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Things You Need to Know About ISBN Numbers

Self Publishing Blog

First published on http://blog.bibliocrunch.com.


Did you know that having an ISBN number ups your rank in Google? Or that there is no such thing as an eISBN? A lot of the authors we work with ask whether they need an ISBN? We had a chance to speak to Laura Dawson of Bowker, the company that distributes ISBNs, to get the down and dirty on these elusive numbers.

1) In essence, what is an ISBN?
An ISBN (International Standard Book Number) identifies a particular book in a particular format. It is 13 digits, and starts with 978 or 979. The final digit is a checksum that’s calculated based on the preceding digits.

2) Who should get an ISBN for their book?
Anyone publishing a book that wants the book to be openly traded (outside a walled garden like Amazon) and/or counted in book industry statistical analyses. Also, if you are interested in your book listings being found on the open web (via Google, for example), search engines prioritize books with ISBNs in search results.


3) How many ISBNs should an author get for their book?
One per format. So if you’re publishing in hardcover, paperback, ePub, Kindle, and PDF, you’d need at least four, and if you’re getting those four, you might as well get one for the Kindle edition just to help you track information about the books consistently.


4) Amazon and iBookStore don’t ask for an ISBN. Should an author still get one?
If you want your book to be counted (in Books in Print and other information-gathering organizations), yes. If you want your book to be sold outside those two environments, yes. If you are publishing for friends and family, or for a specific business purpose, and the book is not going to get wide distribution, then probably not.


5) Do you recommend getting my own ISBN or using the one that Amazon includes?
Purchasing your own allows you to be listed as the publisher of your book. It also gives you more control over the information associated with that ISBN (Title, Author, Price, etc.). You have more autonomy and more independence with your own ISBNs.


6) Why can’t authors and publishers use one ISBN to sell all their books in all the forms?
Because in bibliographic databases – in booksellers and libraries – an ISBN corresponds to a specific format. Using a single ISBN to denote multiple formats means that your data will get overwritten in those databases – they are built for that one-to-one correspondence and with tens of millions of ISBNs in these systems, changing that configuration is prohibitive. If you’d like your book to be sold in the traditional book supply chain, it helps to follow the rules that the supply chain relies on.

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