Tuesday, November 6, 2012
ISBNs – The Books All Have Them, But Why?
Being a newbie in the whole publishing thing, there is a lot that I don’t know. I have yet to self publish a single thing outside of postings on my blog, and the stories that have been published were published through someone else and limited to online publications and one short story anthology.
So I decided to set forth and learn a few things for myself.
The first thing I investigated was the ISBN.
Why the Heck Would I Need an ISBN?
All books have them, but why? What are those ISBN numbers on the copyright page of every book for?
ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number.
We should get one thing clear first. Getting an ISBN is not copyrighting your work. The ISBN has nothing to do with copyrights and does not guarantee your copyright rights.
The ISBN serves one purpose only – it is a marketing tool. The ISBN is a catalogue number.
Is an ISBN necessary? By my research, absolutely not. At least, not if your publishing intentions are very limited. You can even publish on some ebook sites without an ISBN; however it limits your markets.
If you are just going to get a few hundred copies of your book printed to give to family and friends, or share them in ebook form through emails or on your blog, then the ISBN is unnecessary.
If you plan to publish through a publishing company or self-publish, in print or ebook, and sell your book, then you’ll probably need an ISBN.
If a publisher picks up your book they’ll look after the ISBN.
If you decide to self-publish you’ll need to get one yourself.
Some Ebook sites, including Amazon, won’t let you put your book up on their site without an ISBN number. And that goes whether you are charging $6.99 for your book, $0.99, or offering it for free.
Smashwords will allow you to put your book on their site without an ISBN, but they recommend having one. Sony and Apple require ISBN’s. I recommend reading Smashwords’ information on ISBNs before deciding whether to use their free one or get your own. Note: Smashwords’ free ISBN has Smashwords as the registered publisher, but then so will any other site offering their ISBNs for your use.
If you are using any kind of a self-publishing printing service or vanity press they’ll likely have an option to include the ISBN as part of their services. But before you go ahead and take their ISBN number you need to answer one question. Who do you want listed as the publisher? The printing service or vanity press will most likely be listed as the publisher for the ISBN they provide you. If you want yourself to be listed as the publisher you have to get the ISBN yourself.
Some of the online articles I read on this seemed to find this to be a hot button topic. The writer’s argued vehemently that you must get your own ISBN because, as they put it: Why would you want anyone else listed as the publisher of your book?
Well, for one thing in a way they are the publishing company doing the publishing, so of course they might consider themselves that. For another, they are the ones who obtained the ISBNs, and depending what country you are in, may have had to pay for them.
The bottom line, the ISBN is nothing more or less than a catalogue number to make it easier for book sellers and buyers to locate your book out of millions of books, some of which may have similar or the same titles and similar author names.
What is an ISBN?
ISBN – International Standard Book Number
This basically is just assigning a catalogue number to a book.
The ISBN is broken down into parts.
EAN – Bookland country code. Apparently books live in a world of their own separate from ours called “Bookland”. In the land of books, this identifies what country the book comes from. Luckily for us non-book beings, the numbers also coincide with the countries of our own world.
Group – identifies the language the book is written in
Publisher – identifies the publishing company or individual printing the book and/or providing it for availability for distribution in printed or ebook form.
* oddly enough, it seems that when a publisher exhausts its block of ISBNs, instead of receiving an additional block with the same publisher identifying number, they are given a new identifying number for the new block of ISBNs. I don’t know why this is.
Title – identifies the book title
Check Digit – this is akin to a spell check for the people assigning ISBNs. If this number is not what they are looking for, then an error was made.
What the ISBN does is it simplifies a retailer’s search for a particular book. Making it easier to find your book instead of, say, the same title by another author will make the difference on getting that sale.
You will also need a separate ISBN number for each edition of a book: one for hardcover, one for paperback, and one for ebook.
If you do minor typographical corrections it is considered a reprint and new ISBNs are not necessary.
If there are major changes, additions, or deletions, then you are publishing a new edition of the book and need a whole new set of ISBNs.
Obtaining the ISBN
Of course, how you obtain your ISBN and what it costs depends entirely on where you are located.
In the United States, ISBN’s are sold by a commercial company. Naturally, they charge accordingly. After all, they aren’t doing it simply to be kind. After getting your ISBN, it is up to you to have it registered with RR Bowker, the database for the ISBN agency. www.bowkerlink.com
If you plan to publish a lot, it’s much cheaper per ISBN to get a block of them instead of just one. Once you have them you can use them as your books are published, registering the book information at the time each book is published.
In Canada, the Canadian government offers the ISBN for free. Isn’t this just a wonderful country to live in?!
Typically, publishers will obtain blocks of ISBNs at a time because of the cost. This includes small presses and indy publishers, self publishing services, and vanity presses.
Come and Get Your Free ISBNs!
Some organizations may offer “free” ISBNs or an ISBN as part of a printing package. One source said that even Bowker, the company in the U.S. where publishers get their ISBN numbers from, offers free individual ISBNs. However, I haven’t found the Bowker link to confirm this.
AUTHOR BE WARNED: While it might not cost you a dime for that free ISBN, you are in fact giving up having your own name listed as the publisher.
But again, it is only a catalogue number. It has nothing to do with who the author is, copyrights, etc.
You will still be listed on the book as the author. You just won’t be listed as the publisher. This is a distinction that may be completely unimportant since very few people will actually look up your ISBN number to find out who the publisher is. It’s much easier to just read the publisher name on the copyright page at the beginning of the book.
Not being listed as the publisher is entirely to be expected when dealing with an actual paying publisher. After all, they are the publisher while you are the author, and nowhere in the ISBN is there a number specific to the author of the book.
Publishers are buying the publishing rights to your book, paying you royalties, and will list themselves as the publisher of note.
However, if you’re self publishing or publishing through a vanity press and are trying to brand yourself as a self publisher, then you will probably want to be listed as the publisher.
When an organization or individual obtains a block of ISBNs, the publisher digits will be assigned to that organization or individual when they are provided and are non-transferable.
That means, even though you are self-publishing, it will forever be noted in the annals of history that XYZ Publisher is the publisher of that book and not you.
On the bright side, you can go through the entire process to get a new ISBN for your book.
ISSN – International Standard Serial Number
This is the same thing as the ISBM, but is for periodical publications (ongoing series), such as magazines or a book series.
You would obtain an ISSN for the series, but I do believe that for books you would also need to get individual ISBNs for each book an in each form it is being published.
If any of my information is incorrect, I would gratefully appreciate constructive comments from someone more experienced and knowledgeable in publishing.
As writers we must always strive to improve both our knowledge of the ever changing face of publishing and our writing skills.
Sources for this article include: