Self-publishing and ISBN's: Are they really worth buying?

Brian G Turner

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So, when I began my self-publishing journey, there was a lot of talk online about ISBN numbers - specifically, a lot of people talking about how they bought their own, to retain full control.

But a year on, this is beginning to seem like a pointless expense to me. The ISBN is not your book, merely an edition. And if you're publishing through Amazon only, they'll provide you with an ISBN for that book.

Don't want Amazon to publish that book with that ISBN? Then simply delete it from your book shelf.

And that's it?

Perhaps it's useful across multiple platforms - I believe Kobo and Nook may also require a ISBN, but again will provide one. So if you have only the one ISBN, then perhaps it makes managing ISBN numbers easier.

But is that really at all important?

Just asking, because as those who've bought them will now, ISBN's are not cheap, and must be bought in bulk.

And the whole issue of "control" of your ISBN number looks irrelevant to me at this point.

Anyone want to correct me? :)
 

thaddeus6th

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You don't even need an ISBN with Amazon for e-books, as far as I know. Smashwords will assign free ones (necessary for distribution to other retailers, the main advantage of Smashwords).

Could be wrong, but I've never paid for one and it doesn't seem to have adversely affected me.
 

Cathbad

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And the whole issue of "control" of your ISBN number looks irrelevant to me at this point.

Exactly. No rights are given or lost with an ISBN.

Since you can get your own ISBN's on your own, there's no reason at all to pay Amazon for them. And the only reason I can see to get your own is if you form a company and plan on publishing several books by many authors: You will be able to get a string of ISBN numbers that are in order, identifying them as coming from your company.
 

Serendipity

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ISBNs are basically a catalogue number for all published books with an inbuilt method for checking that the printed digits are correct i.e. if one digit is wrong, the method will tell which digit and what it should be. It's unique to your book. Nobody else can have that number. It makes life easier for finding books, making sure the big libraries only store so many copies of a book etc etc. Commercial value, zilch.
 

Brian G Turner

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That's the thing - Amazon will provide a free ISBN for your paperback.

So it's unnecessary to buy your own - unless, as above, you plan on actually being a publishing company, publishing multiple authors over multiple platforms.
 

Nick B

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Even publishing, unless you are planning to get paperbacks into shops and libraries, they are not necessary. So even publishing multiple titles/authors via e-book and pod, they are not needed.
 

Overread

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One has to wonder though if ebooks will eventually rise to the same requirements as paperbacks in requiring a unique identifier; ergo an ISBN. It might well be prudent to future-proof yourself and ensure that your publications do have ISBNs; and if you get them free by selling through Amazon then that would seem the best course of action; netting you not only a huge market reach but also the ISBN.
 

Nick B

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They already do, Amazon's version is the ASIN. Should ISBN's become a requirement, then I'll get them. Until then, they are just another unnecessary expense.
 

ralphkern

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Nick just beat me to saying the ASIN is more crucial as an identifier for SPs.
 

tinkerdan

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ISBN locks you into a specific registered format for each number such as Author name; title; media format such as hardbound.
Each media has it's own specific number
Paper edition has one
Hard edition has another
E-book another

Most vendors offer them as part of service though are usually not upset if you have your own.

They are necessary when you want to distribute the material as most of the retailers require them.

Buying blocks of them might become necessary if you decide to become a publisher of other author's works.
 

Amelia Faulkner

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If you want your paperbacks to appear in bookshops, then you're going to have to buy some ISBN's, because *deep breath*...

CreateSpace say their extended distribution can distribute to bookstores. And it can, but bookstores will not buy from CS because CS does not allow bookstores to tear off the front cover for a refund of unsold stock. So, by and large, books published through CS will not be stocked in a bookstore. They may from time to time be directly ordered by a customer through their local book shop, but no employee is going to stock your book and fill shelf space with it.

If that is your goal, then you will need to use a printer/distributor who does accept refunds and by and large those do not provide free ISBNs.
 

tinkerdan

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I agree with this assessment::
CreateSpace say their extended distribution can distribute to bookstores. And it can, but bookstores will not buy from CS because CS does not allow bookstores to tear off the front cover for a refund of unsold stock. So, by and large, books published through CS will not be stocked in a bookstore. They may from time to time be directly ordered by a customer through their local book shop, but no employee is going to stock your book and fill shelf space with it.
::However If you are self publishing and if we are talking about distribution in bookstores(brick and mortar) then you are going to have to do a lot of work with those anyway and probably lay out a considerable sum of money along with having a good marketing plan that you take to a publisher who will print them in the format preferred by the brick and mortar stores. [At least that has been my experience with those since they don't generally take POD published books.]Most POD's are distributed as thoroughly as possible through on line stores. And the POD publisher will supply the ISBNs in many cases. Those could actually be used in the Brick and Mortars though you still have to go the extra step of taking the work to an accepted publisher with your marketing plan in hand and pay for the whole thing.[Once again this is my limited experience with this.]
 

Ogma

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My understanding is that once you put a paperback up, whether you use a Createspace ISBN or no, it never disappears from Amazon because of the possibility of second-hand market sales.

One hidden cost of ISBN's is you generally have to submit copies at your own expense to the libraries of record in your jurisdiction. In the UK, it's the British Library plus about five other libraries if they request a copy within a year of publication. In Ireland, that applies, except Trinity is mandatory and there's also seven other Irish college libraries also mandatory.
 

Edward M. Grant

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CreateSpace say their extended distribution can distribute to bookstores. And it can, but bookstores will not buy from CS because CS does not allow bookstores to tear off the front cover for a refund of unsold stock.

Well, no. They're trade paperbacks, not mass-market, so they're generally expected to be returned, not destroyed.

The issue with ISBNs seems to be that many book stores won't stock books with a Createspace ISBN, but may stock a Createspace book if you use your own ISBN. But the odds of a book store stocking a self-published book that hasn't become a best-seller are very low in any case.

Best option is to move to Canada. We get all the ISBNs we can eat... for free.
 

Brian G Turner

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And CreateSpace does not allow returns from book shops.

Which makes complete sense. The only other retail example I can think of where undamaged stock may be returned is high-value electrical goods. Everything else has to be sold off at a discount.

The argument is that book shops need this facility in order to take a risk in putting debut authors on their shelves - but this isn't apparently happening very much anyway. So the situation no longer seems so justified.
 

Edward M. Grant

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And CreateSpace does not allow returns from book shops.

I've never managed to get a definitive answer on that, but people who should know tell me that they can return Createspace books.

And it would make no sense when writers have been told by book stores that they won't order books with Createspace ISBNs, but will order he same Createspace book if the writer uses their own ISBN. The return policy is exactly the same for both.
 

Amelia Faulkner

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Hm. Friends of mine who work in bookstores in the USA tell me they can't return Createspace books and that's why they aren't allowed to stock them.

Could be that they've been told this by management who don't want to say the words, "I'm not putting self-published on the shelves!"
 

sknox

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OK. Pretty clear answers regarding ebooks and physical books into bookstores.

What about distributing to libraries? Does an ISBN figure in there? Where I live, we have several libraries but only one independent bookstore. And only one chain for that matter.
 

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