DIY Publishing 101, Part 6 – Get ISBN Numbers

This is the sixth, and final, post in an ongoing series about DIY Publishing. Previous installments can be found here: One, Two, Three, Four, and Five.

Get ISBN Numbers

Each book published needs an ISBN. What’s an ISBN? An International Standard Book Number. Which means that the term “ISBN Number” is redundant. But it has passed into common usage, regardless. The number is the long string of digits you see on the bar code on the back of the printed book. You’ll see it, too, included with the information about the ebook wherever it’s sold (Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, etc.).

Bowker has the monopoly on ISBN numbers here in the U.S. Like all monopolies they charge whatever they feel like charging. They charge $125 for one ISBN. For CHICAGO TIME, I needed three ISBNs:

  • one for the ebook sold through Smashwords
  • one for the ebook sold through
  • one for the printed version sold through

If I bought just three, it would have cost me $375. Luckily and oddly, they charge $250 for 10 ISBNs. I bought 10 for $250. I plan on writing more books.

There are a lot of pros and cons for using the ISBN numbers provided by Amazon, Smashwords, and CreateSpace. It’s also true that some ebook sites offer free ISBNs.

I won’t go into a long explanation about the problems with free ISBNs versus buying your own, because Joel Friedlander over at The Book Designer does a much better job than I ever could in a highly informative post, titled, “ISBN 101 For Self-Publishers.” In that post he gives two reasons for owning your ISBNs.

  1. The ISBN contains within it a “publisher identifier.” This enables anyone to locate the publisher of any particular book or edition. If you use a “free” ISBN from an author services company or a subsidy publisher, that company will be identified in bibliographic databases as the publisher.
  2. Owning your own ISBNs gives you the ability to control the bibliographic record for your book. This is an important part of your book’s metadata, and is a key component in your book being discoverable by online searchers. This has a powerful influence on your efforts to attract search engine traffic to your title.

I’m possessive. I bought ISBNs because, from a business standpoint, I wanted to be known as the publisher of my books.

One more thing about ISBNs. For the printed version, you need a bar code generated from a combination of the ISBN and the price. I paid Bowker $25 for generating the bar code. You can find all kinds of widgets on the Internet that will generate a bar code for you. Personally, I didn’t want to risk any problems with the bar code not having a high enough resolution or being plain wrong. So I stuck with Bowker. Once I had the bar code, I added it to the cover in the place I had blocked out for it.

With this post, I hereby wrap up my short guide to DIY publishing. If you have any questions please feel free to post them in the comments or send me an email. I’m happy to help those who are thinking about becoming an indie author. Go for it! I don’t regret going indie one bit.


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