Saturday, November 16, 2013

Week 5: The ISBN Situation

It's now 5 weeks to go to my publishing deadline. (See my last post.My first job has been deciding what platforms to publish on. Well, that seems to be straight-forward: CreateSpace for the paperback, Amazon KDP and Smashwords for the ebook. But as I stepped through the instructions on each site, the first question always was: 

There is a lot of information online about ISBNs. I have found it conflicting in parts, biased in parts and confusing on the whole! I feel at this stage that what is right for you can only be answered after some time and experience in publishing. But I have managed to gather together enough of an understanding to figure out what I want for now.

Here are the questions and misunderstandings that I had and the answers I finally reached. Please remember that I am not an expert in this field and the below is just my understanding, grappled together mainly from other people's understanding! But maybe we've shared the same queries and this post helps in the illumination process.

What is the difference between a free ISBN and one you pay for? Is a free one "not as good"?

There's no difference in the basic product. ISBNs are issued by various agencies that guarantee their uniqueness. Publishers like CreateSpace and Smashwords have bought up such a large amount of these ISBNs that with the corresponding discount they can afford to give them away for free. So you could get the same ISBN if you bought it yourself or took the proprietary one from your publisher.

Is an ISBN valid everywhere - what are the rules?

If you buy an ISBN from an independent agency then you can use it anywhere. If you take a free one from your publisher, then you are asked to only use it with them.

Isn't it a good idea then to buy one ISBN for your book rather than have loads of different ones?

Well I often read that an advantage of buying your ISBN is that you can use it anywhere. But what wasn't clear is that that doesn't mean you should reuse it. It's actually better to have one ISBN for your CreateSpace distribution, one for your Smashwords distribution and so on. This is because, from a retailers point of view, if they want to order your book, they'll use the ISBN. So, if they want the French translation of your hardback book as apposed to the German translation of your paperback, then they'll need an ISBN that identifies that particular edition. For the same reason it is important to have a separate ISBN for your ebook.

So, then, what's the point in buying one you can use anywhere, if you still need a number of different ones?

If you have set up a company to self-publish then you need to provide your own ISBN to have your publishing name on your book. If you take a proprietary ISBN from your publishing platform, then their name will go on your book as the publisher.

What's the difference between the 10 digit length ISBNs and the 13 digit length? Is one better than the other?

13 digits is the new format. It is possible to convert ISBNs between their old and new format. There are websites that will do it. So, if you've got the old type, you can get it converted. I have just taken a CreateSpace free ISBN and they have provided me with both formats.

Why should I buy 10 ISBNs?

The standard offer seems to be 1 or 10 for the price of two. I don't understand why they're so expensive or why they are in these blocks. But considering the fact that you'll need a few ISBNs, if you're going to buy them, 10 is probably a good idea. However, I have found a site that provides discount ISBNs which you can buy in blocks of 3. So it does seem that there are more options out there than just the standard.

So what is an ASIN?

This is Amazon's tracking number for your ebook. It's the same as an ISBN and you can use it as your Amazon ISBN or you can provide your own ISBN. Either way you'll still get an ASIN assigned to your ebook.

So, after all that, I will have 3 ISBNs:

Amazon ebookASIN
CreateSpace paperbackISBN
Smashwords ebookISBN

Smashwords converts your manuscript into the standard ebook format (epub), to distribute to the Apple store, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and others. Since only the one format is needed, you'll only be issued one ISBN. A friend has just advised me to publish directly on Kobo instead of going through Smashwords. Kobo doesn't provide ISBNs so I'm still looking into this. Once I've actually got the book out there, I'll do a post on platforms.

If anyone would like to contradict or add to the above, that would be welcome. Thanks.

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