ISBN: International Standard Book Number Facts for Self-Publishers

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Authors can self-publish a book in many ways, from traditional printing to digital publishing. No matter the avenue you choose, purchasing an ISBN or International Standard Book Number from Bowker in the US, Thorpe-Bowker in AU, or Nielsen for UK, is an important component to publishing your book. The ISBN is the familiar number on the barcode on the back cover of every book. It is a code assigned to books on an individual basis. Every single ISBN is unique.

What Do ISBNs Do?

An ISBN is an expense many self-publishing authors are confused about. An ISBN is what registers your book and lists you as the publisher. ISBNs are how libraries, bookstores, and distributors identify and keep track of your book. You will not be able to sell your book through traditional bookstores and retailers without an ISBN.

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. Keep in mind that the ISBN does NOT mean your book is copyrighted. Copyrights are issued through the Library of Congress. Bowker and Nielsen are private companies that only issue ISBNs, not copyrights.

Do I Need a Barcode with My ISBN?

ISBNs can come either with or without the barcode. The barcode is how the actual number is translated and readable by a scanner. If you do not plan to sell your book in brick-and-mortar bookstores, you do not need a barcode. If you want stores to be able to scan your ISBN, you will need one. The barcode holds additional information besides the ISBN, like the price of the book.

Free ISBNs

Some self-publishing services offer a free ISBN when you use their services. This may seem like a “no-brainer” decision. Why would you pay for an ISBN when you can get one free? Be wary if you find yourself in this situation. If you do not purchase the ISBN, your publishing imprint will not be used. If you use a “free” ISBN through a service, it will hold their imprint. You may be limited to where you can print and distribute your own title. Buying your own ISBNs will eliminate any questions on what you can do with your title.

How Many ISBNs Should I Buy?

You will need an ISBN for each rendition of your book. If you plan to publish a hardcover and a paperback edition of the same title, you will need separate ISBNs for each. It is actually less expensive to buy a 10-pack of ISBNs for the bulk rate. One ISBN from Bowker costs $125, and a 10-pack costs $295. 

How Do I Get an ISBN Through IngramSpark?

IngramSpark distributes both print and ebooks nationally and internationally, and have teamed up with Bowker to offer a special rate on single ISBNs to our United States publishers. Once you have an IngramSpark account, you can purchase single ISBNs directly through your dashboard. Purchasing an ISBN through your IngramSpark dashboard offers you a discounted rate on that individual ISBN and the benefit of having your publishing imprint attached.


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IngramSpark Staff

Hi there! It's your friendly IngramSpark staff here, happily sharing a wealth of publishing knowledge with people from all walks of the self-publishing biz.