The Value of ISBNs and Book Metadata

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Once you have written your book, you naturally want to get it into as many hands as possible. However, learning how to do that is an undertaking in itself. As an author, you must be familiar with what parts of a book are most valuable to readers. Of course, your content is valuable, but there are other, smaller features your book must have to carry weight. Two of these features are your book’s ISBN and your overall book metadata.

What Is an ISBN?

ISBN stands for international standard book number. It usually starts with 978- or 979- followed by 10 other digits. ISBNs cannot be reused once they are assigned to a book. This protects your book from plagiarism and other forms of thievery or copyright violations. Each ISBN number stands for a different part of your book. The beginning 978 or 979 indicate if a 13-digit number can be cross-referenced with ISBN-10 books. Other numbers indicate the book’s country of origin, publisher or imprint of record, and title. The last digit of your ISBN, known as a check digit, will change if you are converting your ISBN from a 10-digit to 13-digit number. 

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Why You Need an ISBN

You should use an ISBN for several reasons. The first and most important is that an ISBN is required for each edition of your work that you would like to sell. We have at least 39,000 retailers and libraries, all of which can receive your books. Each book needs a unique ISBN so it can be separated from other editions. Otherwise, keeping track of your books becomes impossible.

Purchasing an ISBN helps retailers catalog important information about your work. Every author wants readers to know different things about his or her work, but the information may overlap. For example, let’s say you have written a children’s book about a pigeon who wants to go to school. You might use keywords in your summary such as “pigeon,” “school,” “learn,” and “bus.” The problem is, the author of a similar well-known book such as Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, may have similar information on file in retailers’ catalogs. Your ISBN number separates your particular information from that of other authors and makes it easier to locate.

Purchasing an ISBN ensures your book is identifiable to retailers, libraries, and others. As mentioned, this protects your book from being stolen, plagiarized, or damaged. Additionally, the unique ISBN number helps retailers find your book quickly in what are often vast catalogs.

Read about the importance of owning your own ISBN and not using one you get for "free" from another provider.

Book Metadata

In addition to purchasing an ISBN, you will need unique book metadata. Metadata might seem like an advanced, technological word, but it’s just a specialized word that reflects what you already see all the time. Book metadata refers to the information you see when you go online to purchase an item. For example, iTunes’ metadata might include the cover of an album, the album release date, artist names, and song titles.

Book metadata is similar to other metadata types. Your metadata will include both the book’s physical attributes and content attributes. Book metadata encompasses all of the following:

How Metadata Sells Your Book

Again, book metadata is a big part of what sells your work. Like ISBNs, metadata helps retailers catalog and protect your work. The more metadata you provide, the more easily readers will be able to find your book online and the more familiar with your book readers will be.


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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.