As I get ready to self-publish my own material both as print-on-demand (POD) and e-books, I have found myself confused about a number of things I thought I knew a lot about. One subject in particular keeps surfacing: ISBNs, or International Standard Book Numbers.
Most subsidy presses or publishing services companies offer to provide authors with an ISBN; however, I know taking them up on their offer does not necessarily represent the best option. That said, publishing with a publishing services company seems an easier route to take than buying my own ISBN and finding a printer. Yet, I want my publishing company’s name on the spine of the book, something I won’t get if I go with a publishing services company that purchases an ISBN for me.
I wanted to know what to do.
So, I approached Sue Collier, who I knew to be an authority on the subject of self-publishing and a person always willing to share her wealth of information. Sue is the coauthor of The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing, 5th Edition, and has been working with authors and small presses for nearly two decades, providing writing, editing, production, and promotions work for hundreds of book projects. She knows her stuff. Here’s what she has to say on this subject.
ISBNs—Should You Buy Your Own ISBN
or Allow Your Publishing Services Company to Assign One of Theirs?
by Sue Collier
Does it really matter?
Yes it does.
Here’s the bottom line: If you don’t purchase your own ISBN under your own publishing company name, then you are not the publisher. If you use a publishing services company and let them assign your book an ISBN, they are the publisher, not you.
Let’s backtrack a bit and talk about just what an ISBN is. An ISBN (which stands for International Standard Book Number) is to a book what your Social Security number is to you. An ISBN is your ID in the book world.
This thirteen-digit numeral unmistakably identifies the title, edition, binding, and publisher of a given work. The ISBN is a mandatory sales tool if you intend to make your book available in bookstores, as it provides the basis for identifying books in all industry-wide systems. Bookstores, wholesalers, and distributors keep track of books solely by their ISBNs.
So how do you go about getting this little goody? Go to Bowker’s site at www.myidentifiers.com. New publishers must first create an account by establishing a username and password to take them through both the ISBN and the Books In Print (BIP) processes. You can buy a single ISBN for $125 or a block of ten for $250 (the best option if you are going to publish more than one book).
The POD publisher services companies will try to tell you that it doesn’t matter whether you use their assigned ISBN or obtain your own. But it does because using their ISBN will ensure they are listed as the publisher of record in BIP as well as with any distributor (Hmmm…sounds a lot like a vanity press, doesn’t it?). Consequently, all orders and inquiries will go to them.
Why would this matter? Let’s take a few hypothetical situations: What if a book club discovers your book, loves it, and wants to adopt it for an alternate selection? The club will contact your Internet publisher who can’t handle the deep discounts needed and thus has no financial stake in such a transaction. What do you think will happen? Zip. Zero. Nada. Suppose a corporation is interested in purchasing one thousand copies of your book, contacts the Internet publisher but you never hear about it. What if a distributor wants to take it on but finds the economics aren’t feasible? Tough luck. Any of these scenarios can cost you thousands of dollars.
In addition, if a POD publishing services company is listed on your book as the publisher, your book may immediately be disregarded by bookstores and potential reviewers as a poorly done vanity press project. Consider too the fact that your book may be associated with others done by this company; for instance, a book on raising children could be listed right alongside erotic fiction.
Another thing to keep in mind is that many of the POD publisher services companies do their printing at Lightning Source. As an indie publisher with your own ISBN, you can go directly to Lightning Source, open your own account, and opt for national trade distribution with Ingram. Why bring the POD publisher services company into the equation? You can create your own team of publishing experts. Plus, if you decide later to sever ties with this company, you’ll have to obtain a new ISBN for your book anyway; why not simply own the number in the first place?
As the publisher of record, you have another advantage: You can move your book to a different printer if you need to. If you started with CreateSpace but decide to move it to Lightning Source, you can do that. Are sales of your POD book starting to take off? Maybe you’ll want to print an offset run so you can reduce your per-unit cost and make more money from sales.
If you are serious about self-publishing and selling books, the advantages of owning your ISBN far outweigh any disadvantages.
To read Part II of this blog post, Do You Need an ISBN for Your Ebook?, click here.
About the Author
Self-publishing expert Sue Collier is coauthor of The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing,5th Edition (Writer’s Digest Books, 2010) and the forthcoming Jump Start Your Books Sales, 2nd Edition (Communication Creativity, 2011). She has been working with authors and small presses for nearly two decades, providing writing, editing, production, and promotions work for hundreds of book projects. Visit her website and blog at Self-Publishing Resources.