ePub Author Question – How Do I Get an ISBN and When Do I Need One?

As soon as you begin selling your books through retailers – both online book stores and brick-and-mortar book stores – each version of each one of your books will need a separate ISBN. An ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is a 13-digit code that identifies what book and which version of that book is being bought at retail. 

A single ISBN indicates the format of a specific book. For example, a single book sold as an eBook, a hardcopy, and a paper back should have at least 3 ISBNs assigned to it. Many people, even the official dispenser of ISBNs, will tell you that you need a separate ISBN for each version of eBook that you sell. That would mean a separate ISBN for the .mobi file uploaded to Kindle, a separate ISBN for an .ePub version sent to the other online book stores, and a third ISBN for the .pdf version. That’s not true. Just get a single ISBN to cover all eBook versions of your book.

If your book ever makes an eBook best-selling list, you would want all of your eBook versions to have the same ISBN so that all eBook sales will be tracked together. You don’t want your eBook sales information split up as would happen if different versions of the same eBook had different ISBNs. Certainly the .ePub sales from Barnes and Noble should be combined with the .mobi Amazon Kindle sales for the same eBook. ISBNs are sales tracking tools and should be thought of as such.

You get your ISBNs from R. R. Bowker, the U.S. Agency of the International Standard Book Numbering Convention. R. R. Bowker is the originator of ISBNs for U.S.-based publishers. Publishers in other countries can only obtain ISBNs from their local ISBN Agency, a directory of which can be found on the International ISBN Agency website.

You can purchase your ISBNs and assign them to your books by going to R. R. Bowker’s web site, https://www.myidentifiers.com/, and performing the following 3 steps:

1) Set up an account an account with Bowker at that web site. You’ll need to provide your business name and your contact information.

2) Log in to your Bowker account and purchase one or more ISBNs. As soon as you purchase them, they are available to be assigned to your books instantly.

3) Log in to your Bowker account and click on My Account. You’ll see a list of all of your purchased ISBNs both assigned and unassigned.  Assign one of your available ISBNs to a book by providing the book title and other information. That’s it. You’ve just assigned an ISBN to a book.

At the time of this writing, you can purchase ISBNs in units of 1, 10, 100, or 1,000.  The prices of each are as follows:

Single ISBN $125
10 ISBNs $250
100 ISBNs $575
1,000 ISBNs $1,000

I suggest that you buy quite a few more than you think you’ll need. My first purchase was 10 ISBNs and I went through them in about 2 months. My next purchase was 100 ISBNs, which I should have done initially since I am going through them so quickly. If you just plan to write one version of one book, there are author servicing companies that can provide an ISBN to you. In this case, they will be listed as the publisher of the book.

If you are a serious about being an Indie (independent) author and anticipating writing more books, I strongly recommend purchasing your own ISBNs. I would personally never consider authoring and selling a book without owning the ISBN.

When you purchase your ISBNs from Bowker, you can also buy Bookland barcodes. If your book is sold in hardcopy, you’ll need a barcode on the cover. However, if you are a self-published author and use a company called Lightning Source to create your hardcopies (I can highly recommend Lightning Source for print-on-demand since they have done a great job for me), you don’t need to purchase barcodes from Bowker. Lightning Source will create a barcode for your book. This barcode will be part of the cover artwork template that they send to you to prepare your book for upload to them.


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