Friday, 29 April 2016

A Guide to Self Publishing - ISBNs

To ISBN or not to ISBN?

An ISBN or International Standard Book Number is a means to identify an edition and a media format for your work so that if someone wants to order the material they can order the book using an internationally recognised number and they'll know exactly what they'll get. It was created in 1965 and until recently all books would carry an ISBN. To co-ordinate the international effort and to make sure the same number was never issued to the same publisher, the ISBNs are distributed (sold) by an ISBN registration agency in the country of issue. Read: monopoly.

A separate ISBN should be used to identify a different media format for a book, so that your eBook edition should have a different ISBN to your print edition. Both Smashwords and Amazon offer to supply free ISBNs but if you use their ISBN, they will be registered as the publisher. You may not care about that. I did care. Given the amount of effort involved in producing the book, I felt the cost of the ISBNs was reasonable and it would allow all formats of the work to be registered to me as the publisher.

Make sure that if you are going to buy the ISBNs that you buy them from the registered ISBN agency in your country. The registered agencies offer large discounts on bulk purchases so on-sellers buy large bulk lots and sell them in smaller lots for a profit. These retailers will be cheaper than the ISBN agency for small lots because they bought in bulk and can afford to undercut the agency. There is absolutely no point buying from the on-sellers as they became the registered publisher when the ISBN agency sold them the ISBNs. You are just buying the right to use the ISBN. Don't do that!

The only registered ISBN agency in Australia is Thorpe Bowker Identifier Services. They have a page that explains why you should buy an ISBN, though it's not particularly convincing, but also provides a link to buy the ISBNs. You can also see the size of the discount for bulk lots on this page. I bought 10 ISBNs, which should be good for 5 books (one for eBook format, one for print format) for $76.36 AUD. I also had to pay a $50 AUD first time publisher fee (sting!) and with tax and a discount thrown in, the total came to $118.15 AUD or $11.82AUD per book format. That seems like a small price to pay to maintain the publisher registration in my name.

One other point to note is the registered ISBN agency will probably offer barcodes and other additional services to you. You don't need to buy any of these, all you need are the ISBNs.

Now lets get down to business: Creating a beautiful and professionally formatted book.


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