An ISBN, or International Book Standard Number, categorizes a book. Each separate edition and variation of a publication gets identified by its ISBN.
Let’s start at the origin of the acronym: ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number, and exactly as its name suggests, it was initially created to regulate the way the world categorizes books around the globe. If you are writing or using the services of a ghostwriter for a specific publication or edition of a book, the ISBN will guarantee that you get precisely what you are looking for.
The purpose of the ISBN is to establish and identify one title or one unique edition of a title from one specific publisher. An ISBN allows more effective promotion and classification of a product by booksellers, public libraries, schools, and retailers. Digital book suppliers also track and report a publication’s sales through its ISBN.
An ISBN is different from a barcode. The barcode that is located on the back of a book stems from the book’s ISBN. An ISBN is a specific number that is needed for the type of format your book is published in. For example, your digital book will not have the same ISBN in print form. Let’s look at what an ISBN is, what it does, and why you need one.
Things You Need to Know About an ISBN
If you are still unsure of what an ISBN is, look at it like your book's own fingerprint. It is totally exclusive and unique. Nobody will have your book’s specific ISBN, it’s yours alone. Every number provides information about your publication. Individuals track your book through it’s ISBN, it’s fingerprint, it’s own identity document, so to speak. It also gives your book credibility, which is crucial for both you and your book’s success.
Do I need an ISBN as an Author?
Your ISBN helps people to find your work. This helps drive up your book sales. Whether you’re printing or publishing as an ebook, an ISBN is a vital part of your book’s success.
Your publication’s ISBN classifies and categorizes it, and it’s generally printed on the back of the book as well as on the title page. ISBNs allocated prior to 2007 have 10 digits, whereas books published from 2008 onwards have a 13-digit number.
Your book’s metadata is read using the ISBN—information such as the publisher, the book’s title, and the country it was published in—and can be identified by scanning it. If you just want to print a book as a once-off private read, an ISBN is not essential. But if you want to sell your book or give copies away to a widespread audience, you definitely need one.
If you are part of a publishing house, or if you are using your own private publisher, you will be assigned an ISBN, which will be linked to that specific publisher. Some facilities do charge a minimal fee for ISBNs, but most large publishing houses purchase ISBNs in bundles and then give them autonomously to their writers.
How Do I Buy an ISBN?
You usually get an ISBN assigned to you if you use an on-demand publishing company or self-publishing institution, so you are probably asking yourself, why pay for one then?
The tricky part with these ISBNs is that you can only use them on the specific networks the publishing companies distribute through.
So if you get a free ISBN from one trader, you won’t have permission to use it through other retailers. Every retailer will assign you another unique ISBN, and eventually you sit with multiple numbers for the same title, book, and format. The more you try to distribute your book, the more ISBNs you collect. Just imagine how amateurish and substandard your publication looks to a large bookstore!
Purchasing your own ISBN immediately makes your book look more professional. Remember, each free ISBN classifies that specific self-publishing company as your publisher, and some suppliers will refuse to stock your publication. All of these problems can be avoided by merely obtaining your personal ISBN.
If I Make Changes to my Book, Do I Need a New ISBN?
If you only made a few slight changes to your book and then just reprinted it because of spelling differences in various countries or minimal formatting problems, you don’t have to buy or get a new ISBN assigned.
If your book has major editing changes or it is classified as a Second Edition, a New and Revised, or an Updated version, it is regarded as a new publication and you will have to obtain a new ISBN.
Different Formats and ISBNs
Individual formats need separate ISBNs. This makes it easier to distribute the correct book in the correct format. For example, if a hardback is ordered instead of a paperback, both the supplier and the customer can be self-assured that they will obtain the exact format. Even different digital publications need their own unique ISBNs.
Do ISBNs Expire?
ISBN numbers will never expire regardless of their age, but they can be invalid. This usually happens if the number is missing a digit, the country is incorrect, or other inconsistencies. If your ISBN shows that it is invalid, a new, original, unused ISBN will have to be assigned to your book. You usually will get new stickers or labels manufactured, and they will have to be placed on each book. Every industry record will also have to be updated with the correct ISBN.
How Many ISBN Numbers Do I Need?
As mentioned before, you need an original, unique ISBN for every type of book you publish, regardless of whether it is a hardback, paperback, ebook, audiobook, large print, or any special editions.
Most writers have their books published in paperback and ebook format, so they require two ISBNs. Numerous authors swiftly realize that it is cheaper to acquire a block of ISBNs if they are planning on publishing several books to keep their per-unit costs low. Even if you write an ebook and the specific online retailer tells you that you do not need an ISBN, it is still suggested that you get one assigned just to ensure that your book can be clearly identified and retailed on all the platforms you would like to be listed on.
Do I Need an ISBN Barcode for Every Format?
An ISBN barcode is a machine-readable version of your book’s ISBN. If you are not planning to retail in a wholesaler setting, you won’t need the barcode; but it is suggested that you do have one, as it is standard practice.
Some institutions will try to sell you an additional barcode as well as your 13-digit ISBN, but it is not a prerequisite to purchase one. If you make use of KDP to self-publish your book, you can ask KDP for an ISBN and your own barcode, which will be generated for you.
By using the KDP cover generator, it automatically creates your barcode for you. You can even create your own cover that doesn’t have a barcode on it yet and upload it to KDP. It will add a barcode to your cover using the number which you provide them with.
You can also explore the internet for free barcode generators. As long as you make sure the barcodes are working properly by using a scanning app to read the code, it will be perfectly acceptable.
ISBN for KDP
KDP is an online self-publishing site that lets you publish your books in various formats.
What Does KDP Offer?
They offer direct entry on Amazon, as well as the opportunity to increase your book’s accessibility on an international level, making it available to potential customers around the globe. You also keep all your rights as author, which is something a traditional publishing house rarely permits.
Can I Use KDP for Content Published on Another Platform?
As long as you are the rightful owner of the publication, you can use KDP. Your book will already have a current ISBN from the previous publisher, but if the book has the same title, author name, and binding form, the ISBN can remain on KDP. If there were significant alterations made to the book’s particulars, it will need to be published as a new edition and will be assigned a new ISBN. There is one condition where your book cannot be retailed on other platforms, and that is if you registered your ebook on KDP Select, which makes it limited to sales from Amazon only.
ISBN, Your Book’s Identity
To self-publish is difficult, that is a fact, but it’s worth it! ISBNs are just part of the logistics; another phase of your journey, the final piece in the puzzle before publishing your book is complete. As soon as your publication has its ISBN, your book has its own identity, and the real fun can begin! Now that you know what an ISBN is, what it does, and why you need to get one, we hope your journey to becoming a number one bestselling author can continue.