ISBN : The Complete Guide

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When it comes to discussions around books and publishing, we all know the most exciting topic at the table: how to get an ISBN.

We know not everyone is thrilled by the idea of obtaining a serial number but, just like editing and design, they’re a critical part of self publishing. Luckily, we’re here to answer all of your questions on the subject.

What is an ISBN number?

An International Standard Book Number, or ISBN, is a 13-digit code used as a unique identifier for books. An ISBN is assigned to each edition of a publication, enabling publishers, bookstores, libraries, and readers to quickly find titles.

An ISBN number never expires. Even very old numbers with only 10 digits can be converted into a 13-digit code.

How to read an ISBN

All standard ISBNs comprise of five parts that tell us the following:

  1. The number 978 or 979 indicates that the digits are a book code
  2. The country or language group of the publication
  3. The publisher
  4. The title of the publication
  5. The check digit — which, in a non-technical nutshell, indicates that the number has been verified

ISBNs are fixed and non-transferable, which basically means that if you publish both a paperback and ebook version of the same book, you will need separate numbers for each format. If you then decide to publish the ebook in a different language, you’ll need a new ID for that version as well — so on and so forth.

Who should get an ISBN?

But before you make up your mind, let’s quickly cover why there might be value in this 13-digit ID.

Your long-term publishing goals should contribute to your decision to/not to buy an ISBN. If your plan is to publish multiple novels and to brand yourself as a legitimate publisher, buying your own identifiers is a good idea for administrative and professional purposes — when you own your own number, you get to choose what name appears as the publisher.

It will also allow you to keep your sales options open. While indie authors should absolutely offer their publications as ebooks, and listing your book on the top 4 retailers is a no-brainer, there are many other avenues to consider — such as brick-and-mortar bookstores, and libraries. Without an ISBN, you rope yourself off from those avenues and their valuable potential for sales.

A quick word about libraries: They may not be the first thing that jumps to an indie author’s mind when they think of viable places for their book, but in the United States, libraries spend over $3 billion annually on reading materials. So you shouldn’t discount them. Their biggest supplier is OverDrive, who circulated more than 105 million e-books to libraries in 2015. They also supply to retailers. But to get in on this action, your book requires an ISBN.

Lastly, you’ve probably never thought of buying a book and then changed your mind because you noticed it didn’t have one of these numbers. That’s because readers don’t really care about them. However, to just get your book in front of readers means competing with traditional publishers — and in this competitive arena, we generally adhere to the notion that every bit helps. If you want your book to look as professional as possible, you might want to consider getting an ISBN so you have the power to determine who is listed as the publisher of record.

Another large point of consideration for indie authors is the cost. And on that note…

How much does an ISBN cost?

Its a process that take up to 7 working days. If you wish to get a ISBN please call +234 703 616 8411 and get your ISBN delivered to you.

So, while it’s not likely to be the largest item on your self-publishing budget, it’s not anything to laugh at either. In most cases, the most economical option is to purchase ISBNs in bulk if you are planning to publish more than one format of one book.

Is an ISBN the same as a barcode?

While you might find both the number and the barcode in roughly the same spot on the back of a book cover, they fulfill different purposes.

Just to throw more fun acronyms into the mix, a standard barcode is known as a European Article Number (EAN). A barcode is also a unique series of digits that uniquely identifies a book — however, it provides information such as the price of a publication and the currency in which it’s being sold. Unlike ISBNs, a barcode can change based on the cost of the book.

As they are used by retailers for inventory reasons, only authors who are planning to print and distribute hard copies of their titles need to obtain a barcode.

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