the privilege. If I buy 1000 ISBNs for $1000 now, then it’s much cheaper. I don’t need to ever use 1000 ISBNs, I just have to use 101 for this argument to make sense, and I’ll get there in three more years at this rate. This also gives me the freedom to experiment with all sorts of bundling and other formats without worrying about ISBN costs, at $1/unit.

UPDATE – Bowker is raising the price of 1000 ISBNs to $1500 (from $1000) effective October 1, 2014. If the price for $575 doesn't change at the same time, then the decision point between the 100-ISBN bundle and the 1000-ISBN bundle moves from 101 ISBNs needed to 201.

UPDATE –  Since barcodes come up a lot in the comments, here's a quick explanation of them, why you want them, and why you shouldn't be paying for them.

Addendum 2: Controlling Metadata

(in response to comments from the original article)

Even with your own ISBNs you don't necessarily control your own metadata. You want to have the fewest input sources for metadata that you can. I'm aiming for Bowker, Ingram (Lightning Source), an ebook distributor (ebookpartnership), Createspace (Amazon only), direct to Amazon/B&N/Kobo to make discounted brief sales easier, and a limited use of Smashwords. Of that list, only Amazon and B&N can do without an ISBN (Kobo supplies whatever it is that is ISBN-like, and Smashwords requires an ISBN from someone).

That's only 8 sources and it feels like a lot. Remember all the marketing advice you see about updating your book descriptions, modifying your subjects, changing your pricing, adding subtitles, and so forth? Until recently, I was supporting 13 sources, and there are more retailers coming along all the time. How can I do meaningful marketing experiments with metadata if the list gets longer and longer?

Same for the actual content of the ebook. Ignoring the (hopefully) temporary issue of errata, still I like to update the Also By This Author page every time a new work comes out, if I can. The longer the list of primary places I have to upload to, the harder that is to do. That's not directly ISBN-related, but adds to the desire for a shorter list that's still worldwide, and distributors want ISBNs.

In any case, institutionalizing an end-run around the effective international standard may be possible for a while in the present chaos, but it is not a safe long-term strategy. Aggregators are going to become ever more crucial as worldwide outlets multiply, and they're going to be all about product codes — they can't run without that. It would be shocking if the existing ISBN isn't used for this purpose.

Addendum 3: ISBNs as Supply Chain Identifiers

(in response to comments from the original article)

ISBNs don't exist because of some conspiracy to collect money in the book trade. They exist for exactly the same reasons that all businesses which trade in products require identifiable SKUs (Stock-Keeping Units). Pick up any product from any store and you will likely find such a product number, and a bar code to go with it. The SKU for the blue sweater in size 12 is different from the one for the blue sweater in size 14 or the red one in size 12. The SKU always identifies a single instantiated product, not a range of products. It's used to eliminate any ambiguity about what the customer wants to buy.

In most cases, an SKU is private to a particular vendor. A manufacturer puts an SKU on a component part he ships to an assembler. That company puts its own SKU on the assembled product, and the wholesaler who buys assembled products from all over the world puts his own SKUs on his inventory items. The retailer who buys from the wholesaler ultimately adds his own SKU, and when you buy that flashlight from RadioShack, that's the number you see.

What makes the book trade different is that it was able to organize an SKU standard that travels with the product from the manufacturer all the way through the retail system, worldwide. That is a very remarkable achievement, unique to media. Because of that, all the players in the book trade, from manufacturers to wholesalers to bundlers to retail outlets are able to use the same SKU for the product along the way. That doesn't mean that a retailer might not also assign a private SKU to an item (e.g., Amazon's ASIN) for its own use (Amazon sells a lot of things besides books and they all have an ASIN number). But retailers who only sell books can use the item's inherent SKU, its ISBN, as the product number, and many of them do.

Think of a small retail store, perhaps online only, somewhere in Poland. It sells ebooks and a few book-related items (readers, perhaps). All it needs for SKUs are the ISBNs the ebooks come with and a few assigned SKU numbers for its other goods, like readers, which it will assign using the EAN-13 standards (which have the same format as ISBNs). Its accounting system can use the ISBN as the SKU for each item it sells. it can order ebooks from aggregators and wholesalers and distributers using the universal SKU system they all understand: the ISBN.

There are hundreds of such small online ebook retailers today, and soon there will be thousands. All it takes is a website design and a little start up cost. They don't need capital for inventory. The barriers to entry are very low. You will never be able to deal with them directly, and they will get their ebooks from aggregators and distributers, not directly from publishers. In many countries, online ebooks retailers will grow like mushrooms where print retailers won't. Think of Africa or parts of South America where modernization skipped landlines and went straight to cellphones, where everyone has a cellphone and that's how they read books.

Today Amazon might be, oh, 80% of the worldwide ebook marketplace. They're in a dozen countries. Apple is in 50 countries. In a few years, Amazon will be 60% of the marketplace and declining. How can I say that? Because no single retailer, no matter how effective, no matter how much first mover advantage they have, can hold a completely dominant position in the marketplace if the barriers to entry by competitors are low and the competitive marketplace is broad. It will certainly happen, and the only imponderable is how quickly. And at the direct competitor level, some of the world's giants are only just getting started, like Sony and Samsung. As a commenter said on some recent article I read, in Africa, no one's heard of Amazon. But they all know Sony and Samsung.

A lot of indie authors say: all I need to publish are ebooks, and all I need to reach are Amazon and maybe a couple of other retailers, and I'm done. And you don't need ISBNs for that because you're only dealing with a couple of companies, all of whom are willing to either use their own SKU for the purpose or supply an industry SKU (ISBN). Ebooks are a fraction of the full ebook & print industry (20-30%), and Amazon/B&N/Kobo are a (large) fraction of the ebook retail market operating in a fraction of the world.

That's a good place to start, but personally I'd rather have it both ways. I want to be in the full ebook & print industry by having both print & digital formats (and audio, too), and I want to be in the full worldwide market. To play in the full market, I need ISBNs. It's what the book trade operates on.

In this country (USA), ISBNs costs money (free (subsidized) in Canada). Tough. It's a cost of doing business. Start small until you're sure you're going to keep writing, then suck it up. Otherwise you're playing with one hand tied behind your back.

Amazon won't be around forever. How many retailers are? How's Sears doing, these days? The book trade, however, will never go away. The key to longevity is aligning with best practices in the book trade.

Someone objected that no one looks for a book by its ISBN number these days, but search engines have nothing to do with it. The strength of the ISBN is commerce, not discoverability.

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  1. Thanks for doing the math for me. If 101 books is the cutoff for it being better to buy 1000 than 100 ISBNs, and I’m 64, and looking to publish my first novel (Book 1 in the Pride’s Children trilogy), I may not be as prolific as you, but I may still live long enough to use more than 100 ISBNs because of the different versions.

    Plus, if you buy two blocks of 100, you only have 200. That’s not a lot.

    I love finding people who 1) already did the work for me, and 2) were kind enough to blog about it – with ALL the details. Appreciate it!

    July 14, 2014
  2. My pleasure.

    I find the ISBN issue is like the Coke vs Pepsi debate — it becomes a religious argument about “I don’t need to pay no stinking money for this”. As you can see from the article, that’s not how I believe you should think about it.

    July 14, 2014
    • Here I am, back again.

      And here’s a new question: if you have published with Amazon, for example, and Createspace, and have used (I think – I’d have to go look) the option to BUY an ISBN from Createspace (which may have changed by the time I get to Book 2, and may have changed already), can I CHANGE the ISBN on Amazon for the print volume – or do I have to unpublish and republish to do that? And if so, do I lose my carefully-acquired reviews? (I should probably ask them that one.)

      I have a year or so until Book 2 is finished and published, and if I manage to do that, I really should start being systematic.

      Thanks – just off the top of your head is fine, if you have thoughts you can share.

      January 16, 2017
      • The reviews are tied to the Amazon ASIN number, I believe. If you retire the CS book, the ebook will remain, and when you republish under your own ISBN, I believe you will retain them. However, it’s better to ask Amazon to be sure.

        You retire an old publication with an old ISBN. You don’t “change” the ISBN — you issue a new one.

        January 16, 2017
        • Thanks! I knew about the ISBN changing with a new edition, but will have to see if a new printing and or a few tiny typo corrections require that.

          As for reviews and the ASIN – makes sense (but I’ll ask, to be sure), because they appear on ebook and print page.

          January 16, 2017
          • Doug

            What did you find? Does the correction of errors require a new ISBN?

            August 24, 2017
          • Karen Myers
            Karen Myers

            If you add or remove pages for a print edition (change the physical form of a product), or change content meaningfully (edit changes beyond simple typos or error corrections), then the product you are offering is a different product than before, and needs a new ISBN.

            Cover changes are considered marketing, and new covers do NOT require new ISBNs.

            August 25, 2017
  3. Doug

    Thanks for helping me see the advantages of buying in bulk. Nonetheless, for a single use, sells a “Basic ISBN Number & Barcode” for $18.99. (I am not sure why Bowkers would charge $125.00.)

    August 24, 2017
    • Karen Myers
      Karen Myers

      Bowker charges what the market will bear, and bigger players get better discounts.

      When you see a “discount ISBN” service, you have to ask questions. For example, I have a block of 1000 ISBNs for Perkunas Press. They cost me $1 each. I can’t resell them to you directly — they are registered to my Publisher account — but nothing prevents me from using them for you if I were to become the publisher-of-record for you (YOUR BOOK, published by Perkunas Press). I could choose whatever price for that ISBN that I choose for the purpose. I don’t have to necessarily own any rights or receive any royalties to do so.

      If that happens then the official records for your book would show “Published by Perkunas Press” pretty much everywhere.

      Is that a bad thing? That depends…

      Createspace does something like that. When you get a free ISBN from Createspace, it’s giving away something that costs it less than $1 (bigger bulk deal than mine), and you are showing up in catalogues where people order your books (at bookstores, from Ingram) or elsewhere as “Published by Createspace Independent Publishing Platform”. That IS a bad thing, because bookstores know that means “Amazon”, and some of them won’t order Amazon books, even to fulfill specific customer requests.

      Even if you use your own ISBN for Createspace and therefore your publisher persona shows up as the publisher-of-record, Createspace gives you no choice over discount rate (40%), and so your books show up at a disadvantage to traditionally published books with a standard discount rate (55%).

      Back to your basic questions to ask for isbn services:

      1) Who is the publisher-of-record once you get a ISBN from them?
      2) Who updates the record at Bowker (presumably them)?
      3) How does the company make its money? ISBN sales? Royalties? Various services?

      If you don’t understand these things, it’s hard to tell if it’s a good deal for you. If they’re the publisher-of-record for you at Bowker, what keeps them putting anything they want to into the Bowker record? What happens if they go out of business?

      Don’t forget, you should be getting 3 ISBNs, not 1 (paperback, epub, mobi).

      August 25, 2017
      • Doug

        What a delightful and clear explanation. Thank you !

        August 25, 2017
  4. Richard Bell
    Richard Bell

    I am trying to understand all this. Can my paperback have one ISBN from CreateSpace and the same book have another ISBN (that I purchase) from Ingram? Do I tell Ingram what the new ISBN is? Is there anything else about this that I should be aware of? Thank you.

    November 2, 2017
    • Createspace and Ingram, your primary POD (Print On Demand) providers, operate as your printers. You give them a product, and they print it.

      Your product is your cover and your block of text (PDF) complete with its ISBN code. You could go down the street and find a commercial printer to produce books, if storing inventory and shipping books yourself makes sense to you, and he would be much cheaper per unit. You would give him the same product to manufacture

      So, yes, you just use the same ISBN (yours from Bowker or whatever your national supplier is) and the same interior file. You will typically need a unique cover file for each printer, because the paper used for the interior will have different thicknesses from different manufacturers (and their suppliers), and thus the spine might be a little wider or narrower to match, so the cover needs adjustment.

      This must be your own ISBN, of course, not the free one that you can use from Createspace — they own that one.

      So, just to be absolutely clear… You buy an ISBN (free in some countries). You use it for the book at CS. Once you’re happy with the book proofs at CS, you go to Ingram and use THE SAME ISBN when you set up with them.

      Any printer will choose how to charge you, and that will vary. CS charges nothing for title setup or for revisions, and deducts the per-unit cost from the retail price in calculating your royalty. Ingram charges a title setup fee for both the interior and cover, a charge for revisions, and an annual “market access” fee for continuing to carry your book (circa $12). That’s why people finish all their revisions using CS before setting the title up on Ingram.

      Your physical printer down the street will charge you a per-unit cost for a set quantity, usually, rather than breaking it down. Revisions are typically a whole new print job.

      Now, CS and Ingram are ALSO distributors. CS distributes only to Amazon, and Ingram distributes widely everywhere else, including to other distributors. Your local physical printer doesn’t usually have anything to do with distribution (or storage), just manufacturing.

      November 6, 2017
      • Richard Bell
        Richard Bell

        Karen, thank you very much for your advice which I will follow. My only mistake so far has been to send the cover to Ingram without first adding in the bar code. Maybe they will be lenient to a beginner and not charge me again when I send the revised cover. I also had issues with the Imprint but I think I have that straightened out. I just invented a name for myself as publisher. Also had to tell them I was a sole proprietor.

        November 6, 2017
  5. […] identifiers. I invested in a batch purchase of ISBNs once I was sure I would write several books, so my ISBNs cost $1 each (for a significant upfront […]

    March 14, 2018
  6. Thank you for sharing your experiences with and knowledge about ISBN’s. I now feel more educated on ISBN’s, but with more knowledge comes more questions, right? Lol.

    Previously (for my first three novels), I have purchased the Custom Universal ISBN through CreateSpace (CS). Moving forward, I am considering purchasing my own bulk package of ISBN’s through Bowker. My first question is: If I purchase my own ISBN’s, should I update the ISBN’s from my previously published books with my own ISBN’s? If yes, what are the pros and cons (for example, how does this change affect each novel’s listing on Amazon–will the reviews carry over to the new ISBN or will it become a completely new product? How does this affect algorithms?)?

    As an owner of my own ISBN’s (whether I use CS, Ingram Spark, Lightning Source, etc. to print) will I be responsible for my own barcodes or will each publisher continue to offer that feature using my ISBN?

    I have learned first-hand that many book retailers (small, medium, and large) do not care to do business with CS. If I own my own ISBN and am listed as the publisher, do the book retailers also look down on me because I am a small self-publisher? Secondly, if I am listed as the publisher but Ingram prints the book, is the book retailer unable to know that Ingram is the printer?

    If I purchase my own block of ISBN’s, am I then responsible for registering each ISBN associated with each book with Books In Print? Is there a cost associated with this? I was reading up on this on the Bowker page, but the whole meta-data part confuses me. Please advise.

    Thank you in advance for your guidance!

    March 28, 2018
    • Karen Myers
      Karen Myers

      Yes, I know all about how some answers just spawn new questions. 🙂

      Take a look at this article which might help for an overview of what your print edition looks like to booksellers.

      If I were in your situation, I would replace the CS ISBNs. That means you are creating a new print edition (new product) and replacing the old edition. If you contact Amazon directly, they should move the reviews over for you and keep your status (basically, they should just add it to your set of products for that title, and then disable the old one). (Other retailers — not so much, so the sooner you transition, the better.) You’ll find that the “books from 3rd parties” will start carrying both versions, even after you go tell CS to remove it (and they update their Bowker record of it and mark the old ISBN as unavailable) — the used book market is forever.

      Barcodes are made automatically by both CS and Ingram — you should never have to pay for them. Just leave room on the cover template. You can verify that on the proof copies (digital or physical).

      No one cares who prints the book. From a bookseller’s perspective, Ingram (or one of Ingram’s downstream wholesalers/aggregators) is a distributor. See the linked article above. There are thousands of micro-publishers, and as long as you don’t use your personal name (Joey Jones Press) no one knows who most of them are. The fact that you’re in Ingram’s catalog with all the right data at the right price and the proper discount will be all that matters.

      Bookwire ( is the way you can see how your book appears from the Bowker database after you fill out your form on Bowker (can take 24 hours or more for the batch process to update the database). Check it out — it’s educational, esp. for formatting text like book descriptions. I don’t know if anyone actually uses Books in Print, or if the Bowker data from Bookwire automatically shows up there — booksellers order from distributor catalogues, more generally, and if Ingram carries you, you are as widespread as you can easily be. I know that Bowker sells Books in Print access, but it’s not clear to me if that is used in the commercial ordering stream or not — I haven’t bought the extra service and as far as I can tell, it isn’t necessary.

      The Bowker pages are indeed confusing. Drop me a line and I’ll send you pictures of what mine look like, which may help.

      March 29, 2018
      • Karen, thank you very much for taking the time to respond to my message and answer my questions.

        I decided to continue using CS (for author copies to sell at events and for Amazon, but not for expanded distribution) and I am also using Ingram (for distribution). I purchased the bulk package of 100 ISBNs through Bowker. Ingram did, however, require me to purchase my own barcode (which I purchased through Bowker for $25). The barcode at CS was free even though I used my own ISBN.

        I do plan to use Ingram in addition to CS for my two previously published novels, and I will definitely update the ISBNs on CS (hopefully the transition will be smooth). Oh, by the way, I made sure not to list my publisher name as my own name. I figured steering clear of that might be the best route, and I appreciate your advice on that issue.

        So, when using CS and Ingram, I assume it is best for an author to consider them as a “printer” rather than a “publisher”. Is that how you view it? If so, when a reader, the media, etc. asks you who your publisher is, how do you respond?

        I appreciate you providing the link to view what booksellers see. That’s very informative. I will definitely follow up with you via email to check out the photos you offered to share. I greatly appreciate you, Karen!

        April 13, 2018
        • Sorry for the late reply — I missed your comment.

          CS & Ingram are your printers (and distributors). YOU are your publisher. Since your publisher name isn’t your own name, no one necessarily knows you are indie.

          I am Karen Myers, and I am published by Perkunas Press. Perkunas Press has imprints (which share in the same bucket of ISBNs as Perkunas Press) such as Bent Twig Books (, for other genres besides my main one (SFF), and I’ve just started publishing other authors.

          If anyone want to know who I’m published by, the answer is Perkunas Press.

          May 17, 2018
  7. Karen, I bought ISBNs as you suggested but used the ISBN discount service. When I entered my ISBN in book informing on Create Space I received an email stating that someone else owner the ISBN so I wrote the discount service and this is what I got:

    “Sorry for any confusion. As explained on the home page, product page and terms and conditions, Createspace/Amazon/Lulu are the only vendors we’re aware of that do not allow ISBNs purchased in the Basic ISBN+Barcode Service to be used for publishing. Createspace/Amazon/Lulu require that an author either a) have a Createspace/Amazon/Lulu ISBN assigned to their project or b) submit an ISBN assigned in the author’s name or company name (Basic Package ISBNs show Primedia eLaunch LLC as publisher of record or imprint).”

    Good to know but does that leave us with Bowker to purchase ISBN through CS then if we are following your suggestions to use both Create Space and Ingram?

    May 10, 2018
    • Karen Myers
      Karen Myers

      I’m sorry you seem to have gotten stung by false promises. Since Createspace (Amazon) is the primary vendor where indies do Print-on-Demand, they knew what would happen to you. This would only have worked if you were doing a short-run print job, where no one verifies your metadata (so no one has to see that your ISBN doesn’t match your name as a publisher), and that’s not common for indies.

      Bowker is the ISBN vendor of record for the USA. Anyone who tries to sell you cheaper ISBNs is really just someone who has bought a huge block of ISBNs so that they are $1 or less each, and is reselling them to you. But the ISBNs belong to them, not to you (and they control all the information that ISBN record contains), and Createspace (and I bet also Ingram) will check that you own the ISBN you give them. Since they look that ISBN up at Bowker, and you are not the publisher of record, that will be a problem.

      Your only options are to buy your own ISBN, or to use Createspace’s which will show Createspace as the publisher anywhere that orders your books (Amazon might mask that, but no one else will). If you also choose to print on Ingram (recommended), you cannot use the Createspace ISBN, because it isn’t yours.

      See for how a Createspace book looks to a bookseller in a store, who might order it for a customer.

      So, the recommended process is to buy your ISBNs from Bowker, and then use them for your print editions — the same ISBN for any printer (Createspace, Ingram, the local short-run guy down the street) who is producing the same format.

      May 11, 2018
  8. Thank you for that clarification. This thread is very helpful. So that leaves us with Bowker and they are up to 1500 for 1000 ISBN block tho they do sell am economical small block of 10 ISBN + 5 barcodes. To continue with this detail as I prepare my first book in a series, as you said if the author is only publishing with CS the barcode is free but with Ingram you have to provide. (Authors may not know that the barcode embeds the retail price for the retail store so changing your price at anytime requires the purchase of another barcode.)
    Ingram says they sell ISBNs and Barcodes but I have not hear back from them yet about price.

    You recommend 3 ISBNs one for retail book, one for mobi and epub but that would required only one barcode for a retail store – since mobi and epub don’t need barcodes neither does a kindle CS ebook (though to protect one’s intellectual rights one does not copyright).

    The Bowker 10 ISBN 5 barcode bundle($395 on sale) would cover 5 books and 2 mobi and 3 epub vs 1 ISBN 1barcode for $150. I can see why authors who don’t have available funding, just give away their ownership to CS.

    I don’t think the Bowker $1500 for 1000 ISBN does not include barcode.
    So do you buy a block of barcodes also? Or per book when finished?

    May 11, 2018
    • Sorry for the late reply — I didn’t see the comment.

      If you use the standard cover templates for Ingram and CS, and you can get them here:

      CreateSpace: (better covers)

      … you will find they include a place for the barcode. BOTH INGRAM AND CREATESPACE WILL SUPPLY THAT BARCODE WITH THE CORRECT ISBN if you used the ISBN when requesting the cover template — the template provider supplies that barcode.

      You don’t have to buy barcodes. You don’t have to modify barcodes.

      The only time you have to buy a barcode is if you use a short run printer down the street who prints you 100 copies for X$ — he needs a barcode (though you can copy it off the Ingram or CS cover).

      So, if you buy 10 ISBNs, you are using 3/book (for print/mobi/epub). And that is your ONLY required Bowker expense.

      May 17, 2018
  9. Karen, also please comment on this I found on Ingram: “Once you have an IngramSpark account, you can purchase single ISBNs directly through your dashboard. ” Is this something you would recommend?

    May 11, 2018
    • Why would you buy an ISBN from Ingram? Wouldn’t that make Ingram the publisher instead of you?

      Buy your ISBNs from Bowker and use them wherever you want. That way YOU (in your publisher persona) are the publisher, regardless of who prints or distributes your book.

      ISBNs from someone else will often be cheaper, because they buy in great bulk, but lots of the data systems in the book trade will treat them as the publisher, not you, and that’s what you want to avoid.

      May 17, 2018
  10. Becky Duncan
    Becky Duncan

    Karen, thank you.
    For me, your explanations and answers have cut through a mist of information!

    September 17, 2018
  11. I’ve been published since 1989, but self-publishing with my own imprint only since 2003. (Sub Chapter S incorporated)

    I do know that you need a separate ISBN for, say, a soft cover versus a hard cover version of a book, but the advice to buy thousands seems overly optimistic, to me.

    I bought 10 the first time and 10 the second time. I have something like 40 books (some out of print) because I was published by 5 small presses before I began self-publishing. Yes, I have an agent, blah, blah, blah.

    I think you have to consider your age and how fast you work before investing in literally thousands of Bowker ISBNs. I’m almost through my second set of 10 and I’ve been writing and publishing under my own imprint for 16 years. True, I spend a year or so on novels and cannot possibly get with the “turn something out every month” advice, but, for me, at age 74, I may have one more set of 10 ISBNs in me (and, yes, I do have e-books, paperback, hard cover and audio books) but I doubt if I’ll live long enough to publish more than the 30 books that I’m planning on purchasing. But if you are 21, go for it.

    December 9, 2019

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