If you’re publishing a book or have already done so you will need an ISBN beforehand, these ISBNs are something we see upon the back of every book, but we tend not to pay that much attention to them, that is until we need to organize one for our own book.
Well the ISBN or International Standard Book Number is a 10 digit or (more recently) a 13 digit number which identifies each and every book for libraries, book sellers and publishers. Originally it started off with a nine digit number in the late sixties which changed to 10 and then just over ten years ago they increased the digits to thirteen to keep up with the increase in publishing.
The standard ISBN will tell you a lot about the book and its author, it will of course tell you the title, the author, the genre, location of the publisher and format of the book itself.
When you look at an ISBN the numbers normally look something like the one below
If we use the above example ISBN, you can see how the number breaks down (it is of course the same for other ISBNs too).
978 - The number starts with 978, this shows the number actually is an ISBN (currently the ISBN can only start with either 978 or 979).
1 – This represents the language of the book (1 being English).
9994970 – This represents the publisher or imprint.
2 – This represents the edition and format of the publication.
6 – This is the check number and validates the reset of the number, it being calculated using a modulus 10 system.
The ISBN is normally found on the back page of printed books and on the inside flap of a dustjacket (for dustjackets, it is common to see them on either the front or rear flap and also the back page). As part of the ISBN you will also normally find a barcode for the price of the book, the barcode of the book is made up of a five digit number which indicates the currency (with the first digit) and then the value of the book with the following four digits.
The barcode above begins with 5 (which is for USD) and a cost of $27.99
So, you will need an ISBN to publish your book, if you use Amazon’s KDP they will give you one if you publish with them, however, their version is only good for their platform and if you want to publish your book anywhere else you will need to purchase your own ISBN. It stands to reason, that the publishers who give you an ISBN for free will restrict you to using their channels for publication.
What you need to be aware of is how many ISBNs you may need, you will need one per format and if you take the free ones given by some publishing services you’ll need to buy regular ISBNs for the publishers where you need to provide your own. This can leave you in the position of having one paperback edition that has two separate ISBNs.
Having a free ISBN can sometimes be a reason for a traditional book store not to stock your book, the free ISBN will identify the online print-on-demand company as your publisher, and this can get in the way of growing the possible reach of your book. However, if you plan to do all of your marketing through the likes of Amazon alone, then it may not be that big a deal to you. Just remember that if you do use your own ISBNs you can change a great deal more of the data about your book assigned to them.
So how do you get an ISBN?
In the USA you need to purchase your ISBN from Bowker and the UK is from Nielsen, all other countries can be found through the International ISBN Agency https://www.isbn-international.org/
You can only use an ISBN once and don’t need separate ones for different countries, you do (as we mentioned earlier) need one ISBN per format, so the same novel would need separate ones for the eBook, paperback and hardback versions of the book.
Currently you can buy ISBNs singularly or in batches of 10, 100 or 1000.
The latest prices are
1 = $125
10 = $295
100 = $575
1000 = $1500
The most obvious choice for buying is as a batch of 10, this covers your eBook and printed books, it also gives you options for the future for any new editions/publications (most authors will publish more than one book in their career).
Book cover designers.