February 11, 2013

Do you really need an ISBN number?

ISBNs cause authors and self-publishers a great deal of concern. They shouldn’t because it is all really quite straightforward. ISBNs simply record 3 pieces of information.
  • Who the Publisher is
  • Information on the book
  • Where to order the book from
In the UK, ISBN numbers are obtained from and allocated by Nielsen Bookdata. The simple application form and guidelines can be downloaded from their website.

The question that we are most often asked by self publishers, is ‘should we have our own ISBN number?’ We think the answer is a definite Yes!  It is the publisher of a book that holds the ISBN for that title. As a self-publisher, you are both the author and publisher rolled into one. Therefore, if you do not have your own ISBN, you are not the publisher! 

This is a vitally important distinction, because it is the publisher and holder of the ISBN number, that holds all the ancillary rights to a book – things like translation rights, foreign rights, serialisation rights and, most importantly in this age of the eBook, electronic rights!

Jonathan Clifford writes
a very informative article in
The Writers' & Artists' Yearbook
If a company provides you with an ISBN, it will be their ISBN, so they are the publisher. As such, unless you have a written agreement that states otherwise, they will own all the publishing rights to your book.

Jonathan Clifford, who writes for the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook states…
For a book to be genuinely self-published, a name designated by the author as his/her publishing house must appear on the copyright page of the book as ‘Publisher’ and the book’s ISBN must be registered by the ISBN Agency to that author as publisher. Any company that publishes books under it’s own name or imprint cannot, by definition, claim to help authors to self-publish.”


  1. Always control your own ISBN, that is buy them yourself, see other post

  2. Yes you need an ISBN. Without this your book is just not a book. You will not get distribution deals, the likes of The Book Depository and Amazon wont stock your work, Gardners and Betrams won't be able to order your book. As a self-publisher, you should ABSOLUTELY get an ISBN, but also give very serious consideration to the next stage on from that - self publish but via an imprint who will source the ISBN for you. The deal you can agree (I have successfully done so with,no issues, no hassles, no rip off and 100% satisfaction) means you can pay a one-off fee, but retain all rights, but the imprint being a recognised publishing house (yeas, I know, make sure they ARE), then you will instantly discover that you are opening up a whole world of book distribution that otherwise you will really struggle with. My Inspector Vignoles Mysteries (5 books in the series to date, sales of over 15,000 and counting...) have all gone under the HASTINGS PRESS imprint. Without doing ANYTHIING i was being stocked by Amazon, WH SMIths online, Waterstones, Book Depostiory etc... So, yes Get an ISBN. But a sequential series - its a small detail but kind of nice on your books....


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