Table of Contents
What is an ISBN?
You’re probably here because you already know what an Amazon KDP ISBN or just an ISBN is, but I’m going to start with the basics.
ISBN stands for Internation Standard Book Number and it’s the numbering system used across the world to identify books. In order to sell print books through major online retailers, an ISBN is required.
So what is it?
It’s the number associated with the barcode you see on the back of print books. It looks like this:
You can also have ISBNs associated with digital assets such as your eBook or audiobook.
It tracks everything about your book’s metadata, including the title, subtitle, series name, author name, format, edition, and registrant.
So ISBNs actually work on all types of publications and identify what your book is overall.
Free Amazon KDP ISBN vs. Buying One
There are pros and cons to both the free ISBNs provided by most platforms and buying your own. It’s all going to depend on what your goals as a self-publisher are.
When you use a free Amazon KDP ISBN or one through another publishing platform, you’re essentially allowing that platform to own the Imprint of your book.
What does that mean?
It means that Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or whatever platform you’re using will be listed as the publisher of your book. If you buy your own ISBN, it lists whatever you specify as your publisher: you or your brand.
Buying your own ISBN can be expensive depending on where you live. Canadians have the best deal because their ISBNs are free. In the U.S., ISBNs are held under a monopoly called Bowker and just one will cost you $125. That may not seem that bad until you consider that you need a separate ISBN for each format of your book that is available.
For example, if you have an eBook and print version, you’ll need two separate ISBNs because you have two different products. The best way to buy ISBNs is to buy them in bulk because the more you buy, the cheaper they become per number.
Should You Go Free or Paid?
When you publish your book on pretty much any self-publishing platform, you have the choice of a free ISBN or providing your own.
It seems like an easy choice. Free, baby!
However, after attending a three-hour self-publishing workshop hosted by IngramSpark, I learned that not all self-published books are welcomed with open arms or held at the same level as traditionally published books.
They make the quick judgments based on the ISBN associated with your book.
Step back and consider what your goals are as an author.
If you just want more exposure for your brand, to make a little extra cash, or to make publishing your hobby, the free Amazon KDP ISBNs will probably suffice.
If you want to sell your books in brick and mortar bookstores, you’ll need to buy your own ISBN.
Why? Because having an Amazon Imprint in a competing store doesn’t bode well and it will be hard to even get your book in stores without your own ISBN.
If you want your book to be recognized by one ISBN across all booksellers, get your own ISBN. If writing and publishing books is something you’re doing full-time, then you’ll definitely want your own ISBNs.
Having your own ISBN is always going to look more professional. There is still a stigma surrounding self-published book that they are of lower quality than their traditionally published alternatives.
If you’re still unsure, go with the free one. You can always launch a second edition with your own ISBN later on down the road if you change your mind.
Fair warning: If you do this via Amazon KDP without making any other significant changes to your book’s content, you may want to notifiy them first.
Because unpublishing and republishing books used to be a way to game the system to take advantage of the first 30 days promos Amazon does for all new books. Amazon has since cracked down on this practice and if you unpublish and republish without significant changes, you might get slapped.
I’ve seen Amazon terminate accounts without explanation, so just be aware and reach out to KDP if you’re unsure.
Where to Get ISBNs
If you’re going with free Amazon KDP ISBNs, you get them from Amazon during the publishing process. This is the same with most publishing platforms. Usually, it’s just a box your check off.
We touched briefly on where to get paid ISBNs above when discussing free vs. paid. Again, it’s going to depend on where you live.
Although I loathe monopolies like Bowker, I don’t recommend getting your ISBNs from any third party because you can never be sure who owns the Imprint. The whole point of getting your own ISBN is so your brand can be recognized as the owner of that publication.
I also mentioned that it’s $125 for a single ISBN. I bought a block of 1,000 and it was $1500. I’m set for life on ISBNs.
The current prices at Bowker are as follows:
- 1 ISBN – $125
- 10 ISBNs – $295
- 100 ISBNs – $575
- 1000 ISBNs – $1500
SUPER IMPORTANT NOTE:
Bowker, being the rip-off artists that they are, will try and sell you barcodes at ungodly prices. For example, the 10 ISBNs package with 5 barcodes and 1 QR code is $395. A HUNDRED DOLLARS more for 6 pictures.
You can get barcodes and QR codes completely free. THESE DON’T COST ANYTHING!!!
Allow me to save you beaucoups of cash with the help of Dave Chesson:
- Barcode Generator
- QR Code Generator – It can even put a little picture of your book or your logo in it!
When You Shouldn’t Buy an ISBN
Amazon no longer assigns a free Amazon KDP ISBN to low content books. If you want your low content book to have an ISBN, you’ll have to buy your own.
If you’re planning to publishing a lot of low content books, then I’d recommend just going without an ISBN to keep costs down. This removes the risk factor. That way you’re not stacking up a bunch of expenses for books that may or may not turn a profit.
Low content books include, but are not limited to: journals, diaries, log books, and planners.
If you don’t have the discretionary expenses to afford an ISBN, don’t buy one. Figure out what you’re doing first and make a little cash, then you can update your book with an ISBN as I mentioned above. ISBNs are really one of the more minor things for self-publishers. Most of them don’t even sweat it and just go with the free ones.
If you haven’t even written your first draft or published a book at all, start writing. ISBNs shouldn’t even be on your list at this point.
In the end…
If you’re new to self-publishing, I recommend you test the waters first. Before you start throwing money into new ISBNs, make sure you can get a book on the market and generate sales. It’s proof of concept.
Also, where do you see your business in the next five years? Do you ultimately see your book on shelves in brick and mortar stores like Barnes & Noble or smaller bookstore chains?
If so, then getting your ISBNs now may be a sound investment for your future. Then, when you approach a bookstore about carrying your publication, they are more susceptible to ordering copies to stock on their shelves and sell to their customers.