BiblioCrunch | Self-Publishing Resouces

Tips on Self-Publishing

Should You Buy ISBNs?

A question asked by authors frequently is should you buy ISBNs? What are the advantages and disadvantages? 

We spoke to veteran authors Breeana Puttroff and  S.R. Johannes and learned that both authors prefer to buy ISBNs in bulk through Bowker (the US ISBN Agency) rather than go without one or get one free from the distributor (like Smashwords).

Why you should get your own ISBNs:

  • By buying ISBNs directly from Bowker the author has control of the data, meaning the author can list themselves or their publishing company as the publisher.
  • If the author “purchases” a free ISBN from another company (or distributor like Smashwords or Apple) then those companies will be listed as the publisher.
  • By buying your ISBN directly from Bowker you become the publishers of the record and have that extra control.

We also asked the authors if an author purchases ISBNs in bulk can they share their unused numbers with another author. Puttroff gave a great answer: “Whatever ‘name’ (person, publisher, whatever) the batch of numbers is bought under is the name that’s listed as publisher of record.” So yes an author can share an ISBN but whatever name they purchased it under will be the publisher of the record and have that control. So for smaller publishing houses buying many ISBNs is a great option, but for the single author it may be wise to look at how many books and formats you plan on publishing before buying the biggest package.

On the flip side, not everyone believes you need an ISBN. (Note: If you sell your book in print form or place it in libraries then you MUST have an ISBN). If you plan on only selling your book in ebook form then you do have the option of skipping the ISBN. However, in a recent interview, Laura Dawson of Bowker listed compelling reasons to get ISBNs.

Some of those highlights are the fact that with ISBNs your book can receive a greater distribution, be upped in search engine ranks (like Google), and you have control over the data associated with the ISBN. Dawson also recommends for authors to purchase an ISBN for each format of the book, noting that many authors need the 10 ISBN package Bowker offers (hardcover, paperback, ePub, .Mobi, PDF, etc.).

With that in mind here are some prices to keep in mind when planning on purchasing ISBNs, according to Bowker‘s website their current prices are:

1 ISBN = $125

10 ISBN = $250

100 ISBN = $575

1000 ISBN = $1000


Authors tell us your experiences with ISBNs below! Did you purchase ISBNs or go without? Who did you purchase from? How do you think it has helped/hindered your book? We want to know :)!

Lots of questions and opinions about ISBNs have been popping up on Twitter.
-For more clarification on Smashword’s ISBNs please visit the ISBN section of their Support Center FAQ Page.
-Lulu also offers free ISBNs but it notes that it will be publisher of the record: Lulu-What is an ISBN and do I need one?


Kate Tilton is the marketing associate for BiblioCrunch, an author assistant, and a book blogger.
Kate is also a proud host of #indiechat, Tuesdays at 9pm EST.

You can connect with her on her websiteTwitter, or BiblioCrunch.