Monday, May 7, 2012

Why You Need Separate ISBNs For Every Subsequent Edition of Your Book.

Behind These Moutains, Vols. 1, 2, 3 certainly weren't going to make it into posterity, as I'd so naively expected. My out-of-print books rapidly disappeared into collections of rare books, and libraries no longer checked out their copies.

When Google, in a class action lawsuit, acquired publication rights to all out-of-print books I made a decision. I'd soon fix that! I bought a domain from, and published my books digitally online. They're no longer out-of-print. The original editions each had a ISBN.

Wasn't that sufficient?

As soon as an author argued that I needed a separate set of ISBNs for those online editions of my Montana regional history series, I figured it was a good idea to ask an expert before I went shopping for ISBNs I new little about. Besides, I was preparing to issue e-book editions, and potentially those would become print book editions, also. I needed answers to my questions.

I contacted Pauline F. Micciche, a retired teacher, librarian, and systems analyst. While working at Online Computer Library Center (OCLC), she was a member of the International Standards Organization (ISO) committee that developed the ISBN released in 1970.

I knew readers would like to know what I learned. Here's the guest blog Micciche kindly wrote on the topic of ISBNs.

Need an ISBN?
by Pauline F. Micciche

Are you a new writer ready to publish your first book? Look at the back cover of any commercial book you have. There are two bar codes there. Together they are called the Bookland EAN (European Article Number) Barcode. The first encodes the ISBN, and the second encodes the price. Often the ISBN itself is printed under the first barcode. In addition, the ISBN will either be on the verso of the title page, or if there is no room for it there, on the bottom of the title page itself.

ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. As its name implies, it is a standard number recognized internationally to uniquely identify one book. It was originally developed by an International Standards Organization (ISO) committee and released in 1970. Since then it has been expanded from 10 to 13 digits.

What is it used for? Book publishers, wholesalers and distributors use it to identify books precisely in order to track inventories and sales. Libraries often use it to specify the exact book they want to buy. Book stores use the barcode representing the ISBN when they sell a book. Sometimes savvy readers will specify the ISBN in addition to the author and title of the book when requesting a special order.

What value does it have to an author?
  • It distinguishes his book from every other book with the same title. Only one book in the entire world legitimately has that ISBN.
  • It distinguishes versions of a book and the same version in different formats. Normally each edition (but not each printing) has a different ISBN from each of the others.
  • It facilitates communication between buyers and the seller or distributor. The buyers of the book can specify exactly which book they want and reject any that do not match.
How does an author get an ISBN for his book?

Blocks of ISBNs are sold to a specific publisher. If the book is sent out to the world through a traditional book publisher, the publisher will obtain the ISBN and become the publisher of record.

If the author contracts with a book service to produce the book, he can usually include ISBN service in his contract with it. The producer of the book is then the publisher of record for that ISBN.

If the author prefers not to contract with a book service, he can buy ISBNs directly from an official ISBN agent, in which case the author himself is the publisher of record.

ISBNs are not transferable from one publisher of record to another.

Choice of an ISBN publisher of record does not affect the author's copyright.

What about e-books? According to the International ISBN Agency's ISBN User’s Manual in English, each e-book format needs its own ISBN.

The publisher of record is the entity that purchased the ISBN and registered it as identifying a specific publication in a specific format.
  • Kindle and Nook formats would need separate ISBNs so that the reader knows which one to buy for his device.
  • If another format becomes available and is not compatible with either of these formats, an ISBN for that format is needed.
  • In addition, e-book distributors may have other requirements for putting the e-book’s information into their systems. Be careful to follow the instructions for its ISBN requirements.
For example, Smashwords specifies that the book's ISBN should be attached via Dashboard's ISBN Manager at Smashwords to ensure that your book can ship to Apple and SONY.

Smashwords doesn't care whether or not you include the ISBN in the book itself, but the ISBN User's Manual specifies that it should be placed in the publication and where in the publication it should appear.

Other distributors and on-line book sellers, such as Amazon, may have other requirements for specifying the ISBN to their systems.

Wait a minute. If I self-publish aren't I the publisher?

If you self-publish you are an independent publisher. Publishing is a long and arduous process with too many steps to list here. For that reason many of the steps in the process are contracted to book service providers, businesses designed to handle a number of the steps in the process. One of these steps may be acquiring an ISBN.

Because the ISBN is assigned to the entity that purchased it, the service provider is considered the publisher of the book even if you do 99% of the work in getting it out to the public.

Where can I buy an ISBN? The only place a publisher can buy an ISBN is from an official ISBN agent, different for each country. The ISBN User's Manual issued in January 2012 lists Bowker as the only official agent for ISBNs in the United States.

The advantage of obtaining an ISBN from an entity such as your book's producer instead of an official agent is its ability to purchase larger blocks of ISBNs than an independent publisher (you).

Consequently it may be able to provide each ISBN to you at a lower price.

It definitely will save you the time and effort needed to obtain and register the ISBN for your book. For example, if you contract with Greyden Press to print your book and provide an ISBN, Greyden Press is the publisher of record, and will register the ISBN for you.

The final step in identifying your book by ISBN is to register the ISBN and book information (author, title, etc.) with the ISBN agent that sold it to you. That agent has a range of ISBN numbers it is responsible for distributing, and for maintaining a record of the relationship provided during the registration process.

If I buy an ISBN from someone else how do I know my book has a legitimate ISBN?

Get the ISBN from a source you trust. If you don’t have a trusted source, ask other authors what sources they've used and get the book's author, title, country of publication, and ISBN from the title page or its verso.

Look the book up in Books in Print, available in most libraries either in print or online. Bowker publishes two editions, the United States edition containing only United States publications and the Global edition containing publications from around the world, including from the United States. If the ISBN listed in the entry for the book matches the one in the book, you can be sure the ISBN is legitimate because Bowker is the U.S. ISBN agent responsible for maintaining the U.S. database. If you don’t find an entry for the book there, it does not necessarily mean that the ISBN is bogus. There could be a typographical error in the ISBN or it may not have been added to the publication yet.

Want more information? The most authoritative source for information about ISBNs in the United States is found at the official U.S. ISBN agency website, maintained by Bowker. Once there click on "Education & Resources" at the top of the page. The ISBN User's Manual is accessible from the list of information sources brought up by clicking on the tab.

If you live in a country other than the United States and don't find the information you need and can't find it on this site, search online for the ISBN agent in your country listed in the ISBN User's Manual.

Pauline F. Micciche has two guest blogs accepted elsewhere. Her stories, written under the pen name P. F. Palm, have been published in Calliope, Fiction365, and Negative Suck.