Self-Publishing Introducing the ISBN Number: Why Do You Need One?

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links from which I will earn a commission.

When I started my self-publishing journey my head was filled with vision of turning my large stack of poems into neat little books, the stories I would write and eventually the royalties that I would earn. It did not take long before reality set in and I realized that I had a great deal of information to learn before I could successfully transform my growing stash of poems into books.

One of the first items that I realized that I needed to learn more about was the ISBN, what it did, why I needed one, and if if I needed to purchase it or use the free ISBN offered by some of the self publishing sites like Lulu and Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). When I first saw the acronym for International Standard Book Number, I had no clue what it was or why I needed it. So I went to You Tube and did a quick search to see if I could learn more about this mystery number and why I needed it. That is where I learned about a very helpful You Tube channel called Book Launchers. This channel was geared mostly for people interested in publishing non-fiction books, but it was full of helpful tidbits for any genre including this helpful video entitled, What is an ISBN Number?

This video taught me that that the ISBN number is a bit like a social security number for your book. It helps places like Amazon keep track of how many copies of your book has been sold. This helps to determine your books ranking on places like Amazon.

One important piece of information that I learned from this video was that like members of a family, each one needs their own number. So for example, say you write a 6 by 9 paperback book entitled My First Book. You will need to get one ISBN number for that book. Then say 4 months from now you decided that you would really like to have a hardcover addition as well as an eBook and an audiobook. Unfortunately just like a parent needs to get a new social security number for each of their children, you will have to get an ISBN for each of format of your book. That means that for the 4 versions of your My First Book, you will have to get 4 ISBN numbers. Also, what I found out from experience and watching other videos on ISBN, if you would like to publish your 6 by 9 paperback of My First Book on Amazon and other publishing sites, you will need an ISBN for Amazon and an ISBN for Lulu or Ingram spark.

This means that having an idea of what you want to do, how many books you want to publish, and where you might want to take your business is important. Because in some countries like Canada ISBN’s are free, but in others like the US, if you chose to buy your own, it can be expensive. At the time of writing this article, the cost of buying 1 ISBN from Bowker is $125,10 ISBN cost $295,100 ISBN for $575, and 1000 ISBN for $1,500.

While some companies like Amazon KDP offer free ISBN, there are some tradeoffs. They are listed as the Publisher and not you. Which is not helpful if you are trying to start your own publishing company or would like to have your brand name as the publisher. While you maintain the rights to your book, you cannot move a free ISBN from one publishing company to the next. And from what I have heard, if your goal is to get your book sold in books stores, the free KDP ISBN may not be the best choice as it can make that process more difficult. So before you decide for free or buy, it would be a good idea to evaluate your author goals to determine if this is a one time one book adventure, you have dreams of creating your own brand, or even starting your own publishing company.

At the time I first started, I knew that I wanted to create more than one book in more than one format. So I knew that I wanted at least 10 ISBN. After some thought, because the family budget was tight, we decided that it was worth the risk to get 100 ISBN for $575. After all, If for every book I published I created 3 different formats (eBook, hardback, and paperback), and I published a paperback and hardback on Ingram I would potentially need 5 ISBN for each book created. That means 2 books could potentially use up all 10 ISBN. Since I already had a collection of 1000 plus poems and several stories, and I was pondering the idea of starting my own self-publishing company, we decided that it was probably wiser to spend a little more and get the 100 ISBN.

Getting a pack of 100 made more sense than spending 295 for 10 and a year or two latter having to come up with another 295 for 10 more. And if at that time I had known about no content and low content books I would have gone with the 1000 ISBN. Because even though I have to work at a much slower pace due to my chronic health issues, as I develop systems that allow me to work smarter and thus faster, that pack of 100 has nearly disappeared. And while the investment of 1000 ISBN’s are steep, under these circumstance it would have been worthwhile.

If you are considering self publishing, before you buy your first ISBN, I would highly recommend taking time to consider your interest and your goals. If you only want to publish a couple of books or test the waters before you spend money, you might find it worthwhile to take up Lulu and Amazon KDP’s offer for a free ISBN. It will save you a great deal of money and reduce your start up cost and let you determine if you enjoy self-publishing. In the future you can always republish the book using your own ISBN and for now you can enjoy the fun of being a self-published author without having to spend a small fortune. But if you are thinking of starting your own self-publishing business, creating your own brand of journals, workbooks, coloring books, and more, you might want to consider the possibility of getting your own pack of ISBN. And depending on your budget and your goals determine if based upon your long term goals it is worth the investment of buying a pack of 100 or 1000 ISBN from the start.

Before you spend your hard earned cash on an ISBN for your first book, take some time to evaluate your goals. And decide if it is worthwhile for you to use the free ISBN that some publishing companies offer, to buy a small pack of 10 ISBN, or save up and save some money and purchase 100 or even 1000 ISBN.

For more information about self-publishing check out these helpful self-publishing books.

Self-Publish & Succeed: The No Boring Books Way to Writing a Non-Fiction Book that Sells, by Julie Broad.

The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing: Everything You Need to Know to Write, Publish, Promote and Sell Your Own Book (Complete Guide to Self-publishing Everything) Kindle Edition by Marilyn Ross and Sue Collier.

And The Amazon Self Publisher: How to Sell More Books on Amazon  By Dale L. Roberts.

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