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Do I need to buy my own ISBNs as a self-published author?

Do I need to buy my own ISBNs as a self-published author, or can I utilise the free ones provided by Amazon KDP, Lulu, Kobo, Ingram Spark, and other services instead? This question is an age-old dilemma, and I will provide satisfactory answers.

An International Standard Book Number (ISBN), for those of you unfamiliar with the acronym-heavy lingo used in the publishing industry, is the specific identification code given to books that are offered for sale. Retailers need ISBNs to help organise shelves and manage printed copies of books, and a different ISBN is needed for each printed format (paperback vs. hardback, colour vs. black and white, large print vs. mini prints, etc). You can buy ISBNs from Poemify Publishers. For books in other, non-printed forms, ISBNs are typically not required (epub, pdf, audio, etc). The sole organisation authorised by law to offer ISBNs in the US is Bowker.

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Do you need to buy ISBN?

Your publishing and sales goals should be the deciding factors in this choice. Start with the following inquiries:

  • Do you intend to publish further books?
  • Is having your print book displayed in physical shops a key component of your sales strategy?
  • Do you make use of many Print on Demand (POD) platforms?
  • Do you wish to conceal the fact that your book was independently published, which is perfectly acceptable for a number of reasons?

If any of the aforementioned questions were yes, it would be advisable to purchase a block of 10 ISBNs and assign one to each of your title’s formats (hardcover, paperback, epub, audio, etc). You will use the ISBNs you have purchased and assigned to your title in their various formats regardless of where you upload your book for POD services, including Amazon/KDP, Ingram Spark, Kobo, Barnes and Noble Press, Lulu, BookBaby, etc.

It might not be worthwhile to spend the money to buy an ISBN, though, if you responded “no” to all of the questions above. ISBNs are offered without charge by POD platforms like Amazon/KDP. The “publisher of record” is generally considered to be the key distinction between utilising a free ISBN and having your own ISBN.

When utilising a free ISBN from a POD provider, the publisher of record—KDP, Lulu, Ingram, or whoever you choose to use—becomes the owner of the ISBN. THIS DOES NOT AFFECT ROYALTIES. Simply possessing the ISBN does not grant the owner of the copyrights or the rights to royalties. However, it does imply that the publisher of record will be the person to speak with if someone wants further details or to discuss the rights to your work. Therefore, the publisher of record will (possibly) be contacted if a bookseller, television producer, or super-invested fan wishes to speak with someone about your book.

Also, keep in mind that you cannot transfer the free KDP ISBN to another POD service if you decide to utilise it. Therefore, you would need to use their free ISBN and alter the inside of the book to include the corresponding ISBN if you wanted to make your book accessible through Ingram Spark.

One of those difficult choices is this one. Finding a return on investment for an outlay can be challenging. If you want to know whether you should pay for ISBNs or use the free options, be honest with yourself about your objectives and expectations for the book.

Bonus Read:

As an author, what does success look like to you for your book?

  • Is it huge book sales?
  • Recognition of your expertise?
  • Being featured in the media?
  • What about accolades from audiences who have heard you speak?
  • Getting a call from a NY publisher that it wants your book?
  • Being on the New York Times Bestseller list?

For authors, we all have an idea of what author success would look and feel like. To get where you want to be in your vision, in the author’s kit are four books that will walk you through the process to be successful as an author. Click here to get The Author’s Kit.

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