I’ve noticed a certain amount of angst as well as some misunderstanding of the American fee-based method for obtaining an ISBN (that 13-digit number for your book), and figuring out what the barcode does for you and where to get that to add to the back of your book.
So, here’s the current truth that my research and experience have uncovered.
The ISO (International Organization for Standardization) keeps an eye on all kinds of standards to keep things predictable, from bribery prevention to clean rooms. They also sponsor informational standards, like the ones used for book indexing, actually, and also the International Standard Book Number (ISBN). Since 1967, published books have had ISBNs, although now they have thirteen numbers instead of nine or ten (e.g., ISBN 978-3-16-148410-0). If you want to get geeky with it, check out the article on Wikipedia. 🙂
An ISBN is required for every edition of every book distributed by agents and organizations that sell books (this means Amazon, Lulu, Barnes and Noble, etc.). You won’t go to jail if you don’t have an ISBN, and no one will bother you if you don’t have one and are giving your book away on your website. But if you are selling your book through any kind of distributor, they will require one.
Each country has its own set of numbers to hand out, so the cost of getting an ISBN varies from free to fairly expensive ($125 from RR Bowker in the USA for a single number) depending on the originating country’s setup. In the U.S., as with lots of other things, ISBN assignment is a privatized effort, and so the fee.
The important bit to remember, and something one of my clients didn’t know, is that it costs a whole lot less to get ISBNs in bulk than to buy them individually. So, if you know you’ll be doing a series of books, take heed, because ten ISBNs will only cost $295. That’s a huge discount per number. My client was publishing an updated edition of his book every year, and paying for one ISBN each time. He was quite pleased when I let him know that he could buy them in larger quantities and save quite a bit of money.
To register an ISBN in the USA, head on over to Bowker’s Identifier Services site and they’ll take you through the process. They also sell barcodes to put on the back of your book that have the ISBN embedded in them for scanning at checkout and keeping track of inventory, but there are cheaper ways to do the barcode thing once you have your ISBN.
So, now you have your ISBN number, which needs to be pasted into the copyright page of the inside of your book as well as on the back, but a barcode would look kind of cool, official-looking, and useful for our heavily “scanned” consumer world.
You can pay all kinds of fees (at Bowker and elsewhere) to get the barcode printed (with or without a price included in the code), but I found this nifty site where you can get one generated for free (at Bookow.com). Now, if you want a bunch of barcodes, there will be a fee, which I think is fair enough, but as Bookow says, it’s worth it to them to provide self-publishers in particular with a free one for the occasional book project.
The image file that you get from the barcode can be either a PDF (better quality for print) or a PNG file (better for ebooks), or you could get one of both. I thought the instructions were simple and the product worked just fine.
Then just add it to the electronic version of your front/spine/back cover (or give it to your book designer to add), and you are set.
Now back to the more time-consuming part of finishing writing the book and getting it properly edited!
From the Shepherd’s Satchel
Found a great longish, but extremely fascinating first-person author account of using Instagram for both book promotion and interpersonal connection. I was actually surprised at the book-related connections Belinda Pollard has gotten with her both intelligent and intuitive method. Check out her article here.
My good friend and inspirational writer, Jacob Nordby, is starting another of his Creative Unbootcamp workshops next month. I participated in the last one, which was extremely worthwhile for kickstarting the progress on your latest or firstest book. Check out the details and sign up here.