Thursday, March 10, 2016

What is an ISBN number?

Someone sent me a comment on another one of my posts, but I am not going to publish it there because it was slightly incoherent and one of the things the person was griping about was a typo that I have since fixed. However, I would like to clear up one argument the anonymous person raised about the ISBN.

An ISBN is a number specific to each book. It has nothing to do with whether or not you own the rights to your book, it has more to do with the way a book is cataloged. It is primarily for distribution purposes.

If you purchase an ISBN, you can distribute a book through CreateSpace or other distributors. Likewise, if you do not purchase an ISBN, one will probably be assigned by the distributor (like CreateSpace). An ISBN is unique to each book. That means that every time you change the book format- i.e. you have a print book with an ISBN and you want to now make an e-book- you will need to purchase a new ISBN. Every time you come out with a new edition (or update your book), you will need to buy a new ISBN.

This person seemed to believe that when you allow CreateSpace to assign an ISBN number to your book, you lose your rights in some way or another and this is not true. CreateSpace needs the number to distribute your book- without it, it cannot do this. If you purchase the number independently, CreateSpace will not distribute through all of its channels. Why? Because the ISBN is like a tracking number- if you purchased it, you should be responsible for tracking it. You should be responsible for distributing it (independently) to bookstores and libraries and anywhere else. It is a tracking number. Registering your book independently means you are going to take care of all those things. 

However, most independent publishers do not have time to do this or a need, really. Add to that the fact that if you are going to use the ISBN system, you need to purchase an ISBN for EVERY edition and every format. It adds up. Especially when all you are purchasing is a unique tracking number and chances are good you are not going to be using it for its intended purpose. Purchasing an ISBN is nothing more than false bragging rights.

So, what is the worst thing that could happen if you allow CreateSpace to assign an ISBN number for free? Well, let's say a big publishing company sees you have been selling millions of books and wants to pick your title up (the only way they will be able to do this is if they looked at your ISBN tracked sales). Well, then when they pick your book up, it will get a new ISBN number assigned to it. Guess what? If you purchased an ISBN number at your own cost and the same thing happened, they would still need to assign the book a new number because it is a new edition when printed by them.

So, although this person tried to make the argument that you could not put your own publishing company name down in CreateSpace/ Amazon records if you used their ISBN and that was important, I have to question the logic. You are not printing the book in your backyard or at your local print shop and offering it on Amazon- they are doing the printing for you. Why not let them put a free tracking number on it?

Now, before you start grumping in the comment section that you want your publishing company name there, consider this: with self-publishing so massive these days, I don't think looking at the publisher and seeing "CreateSpace" is going to have any more detriment than looking at the publisher and seeing Joe Smoe Inc. or Dreaming Reality Publications (my company) for that matter. I get more sales from than I do from my personal website and I don't think that has anything to do with the fact I didn't purchase my book's ISBN. The fact of the matter is, no one has heard of Dreaming Reality, just as no one has heard of your company and so if a reader is looking at publishers they are not going to turn your book down any more or less than if it says "CreateSpace."

However, without expanded distribution, you will lose some of the money and sales you could have gotten if CreateSpace were doing your distribution for you. As I said, I sell about $50 worth of books on CreateSpace each month and $0 worth of books in the lifetime of my website on it. I can still sell books on my website with a CreateSpace assigned ISBN, I can still say my publishing company is Dreaming Reality Publications. Until I am big enough to have retailers and libraries come to me for my books directly, I am perfectly happy letting CreateSpace take some credit for their printing of my work.

Perhaps it is because I see the benefit of extended distribution. Perhaps it is because I think it is silly to purchase something someone is giving you free with only a by-line as the string attached. Or perhaps it is my sense of justice and truth. Really, what it comes down to is that if CreateSpace is doing your printing, why do you want to pretend you are doing it yourself? If your book is good, no one is going to look at the publisher- except to praise it.

UPDATE: If I still haven't convinced you that purchasing an ISBN is a waste of money, please know that only one company per country has the ability to directly sell you ISBNs. In the United States, that is Bowker. As you could guess from my post above: I do not endorse this process. However, please do not purchase from someone else and think you are getting an ISBN for your book and your publishing company when they have sold you junk. Read: The number you have may not be internationally registered (or has already been registered to another book) and therefore it cannot even function as a tracking number! Or worse - you purchase a real, unused ISBN, but instead of being able to use YOUR publishing company, you now must list the company from which you purchased the ISBN as the publisher.

 If you live in a different country, you will need to find your copyright registry, although here are links to a few others that are the legitimate ones for their country: Canada (English), Canada (French), Russia, China, U.K. and Ireland, France, and Germany.

Also, DO NOT PURCHASE THE COPYRIGHT GARBAGE from Bowker. Go to the U.S. Copyright office directly- and I DO recommend copyrighting ALL your work.

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