barcodeISBN numbers are a big worry for a first time self-publisher, at least it was for me. They smell of officialdom and when you start looking into it, the smell intensifies with cost – Nielsen UK ISBN Agency – £144 for 10 ISBN numbers!

What is an ISBN?

Here’s the official answer from ISBN International;

An ISBN is essentially a product identifier used by publishers, booksellers, libraries, internet retailers and other supply chain participants for ordering, listing, sales records and stock control purposes. The ISBN identifies the registrant as well as the specific title, edition and format.

The first thing to know is that if you’re only producing an ebook then you do not have to have an ISBN. If you’re publishing a physical book, then you’ll need one.

The advantage of having an ISBN for any book is a common reference number across multiple online retailers. It allows the author to search Google with their ISBN to find places selling their book, whilst also allowing retailers to know who’s published a particular book and who to pay. This also allows customers to find their ideal retailer form which to buy your book from.

9781783016501 – In A Right State ebook

9781849145633 – In A Right State paperback

An ISBN may offer a slim sliver of security against lazy ebook pirates who haven’t deleted any ISBN info and gives the author tracking info via Bowker (extra cost + I’ve heard accuracy ain’t perfect), but I think the standardisation argument above is enough to convince me of the benefits of getting an ISBN.

Here’s a free online barcode generator for you to give your designer to place on the back cover – Bookow – the sight of seeing a genuine ISBN barcode on your back cover also derives an unexpected thrill too.

Anyway, here’s what I did and what I’ll do next time to get 100% bona fide ISBN numbers for my book at nowhere near the original costs.

eBook

With the eBook Partnership distribution service you can get an ISBN number for your ebook for free. The distribution service is $50 (£32) so get this for your free ISBN number and get your ebook submitted to all the major retailers too, bargain!

Paperback

I used Completely Novel, a print on demand company, for my paperback version. Their ‘Plus’ plan (£8 per month) includes a free ISBN number and a few other features which make it worthwhile such as full online distribution.

So that’s it. How to get an ISBN number for your self-published ebook and/or paperback in the most cost-effective way.

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