Short Saturday: Why You Need an Izz-Bin

I’ve helped more than one friend prepare books for self-publishing, and the question of an ISBN always comes up. I knew the number identifies the publisher, but beyond that I wasn’t much help. I did know, though, that if you ever hope to sell your book in a store, you need one.

Does it cost money? Um—what do you think? Yes! How much? I have no idea; you’ll need to research that yourself. There’s only so much time in my day, kids, and I’m in the business of editing. That’s where my time is best spent.

But now publishing journalist Porter Anderson has done all the heavy lifting on this subject, and I’m pleased to direct you to his commentary in his column Ether for Authors, called “Can We See You?” In it, he cites and discusses information from Linda Dawson, a product manager for Bowker, which is the agency that collects and reports data on the publishing industry in the United States. It is also the official U.S. ISBN agency.

One of Dawson’s points on Friday in #ISBNhour was that many authors, particularly self-publishing authors, don’t realize how important it is to have their work identified by ISBN, which stands for International Standard Book Number.

Your publishing platform may not require or even encourage you to to obtain an ISBN. But if you don’t, then the tracking services—Bowker in the States, for example, Nielsen in the UK, and so on—won’t be able to “see” your book and count it in the great, growing tally of published material. I did ask Dawson, journalist that I am, whether there is a platform she knows of anywhere that might actually discourage the use of ISBNs. [Her response:] No, there’s no platform that discourages them. The book supply chain, in all its complexity, loves ISBNs. Amazon’s delighted when a book has one.      …

You want an ISBN for each format of your book. So if you publish your new novel in mobi, ePUB, PDF, audio, and print, you need five ISBNs. In the States, in fact, Bowker’s rates strongly favor your buying a pack of 10 ISBNs at a time, not one, and not because they expect you to write 10 books but because you need each format to have its own.

Anderson provides all the pertinent links too. Ready to get your first ISBNs? Look here. Want to investigate more first? Check this out. Need to know more about how an ISBN is used internationally? Read this.

And if you just want to keep up with the industry we all love, you should follow Porter Anderson, whose Writing on the Ether can be found Thursdays at, while Ether for Authors appears Tuesdays at

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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