DO I NEED AN ISBN?
I happened to be listening to a local radio station the other day who had a guest speaker on talking about the significance of an ISBN and I found their advice to be generic and unfulfilling. At the end of the interview, the question still remained…does a writer need an ISBN?
First, what is an ISBN?
ISBN means International Standard Book Number. An ISBN is a number, used like a serial number so that bookstores can accurately order books. An ISBN is not a bar code.
So, the answer to the question is twofold:
- Yes, you will need to purchase an ISBN if you want to have your books published in bookstores, place it with distributors and wholesalers, and/or carried in libraries. You will need an ISBN for each format you will be selling in, such as hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audio books.
- No, you will not need to purchase and ISBN if you are only selling online. Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Apple all provide free ISBNs for your ebooks if required.
How do I obtain and ISBN?
First, a publisher (if you are self-published, that would be you) applies for an ISBN. The ISBN Agency emails the ISBN to the publisher. The ISBN is placed on the copyright page and is encoded on a bar code, which is placed on the back cover of the book. Then, when the book is about to be sold, the publisher registers the title in Books in Print at Bowker. www.bowkerlink.com.
An ISBN tells a lot about your book. In that set of 13 numbers is information identifying your title and your publisher (called a publisher prefix). That prefix establishes who the publisher of record associated with that title is. This is an important distinction.
So if a printer—either traditional or print-on-demand—offers you an ISBN for free, think long and hard before you take it. Because ISBNs are nontransferable, that means the publisher of record for your book is the printer, not you. You have nothing to fear in terms of intellectual property rights. The assignment of an ISBN has no implications for rights ownership. It does, however, have an impact on how your title is viewed in the sales and distribution system. If a self-publisher wants to be identified as the publisher, the self-publisher must get his or her own ISBN.
Another Important Note:
Many self-publishers forget to register their ISBN once they assign it to their book. This is a “must do”.
Registering your ISBN: Once ISBNs have been assigned to products they should be reported to R.R. Bowker as the database of record for the United States ISBN Agency. Companies are eligible for a free listing in various directories such as Books in Print, Words on Cassette, The Software Encyclopedia, Bowker’s Complete Video Directory, etc. Book titles should be registered with Books in Print.
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Keep on scribbling!