Alexey Kramin
8 minutes read
July 24, 2024
Published: May 26, 2024

What is ISBN and why do I need for my eBook?

An ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is a unique identifier assigned to books and eBooks. It's crucial for eBook distribution and sales, helping online retailers, libraries, and distributors identify and categorize your eBook. Without an ISBN, it's challenging to track sales and royalties accurately.

Key Points

  • ISBN is Required for Most eBook Platforms
Platform ISBN Required?
Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing No
Apple Books Yes
Barnes & Noble Press Yes
  • Benefits of Having an ISBN

    • Improves discoverability and visibility for your eBook
    • Enables accurate sales tracking and royalty reporting
    • Meets publishing platform requirements
  • Separate ISBNs Needed for Different eBook Formats

    • Each format (EPUB, MOBI, PDF) requires a unique ISBN
    • Same ISBN can be used for the same format across platforms
  • When to Update an ISBN

    • Major content revisions or additions
    • Format changes (e.g., adding multimedia)
    • Metadata updates (title, author, publisher)

Getting an ISBN

ISBN

  • Purchase from Official Agencies
    • In the U.S., buy from Bowker (single ISBN: $125, 10 ISBNs: $295)
    • Other countries have their own authorized agencies
  • Free vs. Purchased ISBN
    • Free ISBNs have limited distribution flexibility
    • Purchased ISBNs offer more control and better long-term management

To publish your eBook successfully, follow these best practices:

  1. Get an ISBN: Purchase from an official agency like Bowker.
  2. Assign Separate ISBNs: Use a unique ISBN for each eBook format.
  3. Update ISBNs: Assign a new ISBN when making significant content or format changes.

Failing to follow these guidelines can lead to inaccurate sales data, reader confusion, difficulty identifying versions, and potential lost sales.

Understanding ISBN Structure

ISBN Components

An ISBN is made up of different parts:

Part What It Means
Group Identifier Shows the language and country where the book was published
Publisher Identifier A unique code for each publisher
Title Identifier Distinguishes different books from the same publisher
Check Digit Verifies the ISBN is correct
Prefix Element (ISBN-13 only) Identifies the 13-digit ISBN format

ISBN-10 vs ISBN-13

  • ISBN-10: A 10-digit number
  • ISBN-13: A 13-digit number, introduced in 2007 to provide more unique book identifiers

Both formats are still used, but ISBN-13 is the preferred standard.

No 'eISBN' Exists

There's no separate 'eISBN' for eBooks. The same ISBN can be used for both print and digital versions of the same book content.

Why ISBNs Matter for eBooks

Easy Book Identification

An ISBN is a unique number that identifies your eBook. It helps online stores, libraries, and distributors easily recognize and list your book. Without an ISBN, your eBook may be hard to find and purchase.

Platform Requirements

Some eBook platforms require an ISBN, while others don't. For example:

Platform ISBN Required?
Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing No
Apple Books Yes
Barnes & Noble Press Yes

Check the requirements for each platform you plan to publish on.

Better Discoverability and Tracking

Having an ISBN can:

  • Make your eBook more visible in online catalogs
  • Help readers discover and buy your book
  • Allow you to accurately track sales and royalties

Key Benefits

In summary, an ISBN for your eBook:

1. Improves Discoverability: Readers can easily find and purchase your book online.

2. Meets Platform Requirements: Some platforms require an ISBN for publishing.

3. Enables Sales Tracking: You can accurately monitor sales and royalties.

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Getting an ISBN for eBooks

How to Get an ISBN

Getting an ISBN for your eBook is a simple process. In the United States, you can purchase an ISBN from Bowker, the official ISBN agency. You can buy a single ISBN or in bulk, based on your needs. Other countries have their own ISBN agencies, so check the specific requirements for your region.

ISBN Purchase Costs

The cost of purchasing an ISBN varies depending on the agency and the number of ISBNs you need. In the United States, a single ISBN from Bowker costs $125, while a block of 10 ISBNs costs $295. If you plan to publish multiple eBooks, buying in bulk can be more cost-effective.

Free vs Purchased ISBN

Some eBook platforms, like Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, offer free ISBNs for your eBook. However, there are pros and cons to consider when deciding between a free ISBN and purchasing your own.

Option Pros Cons
Free ISBN No upfront cost Limited flexibility in eBook distribution
Purchased ISBN More control over eBook distribution Upfront cost
Better for long-term eBook management

When deciding between a free ISBN and purchasing your own, consider your eBook distribution strategy and long-term goals. If you plan to distribute your eBook through multiple channels, a purchased ISBN may be the better option. However, if you're only publishing through a single platform, a free ISBN may be sufficient.

Different eBook Formats Need Separate ISBNs

Why Separate ISBNs?

Each eBook format, like EPUB, MOBI, and PDF, is considered a unique product. Even if the content is the same, the format itself is a distinguishing factor. This is similar to how a book in different languages needs separate ISBNs, even if the content is identical.

For example, a MOBI file is specific to Amazon's Kindle platform, while an EPUB file can be used on multiple eReaders. Assigning a unique ISBN to each format helps identify and track each version separately.

Best Practices for Assigning ISBNs

Here are some best practices for assigning ISBNs to your eBook formats:

  • Assign a unique ISBN to each eBook format (e.g., EPUB, MOBI, PDF).
  • Use the same ISBN for all versions of the same format (e.g., all EPUB versions).
  • Consider using a different ISBN for variations of the same format, such as an EPUB with audio or a fixed-layout EPUB.

Consistency is Key

When using ISBNs for your eBooks, consistency is crucial. Make sure to:

  • Use the same ISBN for all versions of the same format.
  • Avoid using different ISBNs for the same format across different platforms.

For example, if you're selling an EPUB version of your eBook on Amazon, Apple Books, and Barnes & Noble, use the same ISBN for all three platforms. This helps maintain consistency and avoid confusion when tracking sales and analytics.

eBook Format ISBN Required?
EPUB Yes, unique ISBN
MOBI Yes, unique ISBN
PDF Yes, unique ISBN
Same format across platforms Use the same ISBN

When to Update an eBook's ISBN

Updating an eBook's ISBN is crucial when significant changes are made to the content or format. Here's when you need to assign a new ISBN:

New ISBN Required

  • Major Content Updates: If you've made substantial revisions or additions to the eBook's content, a new ISBN is necessary.
  • Format Changes: Changing the eBook format, such as adding multimedia elements or switching to a fixed layout, requires a new ISBN.
  • Metadata Updates: If you've changed the eBook's title, author, or publisher information, you'll need a new ISBN.

Assigning a new ISBN in these cases helps distinguish the updated version from the previous one, ensuring accurate sales tracking and analytics.

Risks of Not Updating ISBN

Failing to update the ISBN when significant changes are made can lead to:

Risk Explanation
Inaccurate Sales Tracking Sales and analytics may be incorrectly reported, mixing data from different versions.
Reader Confusion Readers may struggle to identify the correct version they need.
Difficulty Differentiating Versions Retailers and distributors may have trouble distinguishing between eBook versions.
Potential Lost Sales Incorrect tracking and reporting could result in lost revenue.

To avoid these issues, it's essential to assign a new ISBN whenever you make major changes to your eBook's content or format.

Conclusion

Key Points

  • An ISBN is a unique number that identifies your eBook. It helps online stores, libraries, and distributors easily find and sell your book.
  • You need a separate ISBN for each eBook format (EPUB, MOBI, PDF, etc.), even if the content is the same.
  • Update your eBook's ISBN when you make major changes to the content or format. This ensures accurate sales tracking and prevents confusion.

Follow Best Practices

To publish your eBook successfully, follow these best practices:

  1. Get an ISBN: Purchase ISBNs from an official agency like Bowker (for the U.S.) or your country's authorized source.
  2. Assign Separate ISBNs: Use a unique ISBN for each eBook format you publish.
  3. Update ISBNs: When you significantly revise your eBook's content or change its format, assign a new ISBN.

Failing to follow these guidelines can lead to:

Risk Explanation
Inaccurate Sales Data Sales and analytics may be incorrect, mixing data from different versions.
Reader Confusion Readers may struggle to find the correct version they need.
Difficulty Identifying Versions Retailers and distributors may have trouble distinguishing between eBook versions.
Potential Lost Sales Incorrect tracking and reporting could result in lost revenue.

FAQs

Do I need an ISBN for my eBook?

No, you don't always need an ISBN to publish an eBook. Some platforms like Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing allow you to publish eBooks without an ISBN. However, having an ISBN can make your eBook easier to find and purchase online.

What are the benefits of an ISBN?

An ISBN, or International Standard Book Number, is a unique identifier for books. It helps:

  • Online stores, libraries, and distributors easily find and list your eBook
  • Readers discover and purchase your book
  • You accurately track sales and royalties

How do I get an ISBN for my eBook?

To get an ISBN for your eBook, you can purchase one from an official ISBN agency like Bowker (for the U.S.) or your country's authorized source. The cost varies, but in the U.S., a single ISBN from Bowker costs $125.

Option Cost (U.S.)
Single ISBN $125
10 ISBNs $295

Should I use a free or purchased ISBN?

Some platforms offer free ISBNs, but there are pros and cons to consider:

Option Pros Cons
Free ISBN No upfront cost Limited distribution flexibility
Purchased ISBN More control over distribution Upfront cost
Better for long-term management

If you plan to distribute your eBook through multiple channels, a purchased ISBN may be better. But if you're only publishing on one platform, a free ISBN could suffice.

Do I need separate ISBNs for different eBook formats?

Yes, it's recommended to use a separate ISBN for each eBook format (EPUB, MOBI, PDF, etc.), even if the content is the same. This helps identify and track each version accurately.

For example, use one ISBN for your EPUB version and another for your MOBI version. But use the same ISBN for all EPUB versions across different platforms.

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