The ISBN is the familiar number on the barcode on the back cover of every book and is a key piece of your book metadata. It is a code assigned to books on an individual basis and every single ISBN is unique. You cannot sell your book through traditional bookstores and retailers without it. Another one of our posts discusses more about what ISBNs do. In this post, however, we’re talking about the importance of tagging your ISBNs to increase your book discoverability.
Why You Should Buy Your Own ISBN
It’s very important to remember that whoever buys your ISBN controls the metadata for that book—so it should be you. Once you’ve bought your ISBNs from Bowker (for the United States), Thorpe-Bowker (for Australia), or Nielsen (for the United Kingdom), and your book is ready to publish, simply log in to your account from whichever service you purchased your ISBN, click the ISBN number, and fill out the data in the full title detail form.
The ability to control and edit the metadata for your book is a key reason you need to buy directly and not let someone else buy it for you. Most authors create books in three formats: print (PDF), MOBI, and EPUB, which is why it's best to buy a block of at least ten ISBN numbers. Ten numbers only cost twice as much as one, and you’ll need at least two: one for your print book (possibly two if you decide to publish a hardcover and a paperback version) and one, maybe two, for the e-book as well, depending on whether you decide to have an EPUB and a MOBI version. You may also use one for an audiobook and another for a multimedia e‑book. Your book does not have to already be published to purchase an ISBN; you can buy one separately and then assign it to the book when it is finished.
What Information Should You Input in Your ISBN Record
You have the opportunity to insert lots of data in your full title detail form—title, author, description, number of pages, size, language, copyright year, date of publication, contributors, category, title status (out-of-print, active, etc.), price, currency, book cover, and interior (to index keywords). This metadata is one of the keys to book discoverability. Once you enter the information into one, you can clone it and modify it for the other formats. (So make sure you get it right on that first one, to prevent having to edit each of the ISBN records.)
All this information is disseminated to distributors, wholesalers, libraries, and retailers (online and bricks-and-mortar) so they can convey it to readers. Research the BISAC standard subject headings that describe your book category and print them on the back cover of your book next to the ISBN, and include the tags in your book and author website metadata.
Some ISBN services sell barcodes, too, but here’s a trick to get a free barcode. Use our free book cover template generator. You’ll get a cover template via e-mail with a bar code on it that you can use anywhere. We also give our customers a discount on ISBNs when you purchase them straight from your account.