Planning on self-publishing?
Started the process and feeling overwhelmed by all you didn’t know?
Confused by all the little details?
Said yes to one too many? Perhaps you’re spending much of your time learning the ropes. The learning curve can be steep, and I’ve posted a few lists of resources to help. One area that seems to cause a lot of bewilderment is the ISBN.
The continuing confusion over ISBNs
The Book Designer’s guide for self-publishers explains that each format needs its own ISBN, including Kindle, epub, and PDF. BookBaby also has a guide for writers, and says “every book — physical or eBook — is required to have its own number.”
Sounds simple. But there’s contradictory advice out there. The Indie Author Guide explains that every printed book must have its own ISBN. But the rules are a bit different for ebooks, since they’re really digital files. If you’re not confused yet, go to the Kindle site. Kindle explains that they don’t require an ISBN when you register a book at their site. They’ll assign their own number (ASIN, Amazon Standard Identification Number) to a file without an ISBN. Barnes & Noble’s PubIt! Service has the same policy.
The International ISBN Agency recommends a unique ISBN for each format (epub or PDF). But if there are different versions on the same format, they should have the same ISBN.
Wait! Come back! Don’t give up yet…
The blog Publetariat made a point that really helped me figure this out. Amazon’s Kindle uses only mobi files, and so it makes sense that you don’t need an ISBN because you will only be using the mobi file at Amazon. There’s no potential to confuse it with a mobi file somewhere else. So, if you only make your ebook available at Amazon, there’s really no need for an ISBN. The ASIN will identify the book.
But you want to distribute everywhere, you say?
The trick is this: while Kindle only uses mobi files, Kindle converts Word, PDF, text, rich text format, HTML, and epub. Yes, that’s right, you can submit an epub file to Kindle that they will convert to their format. So when a friend who recently self-published explained to me that she only needed one ISBN because all of her ebook files were in the epub format, it clicked. If she had an epub file and a mobi file, then she’d need two ISBNs. But using only the epub, she only needed the one for that ebook. Thanks, Jennifer, for the insight!
If you’re distributing with multiple distributors (and so using the epub format), it’s advisable to get the ISBN. And some distributors will require it (like Apple). But you still only need one.
So, how many ISBNs should you buy?
Many sites will say, one for each book. But what they mean is, one for each format. If you publish your book in print, ebook (epub format), and as an audiobook, that’s three ISBNs. Which means, buying the 10-pack is still the best deal, as buying two individually cost as many as buying ten.
I’ll note that none of the sites I mentioned actually had their info wrong. It’s just that there are subtleties in what’s being said that are easily missed that can cause — and have caused — a lot of confusion.
Remember that retailers use the ISBN to identify and track your book. To maximize your profits and maintain control over your work, you need to be the “publisher of record.” You do this by buying your own ISBN. When you accept the free ISBN offered by CreateSpace, you are not the “publisher of record.” CreateSpace is.
So the ISBN is your friend. Don’t cut corners here.
Have you approached the ISBN issue any differently? Did you buy one for your latest publication? How many did you buy? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.