“ISBNs are expensive. Do I really need to purchase one for my book?”

The question was asked recently in one of my Author Fast Track mentoring sessions. “ISBN” stands for “International Standard Book Number“. They are the global standard for identifying titles.They identify the type of product, such as print, ebook, or audiobook. They also identify the publisher and the edition and is used by all the major search engines, most retail businesses and libraries.

Visit the Bowker website to purchase an ISBN for U.S. books

The short answer to the question is to visit the Bower website. Bowker is the the official source for ISBNs in the United States. Right now, one ISBN will require an investment of $125 and you will need one ISBN for every version of your book. The print version will require one ISBN and the ebook version of the same title will require a different ISBN. You can get a block of ten ISBNs for $295. If you’re not in the U.S. visit the International ISBN Agency to find the registration agency in your country.

There are other companies who sell ISBNs. For example, many independent publishing or hybrid publishing companies include an ISBN as part of the publishing package. Do your homework before you sign up. If you don’t purchase from the official ISBN Agency or one of it’s channel partners, you run the risk of your book not being identified correctly. That can impact the ability of your book to be found in the publishing industry supply chain.

Do you really need an ISBN?

The bigger and more complicated question is whether you need as ISBN or not. When I attended Book Expo, the national conference for the book publishing industry, I asked the question of the experts there and here’s what I’ve determined: If you want your book to be ordered by any retail outlet, bookstore, or library you must have an ISBN number. It’s required to register your book in a publication called Books in Print which is what those outlets use to order and track stock. Another reason to acquire an ISBN is some event organizers, writing contests, and industry book review magazines may require an ISBN number to consider your book.

If you plan to sell your book on Amazon, it will also require an ISBN Number, however, if you use Amazon’s publishing platform, CreateSpace, they include several options for purchasing ISBN numbers as part of their publishing package. The fee ranges from free to $99. For all of the options, they will register your title at Books in Print. There is one caveat to the CreateSpace ISBN: if you use the free option, CreateSpace will be listed as your publisher. This may potentially impact a retail outlet’s decision to purchase your title, either because of assumptions about quality or because they don’t want to pay their competitor – Amazon for the title.

My conclusion: Your decision boils down to how you plan to use the book. If you plan to sell your book only on your own website, or in person at events you don’t need an ISBN. If you think you will use any of the traditional outlets, request trade reviews, or enter contests, I recommend making the investment.

I’ve decided to purchase an ISBN – how many should I purchase?

The next question is whether to purchase one ISBN or a block of ISBN numbers. If you plan to write one book, and one version of that book, you will only need one ISBN. That’s probably not the case if you’re planning the use your book to build authority and act as a lead generation tool. You will want to have a print version, an ebook version, and potentially an audio version. That will require three ISBNs.

In my book mentoring program, I encourage my clients to write a book that focuses on solving one big problem in their niche. The narrow focus facilitates getting the book written and published in a shorter period of time and it leaves the door open for them to share more of their wisdom in later books. If they write just one more book, that’s three more ISBNs. Now you see why the most popular package is the block of ten ISBNs for $295.

One last thing to consider. When you acquire an ISBN or block of ISBNs you are registering a publishing company who owns your book title, not just your individual title. I chose to purchase my ISBNs using my existing company as the publisher, so my book publisher is Grass Roots Marketing.

If you would like to discuss specific considerations for your book, please reach out to me via email, phone, or social media. you can find all of my contact info on the Contact US page.


Linda Griffin
Linda Griffin

Linda Griffin is the author of the book, Maximum Occupancy: How Smart Innkeepers put heads in beds in every season and the founder of ExpertAuthor411.com She is currently working on her second book, Book Smarts: The ninety day guide to writing and self-publishing for busy professionals.

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