Book Publishing and ISBNs … Do You Need Them?


Book Publishing and ISBNs … Do You Need Them?

Do authors need ISBNs? If you plan on selling your book, the answer is yes. If you are creating something that is not for re-sale—from the family history to your high school reunion … most likely not. How many should you have … just the one for your book or do you need others? What about eBooks and other book formats? Below are answers to the top three questions that I frequently get:

Should you eBook have an ISBN?
Most will respond, “It depends.” If you plan to have your eBook available for iPad readers, than you must have an ISBN. Remember, your ISBN is the ID that the rest of the book retail world sees. It’s mandatory if your book is available in bookstores as well as with distributors and wholesalers. Amazon doesn’t require one—you get assigned the Amazon ASIN number--which stands for Amazon Standard Book Number. If you already have an ISBN, then you will enter that number during the publishing process with them--just click on the upload image tab. Others, such as B&N’s new PubIt doesn’t require it … they will assigned you a number

“It depends,” is technically correct … but if there’s just one format that requires it … the answer is YES. My advice: just do it and if you have a print edition, put both ISBNs on the © page stating which is which.

Can you use the same ISBN for print and eBook formats?
In a nutshell—no. Each is a unique edition and requires an identity. Think of the ISBN (International Standard Book Number) as your book’s Social Security number. It’s the magic number that keeps track of what is selling. Beware, Beware, Beware of publishers who lump books together and register all their books with a master ISBN for sales to outlets such as Amazon. What are they? Crooks. This has been a practice with some of the vanity presses.

The International ISBN Agency recommends that publishers assign ISBNs to each format. That means print, eBook, audio, video and anything else that comes along.

How many ISBNs should you get?
Start with 10 (it’s cheaper to buy them this way). Go straight to and purchase them for $275 (includes process fee). It identifies your “publishing house” and gives you enough to cover the current edition, as well as any revised. Keep in mind: you need a different number for each format—hardback; paperback; audio; video; eBook, etc. If your book goes from hardback to paper, it’s another number. If you revise your book or create a new edition, it’s a new number.

Judith Briles is known as The Book Shepherd ( and the Founder of Author U (niversity (, a membership organization created for the serious author who wants to be seriously successful. She’s been writing about and conducting workshops on publishing since the 80s. She’s the author of 28 books including Show Me About Book Publishing, co-written with John Kremer and Rick Frishman and a speaker at publishing conferences. Join Judith live on Thursdays at 6 p.m. EST for Your Guide to Book publishing on  Follow @AuthorU and @MyBookShepherd on Twitter and do a “Like” AuthorU and TheBookShepherd on Facebook. If you want to create a book that has no regrets, contact her at



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