The international standard numbers game

THERE IS LITTLE POINT in publishing a book unless you intend to market and distribute it. To some extent, the likes of Amazon will do this for you as part of the publishing package. They will then take their cut from sales.

For those who want to keep control of quality, distribution and sales, however, acquiring an International Standard Book Number (or ISBN) is a vital marketing tool for publishers.

The 13-number ISBN  is a unique identifier used by publishers, booksellers and libraries for ordering, listing and stock control purposes. It identifies the name and geographical location of the publisher and gives important details about the specific book. The ISBN is used as a reference by booksellers, libraries and bibliographic data services to identify the product and provide information to customers.

Amazon’s Create Space gives out free ISBNs to authors, but this service limits all sales to its own publishing platform and the book’s information will be registered solely to This is fine for authors who only want to sell their products through Amazon but anyone wishing to sell directly through their own websites and cut out the middle man will not be able to.

As a publisher, I want to keep control, not only of the sales, marketing and distribution of the product, but also of overall quality. I have seen and felt many POD books and, although the inside page quality and binding are on the whole good, I do not like flimsy, glossy covers that warp as soon as you touch them and, after a few hours, curl up at the edges like the uneaten sandwiches on a paper plate at a children’s party.

Although I intend to use Amazon’s publishing platforms (Kindle and Create Space) as a marketing tool, I also want to be able to sell my products through the Ivy Moon website and re-invest the sales into a small, quality print run that will be traditionally distributed. I therefore need an ISBN.

ISBN agencies sell blocks of 10 (minimum) ISBNs to publishers. Since their definition of a publisher is a “person or body who takes the financial risk in making a product available”, then self-published authors may also purchase an ISBN for their new title. Unfortunately, the minimum number of 10 applies to the individual also, so that’s a lot of books to get writing for anyone looking for value for money.

The UK’s ISBN agency is Nielson: and it currently costs £126 (inc VAT) for a block of 10. They also retain the information on their vast databases that are used by over 3,500 customers worldwide.

Once my websites are ready (which will hopefully mean in a couple of weeks’ time), I will buy my ISBNs and get my first book on the market.


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