Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

ISBN real

ISBNs for sale

The things you learn when you’re fixin’ to self-publish…

I always knew that the ISBN — that long number that identifies a book as an individual thing in the universe of publishing — was important. I was secretly tickled when my first novel came out and had its own ISBN. It was something of a status symbol, as if the book itself wasn’t enough of an accomplishment.

So I was determined to nab an ISBN for my forthcoming novel, Yesterday Road, because, you know, nobody was going to take it seriously if it didn’t have one. That’s the conventional wisdom anyway. If you want to compete with traditional publishers, you need all the trappings of a traditionally published book, from a professional cover to top-notch editing to — better believe it — an ISBN. And the only way to obtain an ISBN for a book published via Amazon.com (Smashwords will provide one for free for its distribution network) is to buy one from Bowker. You have the option to fork over $125 for one or $250 for 10, a pricing formula that makes me want to whip out my old slide rule.

And I was just about ready to pull the trigger on a 10-pack when I stumbled upon this article by Will Entrekin: “Why You Don’t Need An ISBN (And What You Should Invest In Instead”).

Entrekin is the founder and creative director of Exciting Press, an independent digital publisher, and in his article he describes the real utility of an ISBN, which is to facilitate the distribution of physical books to retailers and libraries and to track the sales of printed books. An independent author wishing to publish only digital editions does not need an ISBN in order to upload a book to any of the big five ebook outlets: Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Sony. Moreover, Entrekin makes clear that Bowker is not particularly effective in tracking and reporting electronic sales. Why? Because that market encompasses thousands of indies who didn’t purchase ISBNs.

He does recommend that you take the money you’d have spent on ISBNs and invest in establishing an LLC for your publishing endeavors (primarily to protect your own assets in the event that you’re sued). I’m not so sure about that, at least not at this point.

But I do believe he’s sold me on the ISBN thing. For my needs right now, and mainly because I’m not planning a printed book, I’ll pass on the status symbol this time around.

Any independents out there with a different take?

7 comments on “ISBN real

  1. 1WriteWay
    August 5, 2013

    Katie Cross at kcrosswriting,com has a good post on this too, and a good discussion. One suggestion I liked was to was to register a DBA (fictitious business name) and use that to buy the ISBNs. Apparently they are a lot cheaper if you can present yourself as a publisher. In the comments section, I saw some arguments against getting an LLC.

    • Kevin Brennan
      August 5, 2013

      I’ll have to look at Katie’s post. Thanks for the referral!

  2. Max Scratchmann
    August 5, 2013

    Publish your ebook with Smashwords first and “purchase’ one of their free ISBNs which can then go onto your Kindle edition. Likewise, if you publish a physical book, use Create Space and “purchase” a free ISBN from them. In hte UK, forming a Limited Company will cost you an arm and a leg in accountancy fees – assume it will be the same in the USA. plus it’s unlikely that you’re going to be sued as a novelist.

    • Kevin Brennan
      August 5, 2013

      Thanks for that tip, Max! I will look into it. I’m presuming that you can “buy” an ISBN for a particular format, i.e., MOBI, via Smashwords.

      I agree about the LLC problem too. Unless your expected sales are huge, the cost is prohibitive.

  3. Will Entrekin
    August 6, 2013

    I’m really, really pleased to hear that you reconsidered.

    Establishing an LLC can certainly be cost-prohibitive, especially when done the way I suggested (actually going to and speaking with a lawyer). I think there are less expensive services, though. It’s certainly worthwhile to consider what you need and then research accordingly. For me, I was in a unique situation; basically, by that point, my discussions with Nick Earls had progressed to such a point that I sort of had to establish the LLC to create a license agreement.

    Not every author is going to end up signing other authors to publish. And truthfully, if I hadn’t taken Exciting Press in the direction I have, I probably could have continued on publishing solely as a “brand,” so to speak (and not a legal entity).

    All the best with your book and publishing it.

    • Kevin Brennan
      August 6, 2013

      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment, Will. Your piece was very informative and anchored in real-life considerations as opposed to old wives’ tales like “you need to be taken seriously.” I’m all for taking the most practical course.

      Not that I have anything against old wives…

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This entry was posted on August 5, 2013 by in Publishing, Writing and tagged , , , .
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