Do indie authors benefit from having a publishing imprint? What even is an imprint? In an earlier "Notes from the Field" post, BW author, Carole P. Roman, talked about her experience publishing under an imprint. We wanted to delve deeper into the topic so we asked David Wogahn, author of the book, "My Publishing Imprint" to share his insights so you can decide if an imprint is right for you.
According to Bowker, 66,732 print book ISBNs were registered by self-publishers in 2007. Fast forward to 2017, this number had ballooned to 879,587. Perhaps even more significant is the growth of Amazon's market share during this period: from 3,804 to 751,924*.
In just 11 years, Amazon’s free ISBN—naming them as publisher of record—has increased its market share from 6% to 85% of all self-published books in the United States.
It seems most indie authors have decided that owning their ISBN is of no importance. Perhaps they don’t understand why it matters or don’t see the value of ownership.
Note - If you're a follower of the BookWorks blog, you know where we stand on the subject. Review these posts for more on the importance of purchasing your own ISBNs:
- ISBN Q&A: Everything You Need to Know About Barcodes by Robin Cutler of IngramSpark for BookWorks.com
- Indie Authors, Buy Your Own ISBNs! by Amy Collins of New Shelves Books for BookWorks.com
Does any of this matter? How do you decide what’s best for your situation? That’s what I’d like to talk about in this article.
Whoever Pays for an ISBN Is the Publisher of Record
When I talk about an imprint name or using a publishing imprint, I am saying that one has made the decision to buy an ISBN. This is how you get a get to choose the name of the publisher. And where is this name displayed to the public?
- It is part of your book’s listing in online stores.
- It is featured prominently on IndieBound.org (a website often checked by retailers when approached by self-publishers interested in booking events or stocking books).
- It is recorded in book industry databases used by wholesalers, distributors, libraries and industry professionals.
- It is listed on your book’s copyright page.
- It is part of your book’s sales and promotional materials.
The publisher name of a book using the free ISBN from KDP Print is “Independently published” (free ISBNs from CreateSpace show “CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.”) All book industry databases show this publisher name, not just your book listing on Amazon.
Also important to know is that the owner of the ISBN has certain rights. For example, a print book using the free Amazon ISBN can only be printed by Amazon. An eBook using the free Draft2Digital ISBN can only be distributed by Draft2Digital.
A Branding and Marketing Investment
Whether you invest in an imprint or not often comes down to your branding and positioning objectives, and how you plan to market your books.
I’d venture to say that there is no bookstore in America that is willing to order books from Amazon for an author-reading event. Bookstores do not like Amazon and they know who owns the CreateSpace/ Kindle Direct Publishing imprints.
What if you are building a publishing brand, or have a business that offers products or services related to the subject of your book? Perhaps it makes sense to brand your books in a way that relates to and enhances these other ventures. This is what Sam Williamson did when he named his publishing imprint Beliefs of the Heart Press, and what the Content Marketing Institute did when it bought ISBNs in its name.
An imprint using your personal name or books published using a free ISBN from KDP communicates “self-published.” If you are approaching media outlets for interviews, which publisher sounds more professional: Meredith Wild or Waterhouse Press?
Does a Publishing Imprint Help Sell More Books?
I get this question a lot. To answer, I ask the author or business the question: how important is your publishing venture? If you are a hobbyist, then sales probably aren’t that important.
But if you have plans to treat publishing as a business, then the name you use as publisher takes on greater importance.
—Your publishing imprint name is searchable on Amazon.
—Outside Amazon, your imprint name is found in industry databases including the most important one of all, Bowker’s Books In Print.
—You have direct control over your metadata, and it is metadata that makes your book discoverable online.
Do You Need to Set Up a Company?
That is optional. There may be banking, legal or tax reasons to set up an LLC, a corporation—or even file for a fictitious name and operate as a sole proprietor—but this is not required to buy ISBNs.
By the way, if all you want to do is keep your social security number private or have some separation from your personal affairs, anyone can obtain a free EIN, Employer Identification Number. You can use an EIN instead of your social security number when filling out tax forms for online selling in stores like Amazon. You do not need to be an employer. Click here for details: https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/employer-id-numbers.
Is It Ethical?
This question frustrates me. Is it unethical for your dentist or plumber to use a made-up name instead of their own? Of course not. These are called fictitious/trade names and it is a legal and ethical way to conduct and brand a business.
The democratization of publishing has enabled anyone to be a publisher. For those that have come to rely on using publishing imprint names to make decisions, this can be challenging. Bookstore owners, reviewers, and even readers must now evaluate a book using other methods (the cover? reading it? the author?) rather than dismiss it out-of-hand because it is not a publishing imprint they recognize.
Make the Decision That Is Right for You
In my book on this topic, My Publishing Imprint, I share that several well-known authors have chosen the free Amazon ISBN for their books and it doesn’t seem to have dampened their success. People such as Bella Forrest, Chris Fox, K.F. Breene and Mark Dawson to name a few.
In the own-your-destiny camp, you have other successful authors who are building their publishing ventures around an independent brand. People like Barbara Freethy, Huge Howie and Meredith Wild.
What should you do? My reason for writing My Publishing Imprint, and this article, is to educate indie authors about their choices and the consequences of those choices.
Book reviews are typically tied to book edition’s ISBN and you cannot change the publisher without changing the ISBN. Being able to use any printer is also something to consider. And don’t forget the importance of branding.
When it comes to making this decision, one that cannot be undone without republishing a book, I’m reminded of a quote by the Roman slave turned philosopher, Publilius Syrus:
“Rivers are easiest to cross at their source.”
*All numbers taken directly from Bowker’s “Self-Publishing in the United States” reports. These reports also include eBook ISBN assignments but as most of us know, all major eBook retailers do not require an ISBN. Including a reference to them in these numbers would grossly understate eBook publishing activity. (The 2012-2017 report is available here.)
David Wogahn is the president of AuthorImprints, an award-winning professional publishing services company that publishes books for authors and businesses using their own publishing imprint. Clients retain ownership, control, and all royalties.
David is also a LinkedIn Learning author and the author of five publishing books including My Publishing Imprint and the forthcoming The Book Review Companion.
During his 35 years in publishing and online media, David has worked for the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee, and was co-founder of the first online publisher of sports team branded websites known today as the CBS College Sports Network.
Like what you just read? Get more author tips and access into exclusive indie resources when you become a BookWorks member. Join our Community now. Click HERE to sign up!