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Thread: Self Publishing and ISBNs

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    Self Publishing and ISBNs

    I don't think most people particularly care about the ISBN. It's pretty much irrelevant to the current "self publishing" market.

    The big thing is having access to the control panels at the various stores, which lets you change prices and monitor sales. Oh and obviously, not having someone taking a chunk out of your royalties.

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    crazy mean SuperModerator Old Hack's Avatar
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    Katie, if the ISBN isn't registered to you then you often don't have access to the various storefronts you refer to, as only the publisher of record can control those. And the publisher of record is the person or publisher the ISBN is registered to.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Old Hack View Post
    I think control is the deciding factor: but as is often the case, how you define "control" is significant. If you don't control the stock, sales or production of your book then I'm not convinced that you've self published, especially if the ISBN isn't registered to you: but if you're aware of all of the issues involved with that, and are happy delegating all that control to someone else in return for a great big wodge of money that's not a bad thing.

    The problems come when writers use such services without realising their limitations or implications. Which is a whole other issue.
    Exactly this. If you don't control those things you're being published, not self-publishing. Vanity publishers won't bother trying to sell your book to anyone except you and your nearest and dearest.

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    Katie, if the ISBN isn't registered to you then you often don't have access to the various storefronts you refer to, as only the publisher of record can control those. And the publisher of record is the person or publisher the ISBN is registered to.
    I'm sorry, but that's just not correct.

    Amazon/KDP, B&N/PubIt, Kobo, All Romance, and Itunes do not require an ISBN. You upload directly and they use their own internal identifier.

    Apple has irritating issues, including requiring a Mac to upload and listing your legal name as publisher if you don't have a DBA bank account to deposit to. B&N/Pubit doesn't allow non-US based accounts. Smashwords and Lulu provide access to these stores and take 10%. You can waste money for a vanity ISBN or use the free ones registered to them, but it's really irrelevant. They still take 10% and you still manage them through exactly the same control panels.

    Createspace and Lulu both do POD services. You can waste money on your own vanity ISBN or you can list them as publisher, but it's essentially irrelevant. Most sales will still come online. Even if bookstores did stock your books, they'd be ordering them from CS or LL, not from you. Like using Smash/Lulu, the experience and financials are identical no matter who's name the ISBN is in.

    The only real purpose of an ISBN that I can is for you to print your own books, stick them in the basement, and wait for bookstores to order from you. That's something so rare as to be irrelevant in modern "self publishing." (It's also the fantasy that the S&S vanity press Archway really heavily pushes.)

    You could, I suppose, declare that nobody using Smashwords or Createspace is a "self-publisher," but seems a little farfetched.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Katie Elle View Post
    The only real purpose of an ISBN that I can is for you to print your own books, stick them in the basement, and wait for bookstores to order from you. That's something so rare as to be irrelevant in modern "self publishing." (It's also the fantasy that the S&S vanity press Archway really heavily pushes.)
    1. The ISBN is used by libraries for cataloging and purchasing books—including ebooks.

    2. Most of the library acquisition systems deliberately filter out ISBNs associated with publishers that the LOC will not recognize; that includes ISBNS associated with Amazon's Create Space, and SmashWords, as well as companies like Tate and PublishAmerica.

    3. I suspect that you're not aware of just how much information the ISBN encodes.

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    Cultus Gopherus MacAllister SuperModerator Medievalist's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Katie Elle View Post
    I'm sorry, but that's just not correct.

    Amazon/KDP, B&N/PubIt, Kobo, All Romance, and Itunes do not require an ISBN.
    According to Apple, you need an ISBN to sell books whether the buyer is purchasing from the iBooks bookstore, or via the iTunes link to the iBooksbookstore. It's also used for internal tracking and meta data as well as searches.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Medievalist View Post
    1. The ISBN is used by libraries for cataloging and purchasing books—including ebooks.

    2. Most of the library acquisition systems deliberately filter out ISBNs associated with publishers that the LOC will not recognize; that includes ISBNS associated with Amazon's Create Space, and SmashWords, as well as companies like Tate and PublishAmerica.

    3. I suspect that you're not aware of just how much information the ISBN encodes.
    This is part of why I dusted off the block of ISBNs that I bought years ago for my now-defunct RPG-publishing company and self-published under that company name.

    That, and they were already paid for.

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    Quote Originally Posted by LBlankenship View Post
    This is part of why I dusted off the block of ISBNs that I bought years ago for my now-defunct RPG-publishing company and self-published under that company name.

    That, and they were already paid for.
    Buying a block is the best way to go. Right now, Bowker sells 1 for $125.00, or a contiguous block of 10 for $250.00. When I used to buy large number of ISBNs, you could get 1000 for about a buck a piece.

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    1. The ISBN is used by libraries for cataloging and purchasing books—including ebooks.
    Libraries are irrelevant to "self-publishing." They're not interested in our books and the way you make money is not chasing markets that aren't open to you, but exploiting those that are.

    If you're popular enough that you're likely to get into a library, you probably have an email box full of offers from agents and publishers anyway. And Sara Fawkes or Hugh Howey and the dreams of a lot of people aside, that's really not likely--most of us make our money on lower volume and high royalty.

    When my KDP shows thousands of sales a month, then I'll be perfectly glad to buy an ISBN because it will at that point become financially useful. Until then, it's just pointless. It's a vanity thing. And as a "self-publisher," you can buy one and change your books to it whenever you'd like. It's not something you have to do when you launch one. Just like at launch you'd be very unlikely to do a physical print or audio book, but when you have a hit, it's something you look into.

    3. I suspect that you're not aware of just how much information the ISBN encodes.
    I'm perfectly aware of it. It's just not particularly relevant. It serves no purpose for 99.9% of "self published" writers. The vast vast majority of sales are ebook format. Author -> storefront -> consumer. No ISBN necessary. No purpose served by having one.

    According to Apple, you need an ISBN to sell books
    Last I heard, they'd changed their policy. It was one of the biggest things driving people to go through them to Smash/lulu. My understanding is that starting last month, Apple, like ARE, now assign a faux ISBN. (ie, something with the same number of digits, so it fits in their database field, but which can't possibly match a valid one.)

    Right now the biggest issue for most people going direct with itunes is the linkage of their listing of publisher to the tax ID used on the account (ie, your real name). The Mac thing is a PITA, but you can rent time on a virtual Mac for a minimal price or buy a cheap used Mac on ebay. From memory, you need to have OS-X 10.6 or better. With the removal of the ISBN requirement a lot of people are looking into it. However, for now, the result is most "self publishers" still go through Smash or Lulu.

    The far bigger issue with itunes (and kobo) has to do with searchability, not by ISBN, but by topic, keywords, etc. That's one of the huge strengths of the Amazon storefront: it reliably connects readers with what they want to read. That benefits all authors from the Big 5 to the "self publisher" like me who sells a few hundred units a month.

    Going back to the original topic of mainstream publishers opening vanity press imprints, one of the big things you'll find on Archway is babble about how they give you an ISBN to get into a physical bookstore. It's one of the big "tells" that they're a vanity press and selling dreams rather than reality.

    ISBNs are as important to "self publishing" as a travel agent is to booking a flight between NY and Chicago.

  10. #10
    crazy mean SuperModerator Old Hack's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Katie Elle View Post
    I'm sorry, but that's just not correct.
    It is correct. And I don't think you're sorry at all.

    Amazon/KDP, B&N/PubIt, Kobo, All Romance, and Itunes do not require an ISBN. You upload directly and they use their own internal identifier.
    You can use the numbers supplied by those sites: but you can also use an ISBN; and there's a lot more to self publishing than the sites you name.

    You can waste money for a vanity ISBN
    That you refer to them as a "waste [of] money" and "vanity ISBN[s]" reveals a significant lack of respect on your part towards the writers who use ISBNs, and a marked lack of understanding of all that ISBNs are for.

    Createspace and Lulu both do POD services. You can waste money on your own vanity ISBN or you can list them as publisher, but it's essentially irrelevant.
    More wasted money and "vanity" for using an ISBN? Calling ISBNs and the publisher of record irrelevant? Oh dear.

    Most sales will still come online. Even if bookstores did stock your books, they'd be ordering them from CS or LL, not from you. Like using Smash/Lulu, the experience and financials are identical no matter who's name the ISBN is in.
    Are you sure that bookshops will order books direct from CreateSpace or Lulu? And no, the "financials" aren't identical if there's a person named as publisher of record or if there's a company, for example: this choice has significant financial implications for self publishers.

    The only real purpose of an ISBN that I can is for you to print your own books, stick them in the basement, and wait for bookstores to order from you. That's something so rare as to be irrelevant in modern "self publishing." (It's also the fantasy that the S&S vanity press Archway really heavily pushes.)
    Then you're unaware of what ISBNs are for and you are, once again, sneering at the people who use them.

    You might also want to reconsider your use of scare-quotes. You're being patronising, and it's not appreciated.

    You could, I suppose, declare that nobody using Smashwords or Createspace is a "self-publisher," but seems a little farfetched.
    And you could start responding to what people have actually said and not to what you think they've said, but that seems a little unlikely given your track record.

    Quote Originally Posted by Katie Elle View Post
    Libraries are irrelevant to "self-publishing." They're not interested in our books and the way you make money is not chasing markets that aren't open to you, but exploiting those that are.
    Libraries might be irrelevant to you and your publishing endeavours, but there are plenty of self publishers who disagree with you there. Just as there are plenty of self publishers whose primary motivation isn't making money.

    When my KDP shows thousands of sales a month, then I'll be perfectly glad to buy an ISBN because it will at that point become financially useful. Until then, it's just pointless. It's a vanity thing.
    Again with the vanity sneer? If you really think this then you do not understand the purpose that ISBNs serve. And stop sneering at self publishers who use ISBNs: just because you don't see any value in them doesn't make your view reliably true, and it doesn't make people who disagree with you wrong or deserving of ridicule or name-calling.

    And as a "self-publisher," you can buy one and change your books to it whenever you'd like. It's not something you have to do when you launch one.
    If you added an ISBN to a book after the book had built up momentum then I suspect it would be considered a new edition, and would have to rebuild that momentum. If I'm right here, that would mean that all rankings for the edition with the ISBN would be set to zero.

    Just like at launch you'd be very unlikely to do a physical print or audio book, but when you have a hit, it's something you look into.
    Again, you're assuming all self publishers follow your business model. This is not the case.

    The far bigger issue with itunes (and kobo) has to do with searchability, not by ISBN, but by topic, keywords, etc. That's one of the huge strengths of the Amazon storefront: it reliably connects readers with what they want to read. That benefits all authors from the Big 5 to the "self publisher" like me who sells a few hundred units a month.
    Those scare-quotes are getting to be a habit with you, aren't they? I'd like you to explain why you use them and to explain the effect you hope they'll have. Or you can apologise for using them, and not use them again. It's up to you.

    ISBNs are as important to "self publishing" as a travel agent is to booking a flight between NY and Chicago.
    In your subset of self publishing there might not be any value in using ISBNs (although based on your obvious lack of understanding or knowledge about them, I'm not entirely convinced). But that doesn't make it true for all self publishers, and your insistence that it does only reveals how little you know about ISBNs and publishing.

    I'm happy to continue this discussion with you, Katie, but only on the condition that you the sneering out right now. I'm not going to allow you any more leeway on this. I hope that's clear.

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    You can use the numbers supplied by those sites: but you can also use an ISBN; and there's a lot more to self publishing than the sites you name.
    There's not a lot of money in other sites that I'm aware of unless there are others like All Romance for other genres. If you'd like to point some out, that would be very useful. The only other major one I know is Google, but they have a reputation for discounting books without your permission, which affects your other storefronts.

    Are you sure that bookshops will order books direct from CreateSpace or Lulu? And no, the "financials" aren't identical if there's a person named as publisher of record or if there's a company, for example: this choice has significant financial implications for self publishers.
    Bookshops aren't ordering books from us. That's exactly my point. It just isn't something that happens. That's why several authors have done long negotiations with mainstream publishers for mass market print. They were on the best seller lists and still not really able to access book shops. There's been some recent successes where authors were able to retain rights to their electronic books and have publishers handle mass market print distribution.

    In terms of the financials, I mean what the sites pay out. There's no difference in your financial relationship to Createspace or Smashwords or Lulu based on who the ISBN points to. Other than the cost of the private ISBN.

    If you added an ISBN to a book after the book had built up momentum then I suspect it would be considered a new edition, and would have to rebuild that momentum. If I'm right here, that would mean that all rankings for the edition with the ISBN would be set to zero.
    No, that's not correct. You just open the control panel and add it to the existing book. This is one of the keys to the whole thing--control over the control panel. You can freely update the book as you'd like. Just open the KDP (or PubIT or WL or whatever) control panel and make changes: price, add an ISBN, change the edition, add a series designation if you've written a sequel, change the cover, associate a book with its print or audio version. The only time your book "resets" is if you create a new record in the storefront databases. (Go and create a dummy account on Amazon so you can see what I'm talking about. You can see the entire site without actually publishing something and there's no financial up front cost--though you will need to input financial info as part of setup.)

    If I'm missing a significant market, then please, tell me where it is?

    My understanding is the ISBN was created to connect publishers with distributors and retailers and provide a universal data rich identifier for doing so. For unsigned writers today, it's not relevant at all because the world changed with the advent of modern direct to multinational retailer ebooks. They bypass the ISBN completely because they bypass the entire old brick and mortar structure.

    I used the metaphor of a travel agent very specifically. You could not seriously book travel 40 years ago without one. Now, you can go directly to airlines and hotels websites and book. You can go through something like Travelocity (perhaps they'd be the Smashwords of travel--though TL's site is a whole lot better). And you can do a mixture of them.

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    Last edited by Katie Elle; 12-14-2012 at 05:12 PM.

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    crazy mean SuperModerator Old Hack's Avatar
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    Katie, in my previous comment I wrote this in relation to your habit of enclosing the phrase self publishing and its variants within inverted commas.

    Quote Originally Posted by Old Hack View Post
    Those scare-quotes are getting to be a habit with you, aren't they? I'd like you to explain why you use them and to explain the effect you hope they'll have. Or you can apologise for using them, and not use them again. It's up to you.
    Please provide a reasonable response to my questions in your next comment here.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Katie Elle View Post
    I'm sorry, but that's just not correct.
    I'm sorry, but you're not correct.

    If you aren't the publisher of record, you can't access assorted storefront tools associated with a given publisher.

    Sorry about that.

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    I apologize for using quotations around the term "self publishing." It was an attempt to comply with the rules for required terminology on the forum. I will cease and desist.

    In terms of Vanity ISBNs, I apologize if anyone was offended. The term is actually what Smashwords uses and I have found it to be in common usage:

    We recommend the FREE ISBN because it's free. We pay for the ISBN so you don't have to. The Premium ISBN offers no advantage over the free ISBN. Unless you're a publisher of multiple authors, the Premium ISBN is essentially a vanity ISBN for those who feel it's important to be listed as the "publisher" in the Bowker Books in Print Database, a database few readers will ever view (most readers search for books via title and author name searches at Google and online bookstores).
    The reason I say it is a waste of money is that it does not seem to serve any actual purpose other than to transfer money from the author's pocket to Bowker's bank account.

    What purpose does an ISBN serve to someone who is an unsigned author retailing their own books through the modern post 2009 ebook and POD environment? The venues that use one are defacto closed to us unless we go through a consolidator and they offer their own free ISBNs for the purpose and whether you use theirs or yours makes no practical difference.

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    If you aren't the publisher of record, you can't access assorted storefront tools associated with a given publisher.
    Given that my partner and I have 20 or so shorts published on Amz, Kobo, B&N, and through Smash & Lulu iTunes and that the aforementioned companies have deposited several thousand dollars into our bank account and that we do not own any ISBNs in our own name (we use the free Smashwords ones), I'm a little perplexed at your statement.

    Look, I don't know a whole lot about writing. I never wrote fiction before this year. That's what I'm here for and while I don't post in other forums that much, I absorb the info like a sponge and it's vastly improved my work. If I'm here for a hundred years, you'll probably never see me offer advice on actual writing. However, I am actually doing this. My works, meager as they are, are making money. They are available worldwide. They sell well enough for what they are. I understand this publishing ecosystem and how it works or I wouldn't put myself out there.
    Last edited by Katie Elle; 12-14-2012 at 08:23 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Katie Elle View Post
    Libraries are irrelevant to "self-publishing." They're not interested in our books and the way you make money is not chasing markets that aren't open to you, but exploiting those that are.

    If you're popular enough that you're likely to get into a library, you probably have an email box full of offers from agents and publishers anyway. And Sara Fawkes or Hugh Howey and the dreams of a lot of people aside, that's really not likely--most of us make our money on lower volume and high royalty.
    I suspect you're writing and selling for different customers than the self-publishers I work with. They realize that libraries are a crucial market.

    Quote Originally Posted by Katie Elle View Post
    When my KDP shows thousands of sales a month, then I'll be perfectly glad to buy an ISBN because it will at that point become financially useful. Until then, it's just pointless.
    Here's the thing though; you post as if you were speaking for all self-publishers—and you don't.

    In fact you're atypical. Most self-publishers want their books to be just as well produced and purchaseable as those from commercial publishers—and that includes things like an ISBN.

    Most publishers and authors quite like the idea of their books being in library collections, and bought by libraries. Many are interested in selling to home schoolers, or K-12 and university textbook customers—and those vendors will also want an ISBN.

    You're also inclined to make assertions of fact without knowing what you're talking about, or without having any idea about your audience. Like this gem:

    Quote Originally Posted by Katie Elle View Post
    Last I heard, they'd changed their policy. It was one of the biggest things driving people to go through them to Smash/lulu. My understanding is that starting last month, Apple, like ARE, now assign a faux ISBN. (ie, something with the same number of digits, so it fits in their database field, but which can't possibly match a valid one.)
    "Last I heard," you say. You didn't even bother to check.

    One reason many self-publishers turn to SmashwWords as a service provider is that Smashwords makes the formatting and verification easier, and they provide an ISBN. Apple requires an ISBN. They always have.

    I know; I was one of the people they consulted when they created iBooks and the iBooks Bookstore. They, like Amazon, use the ISBN to track region sales—to make sure they aren't selling a book in a country where it isn't legal.

    Quote Originally Posted by Katie Elle View Post
    Right now the biggest issue for most people going direct with itunes is the linkage of their listing of publisher to the tax ID used on the account (ie, your real name).
    Again, someone serious about self-publishing and creating a professional book would consider things like a DBA, and the name of their publishing endeavor. Self-publishing done well is a perfectly reasonable business, but you do need to approach it as a professional and a business person.

    Quote Originally Posted by Katie Elle View Post
    ISBNs are as important to "self publishing" as a travel agent is to booking a flight between NY and Chicago.
    Again—speak for yourself. For someone who isn't selling thousands of books a month, you're terribly inclined to spout a great deal of nonsense. I'd suggest you peruse your entire post history; it speaks volumes.

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    I don't think people buying ISBNs are doing it for vanity.

    I do think ISBNs are a waste of money and that no one will be using them in the not-so-distant future.

    I wouldn't recommend anyone buy ISBNs if you're just starting out. They're not necessary in this new self-publishing climate, and unless you have lots of cash to throw around, take the free Createspace one.

    When I started self-pubbing in 2009, people said you weren't a "real" self-pubber unless you bought them, so I got a block of ten. All that did was eat into my profits for the year. Totally useless.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Katie Elle View Post
    Given that my partner and I have 20 or so shorts published on Amz, Kobo, B&N, and through Smash & Lulu iTunes and that the aforementioned companies have deposited several thousand dollars into our bank account and that we do not own any ISBNs in our own name (we use the free Smashwords ones), I'm a little perplexed at your statement.
    You're not getting the full sales report.

    For all your dismissal of ISBNs, it's a little hypercritical and a lot disingenuous for you to then reveal that you're using the Smashword provided ISBNs, you really, you know fuck all about not having in ISBN.

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    Quote Originally Posted by valeriec80 View Post
    I don't think people buying ISBNs are doing it for vanity.

    I do think ISBNs are a waste of money and that no one will be using them in the not-so-distant future.
    Not using them will increasingly restrict venues and sales. Libraries, ebook vending machines, and large distributors all want ISBNS.

    Quote Originally Posted by valeriec80 View Post
    I wouldn't recommend anyone buy ISBNs if you're just starting out. They're not necessary in this new self-publishing climate, and unless you have lots of cash to throw around, take the free Createspace one.
    I think that's reasonable. There are authors self-publishing not so much to make money, as to have their book available. They're not really doing it as a long-term business.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Katie Elle View Post
    What purpose does an ISBN serve to someone who is an unsigned author retailing their own books through the modern post 2009 ebook and POD environment? The venues that use one are defacto closed to us unless we go through a consolidator and they offer their own free ISBNs for the purpose and whether you use theirs or yours makes no practical difference.
    In the case of a number of books I worked on as rights acquirer and image licenser or typesetter and producer, the authors wanted to enter the textbook and scholarly market—there's potentially a great deal of money to be made in textbooks—and they wanted their printed and digital books to look at least as professional as something from an academic publisher in order to be carried by distributors, and campus book stores.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Katie Elle View Post
    The far bigger issue with itunes (and kobo) has to do with searchability, not by ISBN, but by topic, keywords, etc.
    If you go through iTunes Connect you control the metadata, including keywords.

    But you need an ISBN for that that you control.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Old Hack View Post
    If you added an ISBN to a book after the book had built up momentum then I suspect it would be considered a new edition, and would have to rebuild that momentum.
    This is mostly correct; Amazon has metadata abilities and parsing abilities and will attempt to "connect" previous reviews, but the sales rank will start over, which means listing ranks will reset as well. So yes, lost momentum.

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  23. #23
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    "Last I heard," you say. You didn't even bother to check.
    I know; I was one of the people they consulted when they created iBooks and the iBooks Bookstore. They, like Amazon, use the ISBN to track region sales—to make sure they aren't selling a book in a country where it isn't legal.
    https://itunesconnect.apple.com/docs...rPaidBooks.pdf

    Page 23 (emphasis mine)

    ISBN: Type a unique, industry standard, and permanent number to identify the record for this book. The ISBN number identifies the electronic book, not the printed publication, and cannot include dashes (-) or spaces. Apple recommends using the 13-digit ISBN number. Although optional for delivering your book to the iBookstore, ISBN numbers are often required for reporting your book's sales back to the industry reporting agencies and for charting on national charts.

  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by valeriec80 View Post
    I wouldn't recommend anyone buy ISBNs if you're just starting out. They're not necessary in this new self-publishing climate, and unless you have lots of cash to throw around, take the free Createspace one.

    When I started self-pubbing in 2009, people said you weren't a "real" self-pubber unless you bought them, so I got a block of ten. All that did was eat into my profits for the year. Totally useless.
    Exactly what I'm saying. Most of us are never going to be making the best seller lists and the best option is to minimize costs.

  25. #25
    Formerly Phantom of Krankor. AW Moderator Torgo's Avatar
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    iTunes FAQ suggests ISBNs are required if your book is paid-for, but optional if it is free: http://www.apple.com/itunes/content-.../book-faq.html

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