How Many ISBNs Does One Writer Need?

May 10, 2014

More than you realize.

An ISBN, short for International Standard Book Number, is a unique identifier for a particular version of a book in a specific format.

You will need one for each edition of your book, each format, and every translation. For example, if you use one ISBN for your paperback, here’s when you will need a new ISBN:

Library

Fixing typos No
Price change No
Redesigned cover Yes
Ebook versions Not needed for Kindle, but new ISBN needed for other formats
Audio book Yes
Hardcover Yes
New publisher Yes
New size Yes
Translation Yes
Adding a preface, introduction, appendix or other new content Yes
New book in a series Yes
Excerpts and supplemental materials if sold separately Yes

 

In the United States, all ISBN are issued by R.R. Bowker.  Here is the Price List:

One ISBN $125
Ten ISBN $250
100 ISBN $575
1000 ISBN $1000

 

Yes, these prices are outrageous; the result of monopoly pricing. You will be tempted to use a free or low-price ISBN from your POD provider.

Obtaining an ISBN through your POD provider has its drawbacks. At CreateSpace, as of the time I am writing this, if you use one of their free ISBNs, then the publisher of your book will be listed as CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, which is like screaming to the world that you are a rookie indie author.

If you purchase one of their Custom ISBNs for $10, then the publisher will listed under your name or your imprint name, but you may use that ISBN only for copies of your book provided by CreateSpace. Should you decide to use a different POD provider to print your books, you will need to obtain a new ISBN.

CreateSpace also offers a Custom Universal ISBN for $99. That is for a single ISBN. Since you will need several ISBNs, it makes more sense to buy a package of ten directly from Bowker for $250. You may use your ISBNs with CreateSpace and other POD providers.

ISBNs are not transferable, so do not buy an ISBN from a friend or through an advertisement. If you purchase an ISBN in the secondary market, there is a risk the number could be cancelled on you.

You cannot recycle ISBNs. If a version of your book goes out of print, you cannot reuse its ISBN for another version or another book.

Bottom line, you should buy a package of at least 10 ISBNs. If you plan to publish several books in various formats, consider investing in 100 ISBNs. They do not expire.

UPDATE: Don’t use different ISBNs for the same book on IngramSpark and CreateSpace. You’ll end up with two different listings on Amazon and at Bowkers. I made that mistake.

If you will be using both IngramSpark and CreateSpace to distribute the same book, be sure to use the SAME ISBN for both.

There is a trick to this. Set up and release your book on IngramSpark first. Their set-up process and review process takes longer than CreateSpace’s, so it’s good to get that one started anyway. While you are waiting, you can start the process with CreateSpace, but don’t give final approval of the book until you have completed and released the book through IngramSpark.

When you are setting up the book on IngramSpark, you may be able to opt out of distribution through Amazon. I have heard people tell me that, but I could never find that option and suspect it is no longer available.

On the CreateSpace site, you want to opt out of Extended Distribution.

If you release the ISBN through CreateSpace first, IngramSpark won’t let you release a book with the same ISBN without jumping through a lot of hoops. I know a lot of people trying to jump through those hoops, without success!! IngramSpark seems weak on customer support,

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5 responses to “How Many ISBNs Does One Writer Need?”

  1. DiDi says:

    So, as I understand this–if an author publishes with Createspace and doesn’t not select expanded distribution, then decides to use IngramSpark for their expanded distribution options, that will require TWO ISBN numbers? I’ve been searching for an answer to this and stumbled upon your site. Thanks so much for offering your information. May I also ask you–if you select an imprint name (for IS), does that mean you have to create the business for it as well (in the USA)? By creating the business–register the imprint name as a business, perhaps buy retail license, etc. I’ve had a retail license for another business, but it didn’t make much money and I’m giving it up. If I’m not selling many books myself (using my POD options instead), do I need all the formal biz setup? Thanks!

    • Wait! Don’t use two ISBNs. I did that I ended up with two listings on Amazon, and now I am having trouble getting IngramSpark to let me use the same ISBN as the CreateSpace version.
      I have since learned that the best process is to set your book up on IngramSpark first with your ISBN. After you are up and running on IngramSpark, then you release the same book with the same ISBN through CreateSpace but don’t use Expanded Distribution. Let me know if this works for you.

  2. DiDi says:

    I actually started with Createspace first–so that’s not an option. I did NOT use expanded distribution with them, because I intended to do this all along. I did attach the printed book to a 2nd ISBN, but it hasn’t been released (through Bowker)–so I presume that one is wasted. Thanks for the reply and I LOVE your site.
    -D

  3. Jay Speyerer says:

    I’m publishing other people’s books under my company name. Is there a problem using some of the block of 10 ISBNs I bought a while back?

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