ISBN Lauded, Explained

As a publishing consultant, I often get asked about the mysterious ISBN, what it does, who needs one, and why.

Laura Dawson (Publishers Weekly) wrote an informative article about the International Standard Book Number  — Hooray for the ISBN and why it’s important to have one for each format of one’s book, including the Kindle (.mobi format).

Yes, I know Kindle/Amazon does not “require” an ISBN. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t assign one that’s different from the .ePub format (the two formats are different technically, just as a paperback is different from a hardcover edition; thus, each one needs a separate ISBN).

It’s also important (IMHO) to own one’s ISBNs and get them directly from Bowker, rather than from another entity, such as CreateSpace or Smashwords.

Yes, ISBNs can be expensive when purchased one at a time, but I believe it’s a shortsighted decision to take the “free” ISBN. If you buy even as few as ten at a time, they are $25 each. I see it as a cost-effective business/marketing expense. Not only does it give you full control over the ISBN and the meta data associated with it, it gives you greater credibility and market visibility, as the linked article points out.

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About Polishing Your Prose

Larry M Edwards is an award-winning investigative journalist, author, editor and publishing consultant. He is the author of three books, and has edited dozens of nonfiction and fiction book manuscripts. Under Wigeon Publishing, he has produced six books. As author, "Dare I Call It Murder? A Memoir of Violent Loss" won First Place in the San Diego Book Awards in 2012 (unpublished memoir) and 2014, Best Published Memoir. The book has also been nominated for a number of awards, including: Pulitzer Prize, Benjamin Franklin Award, Washington State Book Award, and One Book, One San Diego. As Editor, "Murder Survivor’s Handbook: Real-Life Stories, Tips & Resources" won the Gold Award in the 2015 Benjamin Franklin Book Awards, Self-Help. For a sample edit and cost estimate, contact Larry: larry [at] larryedwards [dot] com -- www.larryedwards.com -- www.dareicallitmurder.com -- www.wigeonpublishing.com
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2 Responses to ISBN Lauded, Explained

  1. Larry, I value your opinion very highly on all things related to publishing. And while my understanding of the history of ISBNs is limited, it feels like one of the long-standing traditions in publishing that is on the final threshold of collapse. Still strong but definitely on the edge. JMO, I believe the evolution of the publishing industry is making ISBNs obsolete. It seems likely the ISBN will evolve into something else or something far less expensive. For indie authors especially, Amazon is by far the largest seller of our books and as you mentioned, they provide an ASIN for free for Kindle. The same result can be had no matter where you self-publish for digital or print books. In the very near future, indices will probably understand what book is which and who is the author without the need for an expensive ISBN. JMO.

    • Jason, I appreciate your sentiments, and you may end up being correct in your prediction, but for now anyone in the book biz has to deal with the reality of the current situation, which is that book distributors, wholesalers, retail merchants and libraries rely on the ISBN for ordering, inventory control and cataloguing. I don’t want to restrict myself to peddling ebooks on Amazon. The market is much broader than that. So for now, I see the ISBN, if you will, as a necessary evil, and will play the little game. In terms of my investment in the book publishing and marketing process, it’s a relatively small amount of $$$.

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