Speaking as someone who’s bought a block of 100 ISBNs….
Don’t let Bowker (the exclusive US seller of ISBNs) take your money for stupid reasons.
Bowker recently sent out an email with a “sale” notification, and the ad had the following text:
Most publishers produce at least five versions of a book (in print and electronic formats), each of which requires an ISBN.
THIS IS PATENTLY FALSE.
From the latest Author Earnings report:
30% of the ebooks being purchased in the U.S. do not use ISBN numbers and are invisible to the industry’s official market surveys and reports; all the ISBN-based estimates of market share reported by Bowker, AAP, BISG, and Nielsen are wildly wrong.
In the January 21 dataset, we found that:
20% of Amazon’s overall Top-10 selling ebooks did not have ISBNs.
16% of Amazon’s overall Top-100 selling ebooks did not have ISBNs.
34% of Amazon’s overall Top-1,000 selling ebooks did not have ISBNs.
37% of Amazon’s overall Top-10,000 selling ebooks did not have ISBNs.
But…Don’t E-Book Vendors Require ISBNs?
Exactly zero of the major e-book vendors require an ISBN. Even Apple, which used to require one, no longer does.
So When Do You Need an ISBN?
- Some people who know their ebooks may land on major bestseller lists use them to make their books more trackable for said list maintainers. And then there’s the rest of us.
- Print books sold in bookstores, as they are ordered by ISBN.
- Library books (print, not e-book).
- Audiobook if you’re going to sell physical media.
For most print books, you’ll need an ISBN from somewhere in order to get into libraries or bookstores. If you only ever intend to sell direct, then you may not need one.
However, there are nuances.
- If you want to make your book available to libraries and you intend to publish through Amazon’s CreateSpace, you’ll have to use their ISBN to use their service to market to libraries. I’m not sure this is the best route, frankly, because CreateSpace only publishes trade paperbacks, and libraries strongly prefer hardcover.
If you publish through CreateSpace and also publish an e-book through Amazon, you can get real page numbers. This is very useful if your book has any sort of academic interest (even if it’s fiction), because that allows for better citations in homework and papers.
If you publish through Ingram Spark, you can get hardcovers, and they have great distribution through bookstores and libraries.
Let’s Use a Classic Publisher Example
Let’s say you want to publish in hardcover, audiobook (digital only), and e-book first, then release trade paperback. How many ISBNs do you need?
|Ingram Spark (hardcover)||Yes||55% discount (45% royalty to you, less production costs) for widest distribution|
|Ingram Spark (softcover)||Yes||55% discount (45% royalty to you, less production costs) for widest distribution|
|CreateSpace (softcover)||Yes||40% discount (60% royalty to you, less production costs) for within-Amazon distribution, can use same ISBN as Ingram Spark softcover|
|Google Play||No||52% royalty so long as they don’t discount your retail price, for which they are famous|
So, how many ISBNs do you need for that scenario? Two.
I honestly haven’t looked into audiobooks enough to know what the situation is there, but I’m guessing that Amazon covers what you need if you want to sell through ACX.
Should You Use an ISBN Provided by a Service?
If you don’t buy the ISBN yourself, you are not the publisher of record.