ISBNs for Indie Authors

ISBNBeing an indie author means that we not only have to write the books, but do everything a publisher would do as well, from editing and formatting, to publishing and marketing. And one of the tasks we have to sort out is ISBNs.

While it is true that you don’t have to have an ISBN to publish an ebook on Amazon’s Kindle Desktop (they give it their own ASIN), that CreateSpace can provide an ISBN for your paperback, and Smashwords offer same for your ebook, this is by no means an ideal solution.

Why? There are at least 3 reasons:

  • If you let a company assign an ISBN, it looks as though they have published it, instead of you
  • Because you don’t own the ISBNs, you don’t have any control over the central ISBN database record for that book. CreateSpace or Smashwords own those rights and they could make changes to it that you don’t like, for ALL the world to see
  • If Amazon changes its ASIN system, all record of your book’s existence could be lost

I’m sure there are other reasons too, but these will have to suffice for now. In summary:

Purchase your own ISBNs for your books – always!

There are a few agencies around the world where you can purchase ISBNs. In this post, however, I’m going to focus on the one for us in the UK: Nielsen. I have used Thorpe-Bowker for ISBNs in Australia and their system is (exactly) a thousand times better than the ancient, outdated one we have, but there we go. Nielsen may update theirs one day… perhaps. Unlikely really.

How To Purchase ISBNs

This is not as wonderfully straightforward as is could be, but once you’ve got the info you need in place, it’s plain sailing (if long-winded). Before contacting Nielsen, you need to come up with a publishing name. This should not be your own name, or even a clever pun on it (eg. “Saintly Publishing” if you surname’s Saint, or “Bea’s Books” if you’re called Beatrice), because it makes your book look obviously self-published and, although it is self-published, the aim is to make it appear as non-self-published as possible.

My publishing name is “Lundarien Press” named after the Underworld city below London in my Montgomery novels, which works just fine.

Having sorted that out, you’ll need to download the ‘New Publisher Application Form’ from the Nielsen site here: Most of this form is straightforward – contact details, payment details, first book details etc.

How Much ISBNs Cost

One reason people tend to just go with the free ASIN and ISBN numbers is that they’re quite expensive to purchase. Currently the Nielsen price list is as follows:

  • 10 ISBNs are £144
  • 100 ISBNs are £342
  • 1000 ISBNs are £924

Obviously, then, buying in bulk presents a massive savings per ISBN. But are you really going to use a thousand?

How Many ISBNs to Buy

When I first started out, I bought 10 ISBNs. Plenty, I thought. It’d take me years to use them all. Actually, I used them all in the first year. Then I bought 100. There aren’t many left!

This is because each version of each book needs to have a separate identifier, even different ebook formats. So, for Montgomery’s Trouble in the Underworld, I have the following:

  • eBook (ePub format) – distributed via Smashwords and my website – 978-1-910816-06-6
  • eBook (Kindle format) – distributed via Amazon and my website – 978-0-9928306-0-1
  • Paperback format – distributed via CreateSpace – 978-0-9928306-1-8
  • Audiobok format – distributed via ACX and my website – 978-1-910816-07-3

That’s four allocated right there!

One comment on “ISBNs for Indie Authors
  1. Katen says:

    Have you sold any copies of Montgomerys trouble in the underworld, so you start to get some of your money back?