Getting an ISBN – Here’s What You Need to Know

If you want to distribute your book to bookstores and beyond you need to know all the details on getting an ISBN for your book. You probably already know that you can get one for free on Amazon, but there’s always a catch with free. If you have bigger goals beyond Amazon distribution in mind, getting your ISBN from Amazon for free is not going to be the right choice.

If you’re wondering whether you should accept Amazon’s free ISBN, buy your own, or maybe you still don’t even know what I’m talking about, this article is going teach you how to get an ISBN for your book, along with everything you need to know about this identification number.

First Thing’s First, What’s an ISBN?

ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. You can find this number on the bar code on the back of a book. It’s a 10 – 13-digit number that identifies a specific book, an edition, or a book-like product like an audiobook.

It also tells you a book’s physical properties, like trim size, page count, and binding type.

Retailers, libraries, and distributors use this number to search for books because it helps simplify the whole supply process, making your book discoverable in inventory systems.

ISBN vs. ASIN: What’s the Difference?

An ISBN is not the same as an ASIN, which stands for Amazon Standard Identification Number.

An ASIN is a block of 10 letters and numbers that identifies not just books but all kinds of products found on Amazon.

You can find the ASIN in the product detail section of an Amazon product page, where you can also find your book’s metadata.

Once you publish your ebook on KDP, Amazon assigns it a unique ASIN so that it’ll be identifiable on Kindle and Kindle only.

If you don’t want your ebook accessible through other retailers, you can call it a day with the ASIN.

Keep in mind that this is a unique identifier exclusively for Amazon and Amazon marketplaces.

If someone’s hunting for your book on Amazon, they can easily find it by ASIN. But, the ASIN is useless if they’re searching on other retailers or distributors, like Barnes & Noble, Chapters, or even their local library.

Your ISBN, on the other hand, works for the entire global supply chain. So, with the ISBN, readers can search for your book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Google Play, or their local libraries in Greenland if they need to.

You do not need an ISBN to publish an ebook on KDP, but you will need one to publish a paperback edition.

How to Get An ISBN for Your Book: Free Vs. Paid

You have two main options for getting an ISBN. You can grab one for free on Amazon, or you can purchase your own through Bowker. Unless you’re a Canadian, in which case you CAN get a Free ISBN. This video shows you how:

Bowker is a supply chain services company and it’s the only place to snag a legit ISBN in the US.

If you buy your ISBN, you’ll be able to provide that number to Amazon during your title setup.

So, now, I know you’re wondering, “Why should I bother getting an ISBN that I have to pay for with my hard-earned money when Amazon’s just handing them out for free?” I’m so glad you asked.

The simple answer is, having a free ISBN won’t get you listed as the publisher.

If you go with a free ISBN, KDP or Amazon will be listed as the publisher. Naturally, you still own the copyright to your book. But! this can make you look just a little bit less professional than having your own imprint.

If you need a guide on self-publishing imprints, check out this video right here.

You haven’t heard the end of the story yet about getting an ISBN.

So, you can’t just take that free Amazon ISBN and upload your book to Ingram and sell through there. Yes, that free ISBN sounds like a hot deal, but it locks you into KDP print.

Sure, you can sign up for expanded distribution on KDP print. In theory, that would make your book widely available. But, the reality is, you’ll need your book on Ingram’s catalog before you can claim it’s truly widely available.

Ultimately, bookstores and other online retailers won’t buy from Amazon. Now libraries do buy from Amazon all the time, so you can still potentially get your free ISBN labeled book into a local library. However, you’re going to have a hard time getting through almost all other distribution channels.

If you want to sell your book anywhere else, you’ll need to get your very own ISBN for your book.

How Many ISBNs Should You Buy?

You need one for every format of your book. You don’t need one for each place you’ll list your book. It’s all about format.

Your ebook, print, audiobook, large print or every future book edition you have gets its own unique ISBN.

If you’re doing a softcover and hardcover, you need one for each since those are different formats.

How Much Does An ISBN Cost?

Here’s good news for my fellow Canadians, ISBNs are free! You can get your own through ISBN Canada’s online system and not spend a penny (see that video up above). In the US, though, you’ll have to buy them through Bowker.

A single ISBN from Bowker currently costs $125. Now, most likely, your book will come in multiple formats. You might as well use their pack of 10 for $295. It’s a better deal since you’ll need ISBNs for every format anyways.

These identification numbers also don’t have an expiration date, and you can still use them for future books.

Bonus Tip When Getting an ISBN from Bowker

Don’t buy anything else from Bowker apart from your ISBNs. They’ll try to upsell you a barcode and some other stuff that you don’t need!

You don’t have to buy barcodes because you can just create them for free using free tools on the internet. KDP print upload will do it; your book cover designer can do it. Don’t pay for that. You’re welcome.

Now, while you’re counting how many ISBNs you need, maybe you’re also wondering if you should make an audiobook. This video right here will help you with that decision.

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