Indie Authors, Buy Your Own ISBNs!

(You’ve read before about how important it is to buy your own ISBNs. Distribution Expert, Robin Cutler of Ingram Spark, covered the topic in her Q&A post last year, but it’s worth reviewing. Book Retail & Library Expert, Amy Collins, shares her perspective based on working with stores, wholesalers, and libraries.) Here are a few… [Read More]

buy your own ISBNs by Amy Collins for

(You've read before about how important it is to buy your own ISBNs. Distribution Expert, Robin Cutler of Ingram Spark, covered the topic in her Q&A post last year, but it's worth reviewing. Book Retail & Library Expert, Amy Collins, shares her perspective based on working with stores, wholesalers, and libraries.)

Here are a few questions I have heard in the last few weeks. Actually, I have heard these questions again and again from authors over the last few your own ISBNs by Amy Collins for

“Can’t I just use the CreateSpace ISBN?”

“But I heard I can buy one ISBN for A LOT less money from an online service!”

“I have a designer who is going to layout my book and they will let me use one of their ISBNs!”

No. No. No.

Investing in Your Publishing Career

buy your own ISBNs by Amy Collins for BookWorks.comIf you are going to self-publish a book and you want to be taken seriously as an author and as a publisher, you need to buy your own ISBNs from the official ISBN agency. It is very important to have complete control of your brand, your publishing decisions, and your distribution options. When you purchase ISBNs directly from the official government agency assigned to your country, the name listed on your book and on the pages that LIST your book will all show the book as YOURS. If you buy an ISBN from a third party, the Books in Print database and all other book industry databases will show the book as belonging to THEM.

Where to Buy Your Own ISBNs

If you are a US publisher or self-published author, spend the money and go to and buy your OWN ISBNs.  If you are from another country, just go to and choose your country.  Many countries offer citizens FREE ISBNs, so there is NO reason to purchase or take a third party ISBN from CreateSpace, IngramSpark or anyone your own ISBNs by Amy Collins for

Book buyers, librarians, and reviewers only want to work with publishers and authors that take their publishing seriously. Readers and industry professionals want to know that your books have been published correctly with all the proper steps taken. A legitimate ISBN registered in Books in Print properly is easy to accomplish. If you skip this obvious and very public step, what ELSE might you be missing?  In using a third party ISBN, you can throw your professional reputation into doubt.

Save a Little, Lose a Lot

buy your own ISBNs by Amy Collins for BookWorks.comI know it is tempting to save a few hundred dollars, but it is not worth it. Book buyers will see who owns your ISBN during their first look. It matters to them. I promise.  It matters a LOT.

Buy your own ISBNs. US publishers can purchase 10 for under $300. A pack of ten is less expensive than buying three ISBNs individually. You will quite often USE more than that because you will need a separate ISBN for your eBook, another for your paperback, a third for hardcover, and any other formats or editions (like an audiobook) you may come up with in the future.  ISBNs never expire and can be used years (or even decades) later.

It is a worthwhile investment.

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11 thoughts on “Indie Authors, Buy Your Own ISBNs!”

  1. Bill Peschel says:

    Nonsense. I’ve published a dozen books through my Peschel Press imprint. A check of, which catalogs library databases, shows Peschel Press as the publisher, and libraries I’ve never heard of buying my books. And I’ve saved several hundred dollars.

  2. Amy Collins says:

    You are right Bill! But that is because you are being published BY Peschel. This advice is for authors that are starting their own publishing imprint. If you are published by another company, you SHOULD use their ISBN, you have to….

  3. Quote: “I know it is tempting to save a few hundred dollars, but it is not worth it.”

    Nonsense. Writers in the U.S. shouldn’t meekly pay this “few hundred dollars,” they should raise bloody hell until there’s a second and far less expensive source. Keep in mind that in some countries these numbers are available free. They’s simply not that expensive.

    My own experience illustrates just how inexpensive ISBNs could be. In 1999, I bought 1,000 of them for $600. That’s 60 cents each. If Bowker could sell in bulk for that price then, they could certainly be selling in small quantities for $6 now. There’s virtually no cost to what they do. Authors and publishers do all the work maintaining the data entry.

    I might add that, if you can get an ISBN by publishing through CreateSpace or the like, go ahead and do so. A library that’s buying a book from a little known author is not going to be deterred by a mere technicality and the average reader doesn’t care.

    1. Amy Collins says:

      You are right that the average reader won’t care. I am afraid that bookstores will. But if bookstores are not a goal for you, then owning your own ISBNs is less important.

      I would still recommend owning your own ISBNs so that you have full control of meta data.

      Again, you are right in saying that readers don’t care. But the main focus on this bit of afdvice is that it does make a difference to librarians and book buyers.

      Some authors have different branding and publishing goals. For them, owning the ISBNs is important to achieve those goals.

  4. Thanks for demystifying ISBN’s. I went out and bought the bulk package and will be changing all my books. It appears that Amazon is putting POD books in a book box and allowing other vendors to sell them first at a less expensive price. They have a notice that says “one left in stock.” Once your book is bought, it appears to be out of print for a small amount of time. I make a solid income from my paperbacks and have decided to have them available through Ingram as well as Createsapce. Your article showed me how to do that.

    1. Amy Collins says:

      Nice to hear that Carole!

  5. Great post, Amy. One question: What about eBooks and PDFs? I have heard so many arguments for and against buying ISBNs for those. Thoughts?

    1. Amy Collins says:

      Here is my reason for buying an ISBN for my ebook. The day is coming when SOMEONE will start tracking sales of eBooks across all platforms. I want to know that every ebook is being accounted for. The ISBN is the standard way to “claim” my book. When sales are being reported, they will need one ISBN across all platforms to find my book. It is already happening in limited doses. I am planning for the future and want to position myself well.


    2. Amy Collins says:

      Hi Steven,

      I always put ISBNs on ebooks because the time is quickly coming when ebooks will be tracked and the only way to get all of your sales properly tracked is through an ISBN. Ebooks are books. They need an ISBN so that they can be catalogued and tracked.

  6. Michael says:

    I agree with a lot of the ideas presented here. In my experience, having an ISBN under your own publisher name is not something that the general reader will care about. So for this reason you could get it from an online source for a discount price i.e. and then use it on Yes it will appear under isbnagency’s publisher name but this is really not a big deal since you still own the copyright. I think the goal should be to simply focus on getting book sales so you can break out and get a publishing deal — which will help you pay the bills, so you can afford to write more books! For authors who achieve noteworthy sales of their indie title — usually 10,000 copies sold — then you could work with a ‘real’ publisher who would supply a new ISBN. Either way, you can just focus on writing your books / marketing your books, without worrying too much about who “owns” the ISBN. In other words — It is the ownership of the copyright for your book that is important, and the number of book sales, but the ISBN is literally just a number to identify the book. The ISBN system is not particularly useful except for the number itself. Anybody could make up a new numbering system at any time, with more usefulness — such as embedding the ebook in a blockchain to establish copyright ownership — and then ISBN would be useless.

    1. Amy Collins says:

      Yup. You are right. Readers won’t care about who owns the ISBN, but bookstores and libraries do. If you are only going to sell your book online, then you don’t have to worry about it as much. But if you ever want to sell your book in bulk to wholesalers, sell them into retailers… then you will need to own your own ISBN because the purchaser will not be able to purchase your book from you if you don’t have the distribution rights. Yes, you will have the copyright, but you won’t have the distribution rights.

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