eBooks and ISBNs

I’m checking into the available options for book ID numbers when publishing digitally. Publishers of eBooks are almost as different as there are numbers of said publishers available on the Web.

Both Kindle Direct Publishing and Nook Press assign proprietary (recognized as meaningful only to them) identification numbers to each book published through their services in order to track sales. This process may be appealing to authors just getting started who don’t have the knowledge or the time to investigate or who just want to see what appeal their book might have – no real money is lost.

If you have an ISBN (International Standard Book Number), you can add it to the rest of your book’s information and it will be included with the proprietary number. If I understand correctly, oftentimes that ISBN number can only be identified with that electronic version of your book. If you choose to publish a print version of your book, or, republish through a different digital publisher, you must get a separate ISBN.

In contrast, a publisher like Smashwords provides the ISBN for you, free of charge. This publisher also distributes eBooks to several third party channels, such as Apple iBooks, kobo, blio, Barnes & Noble, and more – but not to Amazon. As the publisher, Smashwords still has some control over your book, as all other print or digital publisher do.

That ISBN has been sort of a status symbol, “Yes, I’ve been published. Here’s the ISBN number, look it up.” And many people do research books using the ISBN number – that’s what it’s for, especially if your book is published globally.

There is an excellent blog post at the Tools of Change for Publishing Web site on this subject, interviewing the product manager at Bowker, the official U.S. distributor of ISBNs. The post is a year old, but you should read it.

If you want a little more control over your eBook distribution, you can purchase your own ISBN from Bowker – even self-publish. It’s a little daunting, though, to realize that a single ISBN number costs $125.00. You can buy 10 numbers for $295.00 – the better deal at less than $30 a number, to be sure, but still quite a chunk of change for most of us. Do I use the free ISBN from Smashword or take more ownership of my book?

I don’t know yet, but the clock is ticking on that deadline.

You have to make your own informed choice.