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 ♦  Author: David Loofbourrow 1414
 ♦ Categories: Opinion

To ISBN or not to ISBN

We've got your number...

As PGWI slogs down the road to publishing our first anthology, we are confronted with a myriad of questions and decisions. It often seems that one answer is dependent on three decisions we should have already made. At each corner we find another set of options to research, ponder, discuss and decide.

We addressed the idea of ISBN registration early in our process. We found several online vendors selling packages at a discount, combined with other services and lots of advice. One of our members had purchased a group of ISBN numbers from her agent and hadn't done much research beyond that. Our corporate pool of ISBN knowledge was pretty small.

We made a tentative decision to purchase one of the discount packages, and moved on to more pressing things like finishing the stories and creating cover art.

Then we began to research publishing. I had some experience with Kindle and e-book platforms, but the group wanted the ability to at least have some hard copies. We (the editors) agreed to look into it.

About that same time, as I was expanding my marketing consciousness, I purchased an excellent Kindle e-book "Make Your Book Work Harder: How To Use Multiple Platforms to Make More Money" by Nancy Hendrickson and Michelle Campbell-Scott. One of their first recommendations is to also offer your e-book in print - along with an audio edition, various e-book platforms beyond Kindle, and, if appropriate, turning it into a course. My take-away is that - while audio books or hard-cover books may not be the biggest money-makers - offering on all of these options greatly increases your chances of being 'found' in the Amazon or Google searches. 

So 'hi-ho, hi-ho, it's off to print we go...' We begin to research self-publisher resources - otherwise known as "Print on Demand" (POD) printers and distributors. More on that later...

What, you may ask, does this POD stuff have to do with ISBN? It turns out that many of the self-publishing companies (both POD and e-book) offer their customers FREE ISBN numbers! This being St. Patrick's Day, I see pots of gold at the end of this rainbow...

But wait - the other shoe is plummeting to the floor.

All of the book's editions, I learn, will each need it's OWN unique ISBN number! They add up: I can see we may need three, four or more ISBNs for our anthology as we put our book on the several platforms.

Pricing for these puppies is amazingly expensive - if you "pay retail". It seemed like we were going to be in it for $375 at the individual price of $125 per ISBN. But the discounts are very generous if you by ISBN in groups or "blocks": (check current prices at the U.S. agent for ISBN here)

  • 1 for $125
  • 10 for $295 (approx. $30 each)
  • 100 for $575 (approx. $6 each)

Still... why not get free from the printer? 

It turns out that "Free" comes with a price. When these publishing companies provide the ISBN, they also register the book / audio / e-book / course in their own names!  It is true that they are 'publishing' the book in one sense of the word 'printing'. And they are, in some cases, distributing the book to retailers. They do not claim 'Publisher' rights - you retain those. So is it really a problem?

I feel the point is if we (and you) are going to "SELF" PUBLISH then we/you should get credit for being the PUBLISHER. Our writer's group plan on producing a book every year and we want the "meta-data" in the ISBN to clearly represent our efforts. If the printer gets the 'published by' props for our book, it would be like the latest Lucas or Disney film being 'produced' by the company who developed the film. 

And it is not just pride of ownership at stake. Our name needs to found by Web and database searches. If we use a different POD or e-book distributor next time, we don't want a variety of names on our books. We prefer to have full control of the information about our books.

A highly recommended blog post "ISBN 101 For Self-Publishers" by Joel Friedlander of the very useful site will give you all the information you need about all things ISBN. Especially helpful is the section titled "The problem with free ISBN".

This article tipped the scales for us to decide to purchase our own ISBNs for this book (and the next and maybe for the rest of our lives, if we pop for the block of 100!) It adds another task to the check-list, and some additional cost, but we feel the benefits outweigh the hassle.

Now on to bar-codes, copyrights, disclaimers and credits...

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