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Custom Book Designs provides professional book design and illustration for self published authors. I specialize in helping new authors get their book printed and in an online storefront.

Custom Book Designs

By Annette Wood

Oct 9, 2017

ISBN: What it is, do you need one and how to get it

Some basic facts

  • An ISBN is a product identifier that tells booksellers and readers the publisher of record, title, edition and format and is used for tracking sales and inventory.

  • Sometimes you don't need an ISBN

    • You don't need an ISBN for books printed for private use, or for a closed distribution such as:

      • BOR sales

      • Books that will be used only as premiums, incentives or giveaways

      • Books sold only on your website

    • You don't need an ISBN for an ebook published to Kindle and/or sold only on your  website that will not be distributed anywhere else. 

  • Even though you don't have to have an ISBN for an ebook, you should, as it lends legitimacy to your book and online libraries (like Overdrive) require an ISBN. Also, having an ISBN means you can be listed in Bowker's Books in Print Database, which will help your Google ranking. 

  • In the United States the only organization from which you can obtain an ISBN is Bowker.

  • Cost for your own ISBN is $125 for 1 or $295 for 10

  • All different editions of your book need a separate ISBN. If you publish a print book in hardback and paperback, as well as ebook versions in EPUB, MOBI and PDF, they will all need a separate ISBN.

  • You will need a barcode if you intend to sell you book in stores. You can purchase bar codes for your purchased ISBNs at Bowker or find free barcode generators online.

When self publishing a book, you have the option of printing with a traditional offset printer or using a POD (Print on Demand) company.  These same PODs can also handle your distribution. Of course if you print with an offset printer, or are publishing an ebook only, you must find a way to handle the distribution. Since CreateSpace and IngramSpark are two of the most popular PODs, they are the ones I will be discussing, but know that there are many other companies that provide the same services (fodder for a future post!).

When making your decision about the ISBN, you need to start thinking about distribution. I won't be talking about the different distribution options - that is a whole other subject! When I work with authors we discuss their specific situation and goals and I help them make decisions about distribution. There are many websites where you can learn about your different options. 

The best option for most authors is to purchase 10 ISBNs through Bowker... check out the chart below for an outline of your options.