ISBN vs Own ISBN: Which one is right for you?

Overwhelming. That is the only way to describe the process of getting your first book as a self published author in the hands of paying readers. But just like ants devouring an entire cake over time, the best advice is to focus on one crumb at a time. The one crumb we will focus on in this article is ISBN.

What is an ISBN?

ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. Think about the barcode on your favorite chocolate bar. Once the cashiers scan it, the bar's name, weight, and price immediately appear on the cash register and receipt.

The unique ISBN is a 13-digit number assigned to every published book and is an international identifier for books. Like the chocolate bar's barcode, it holds vital information about that book. This identifier includes the book title, language, edition, publisher, and technical aspects.


Do all books require ISBNs?

If you plan to sell your book, whether it's a fiction or nonfiction book, you need a unique ISBN. That being said, there are a few minor exceptions where you don't need one including if you're only planning to hand your book out to friends and family.

In fact, even when/if you make major changes to your book (adding chapters, epilogues, etc.) , you'll need a new ISBN. To find out when you do and don't need a new one, check out our complete article here.


Should I use my own ISBN or KDP?

If you want to sell your paperback book or hardcover online either through Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) or another service, you require an ISBN. You can get your own or let KDP assign a free ISBN for your book. So, why would I even bother getting my ISBN for my paperback if KDP will give me one for free?

Let's get explore why.


What are the advantages of getting your own ISBN?

Firstly, you would have complete control over your book's metadata. This refers to the book description and its category that makes it easier for outside parties like book stores, to discover your book, is in your control.

Secondly, you will be a publisher on record. Your ISBN will stay the same, even if you publish with multiple companies. This advantage ties back to the original question regarding KDP ISBN vs. Own ISBN.

Lastly, you cannot use your free ISBN from KDP for publishing outside of Amazon and its expanded distributors. It's one of the biggest motivators for self-publishing authors to obtain their own ISBNs.


How do I purchase an ISBN?

The place and the price of a book's ISBN differ from country to country. Let's compare Canada and the USA. For instance, you need to visit the Library and Archives Canada, where a new ISBN is issued for free. In the USA, you buy them through Bowker at $125 per single ISBN. Bowker is the official ISBN agency for the United States and Australia. You could get a discount if you buy them in bulk, for instance, 10 ISBNS at once, but they remain somewhat pricey.


Does Kindle eBook need ISBN?

In the previous section, we investigated ISBNs for paperbacks and hardcovers. ISBNs for eBooks on KDP are a bit different. First, it is essential to remember that you can't use the ISBN from your paperback or hardcover for your eBook.

If you already have your own ISBN for your eBook, you may use that. Alternatively, Amazon KDP will issue a 10-digit Amazon Standard Identification Number (ASIN) when publishing your eBook. Just like ISBN for paperbacks and hardcovers, ASIN is a unique number containing the necessary information about your Kindle eBook.


Can you use the same ISBN for print and eBooks?

If you were explicitly scrolled to find the answer to this question and missed the discussion above, here it is again. You can't use the same ISBN from your paperback or hardcover for an eBook - you'll need a different ISBN.

You are allowed to use your own ISBN that you obtained through the correct means, specific to your country. Alternatively, you can receive an identifier, called ASIN, for free during the setup process when publishing your eBook through KDP.

Also, remember that this ASIN is only applicable for distribution through Amazon and its distribution partners.


A Quick Recap

To all you eager-beaver-scrollers that rushed to the end, this one is for you. Whether you are an indie author or publishing through a publishing company, the following remains applicable:

  • An ISBN is a number that contains vital digital information regarding your book. You absolutely need one if you aim to sell your book online or in shops.
  • You can get your own ISBN number for your paperback or hardcover, but the process and cost differ from country to country.
  • Amazon KDP will issue an ISBN for free for your paperback or hardcover. Still, this ISBN would only be applicable for distribution on Amazon and through its distribution partners.
  • You can't use your paperback or hardcover's ISBN for an eBook. You need to get a specific eBook ISBN or get an ASIN (similar to ISBN) for free from KDP for your eBook.

If this is still a little overwhelming for you, don't worry, we can help. Check out our personalized coaching plans, including the Celebrated Author Accelerator - specifically designed for ambitious fiction writers who want to make a name for themselves.

About the author

Denis Caron

I help you build a loyal fanbase who enjoy and appreciate your books through 1-on-1 and group coaching. Learn more.

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