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What is an ISBN and Why Do I Need one?

International Standard Book Number (ISBN) - what is it and why is it important?

Here is an excerpt from the workbook, "Enhancing Your Communication DNA: Publishing for Beginners" that gives some insight into the publishing world.

The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a 13 digit number that uniquely identifies your book. An ISBN is assigned to each edition and variation (except reprintings) of a book (eBook, Paperback, hardcopy, audiobook, etc.). Any book that is published and is sold through a distributor, requires an ISBN. The purpose of the ISBN is to establish and identify the book, making it more efficient to market through book sellers, libraries, wholesalers and distributors.

The U.S. ISBN Agency at Bowker is the only official source of ISBN’s in the United States. No other source can assign legitimate ISBNs to US publishers! Once your book is assigned an ISBN, it can be manufactured for sale anywhere in the world. Note: Distributors such as Amazon and Publishers can provide the ISBN, however, they purchase the ISBN from Bowker. In the case of Amazon, they can provide the ISBN for your book for free, your book shows up as self-published and the book is then registered to Amazon with potential limitations of flexibility to publish your book through other distributors. Publishers who purchase the ISBN have flexibility to use their ISBN's through multiple distributors. They may offer a discount for the ISBN since they can order them in bulk from Bowker, therefore passing the savings to the author.

Case and point. I met a young lady who thought she was publishing her book through a publisher. Unfortunately, when her book went "live" on Amazon, the book was listed as being "Independently Published" or self-published. There is nothing wrong with being independently or self-published as long as that is what you were expecting. The "publisher" that she worked with did not have an "imprint" of a publishing company so when her book was published on Amazon, it showed as being "Independently Published" through Amazon where the "publisher" used the free Amazon ISBN. There is nothing wrong with having a book self-published or using the free Amazon ISBN, but there are some perceptions that the book has not been published according to literary standards and if you are paying to have a book published, you want to have it published by a legitimate publisher with an official publishing imprint that gives the book the status of having been professionally published.

When publishing your book, you should ask yourself the following questions related to the ISBN:

Q: Do I want my book to be independently or self-published?

A: If your book is primarily for personal satisfaction of telling your story and making it available to family, friends, social contacts and limited casual shoppers on Amazon, you may want to consider the free version of the ISBN that Amazon provides. This is a legitimate ISBN, purchased through Bowker, however, Amazon has the rights to the ISBN and you may not be able to publish your book through other distributors if you decide to expand distribution. One option is to use the Amazon ISBN and if you decide to expand in the future, you can create a new edition of your book and purchase an ISBN through Bowker or a publisher.

Q: Do I want my book to have the designation of a publisher and the ability to use other distribution channels in the future (such as Barnes & Noble, Ingram Spark or libraries)?

A: If so, find a publisher that has an official "imprint" and can provide the ISBN for you. Because they are providing the ISBN, they will also want to ensure that the book meets their publishing standards since it will be linked to their publishing company.

In order for the publishing industry to thrive, books must be published with the utmost level of expertise and professionalism. If you want your book to meet the standards of the publishing industry, you should start by having an ISBN provided by a publishing company with an official publishing imprint such as Enhanced DNA Publishing.

If you want more information about publishing and the services provided by Enhanced DNA Publishing, stay tuned to this series of Q&A or contact us directly.


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