Can We Talk About ISBNs?

International Standard Book Number. ISBN. It seems to confuse folks no end.

photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian get it. Numbers, to most of us in the western world, are about ownership. If someone has your social security number you could be in trouble. Credit card number? Lock it up. Driver’s license? Well, it feels important.

No. Wrong. It’s nothing like that.

Y’know the bar codes on all the stuff you buy at the store? ALL THE STUFF YOU BUY at the store? Every item. No barcode, no scan, no sale. No self-respecting profit-loving store would stock something without a barcode.

That is what an ISBN is: the numerical equivalent of a barcode.

If you know the barcode number for a bag of frozen peas, how does that affect your ownership of the peas?

If you think possession of the number equals anything like ownership, let’s see you stroll casually from the market waving that bag of “your” peas over your head.

Maybe the person who issued the barcode owns the peas?

I think not.

The number has nothing to do with ownership.

So whether you buy your own ISBNs from Bowker (the only option in the US; how come everyone else in the world seems to get them free?) or get one free from CreateSpace or Kindle or wherever, your ownership and profits from your books are still yours and yours alone.

But I Won’t Be Listed as the Publisher!

That’s right.

So what?

Yup; in Books in Print, the catalog book stores and libraries (who do not buy self-published books) the publisher will be listed as “CreateSpace” or whoever.

My friend the late Jasha Levi campaigned long and hard to get libraries to take self-published books seriously. He went to his grave without seeing the change.

Brick and mortar bookstores don’t buy indie books unless they know you personally, and then, they can buy from you, they don’t need to order from Books in Print.

Your readers don’t care who’s listed as the official publisher.

Nobody else matters.

The Final Answer

It just doesn’t matter whether you buy an ISBN or use a free one. In which case, why would you pay for something you can get free, and have the same outcome?

I’d love to hear why I’m wrong, because then I learn something new I can teach all my clients.

Tell me all about it in the comments.

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