International Standard Book Number

Options for ISBN

I’ve had several brand new authors ask me if I can provide them with an ISBN number. This shows me they know very little about publishing a book. So I’m going to give a quick recap on or what is an ISBN number? and what are the options out there for a self-publish authors.

What is an ISBN? ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. This number is used when publishing a print book, it used to be, you only had two option. You either got one assigned by the publisher and/or printer, or you use your own. Now with CreateSpace, you have a few more options.

CreateSpace can assign you an ISBN, which is FREE. The good thing about this option is:

  • Of course, it’s free
  • Your book is eligible for expanded distribution (which is now free)
  • Amazon adds your book into a database where libraries and schools or other online retailers can order it

With that last one you have to remember your book is on a list, not a store. That mean if someone wants to buy your book it can only be purchased through one of these online retailers or Amazon. The other thing to consider is that Amazon is now listed as the publisher of your book.

Until recently there was the option to get a custom ISBN number from Amazon for $10, this option has since been discontinued, but it’s worth mentioning because it was out there at one point and many authors used it.

You can get a Universal ISBN for $99 from CreateSpace.  This can works if:

  • You want to be listed as the publisher,
  • Rarely publish a book,
  • Are not planning to market to libraries and schools

Another attractive aspect of this option is you can use it with any POD publisher. That means you can leave CreateSpace and go to another printer.

And last but not least you can purchase you own ISBN going on The cost varies from $125 up to $1000 for 1000 numbers. This can work for you if:

  • You want to register yourself as publisher
  • You can move from one publisher to another
  • And you have to remember you will not be listed in the libraries and school

Lets not forget your eBooks

You CANNOT reuse your ISBN number for your eBook. Let me also say an e-ISBN is a myth.
It’s nor required to have an ISBN number for your eBook but it’s highly recommended and each format has to have it’s own number, meaning if you have a .mobi (for KDP), an ePub (for B&N, Apple, Kobo, etc), and audio you need one for each format.
If you make major changes to the book (not including typos and grammar mistakes) you need a new ISBN.

Bottom line, it’s up to the eBook distributor who’s selling your book whether or not you need a number. A good example of this is iTunes doesn’t require a number if you use their iTune connect, but if you’re using Smashwords they do require it if you go with their services to sell the book on iTunes/iBook.

If you do choose to get a number for both your paperback and ebook, remember to list them both on your copyright page. Just make sure you identify them separately.

There are many things to be considered when getting an ISBN number for your book or books, but what I think is most important is that you think long term to make sure you protect your intellectual property.


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