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Katie Elle
12-13-2012, 11:22 PM
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.

Old Hack
12-13-2012, 11:29 PM
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.

Torgo
12-13-2012, 11:36 PM
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.

Katie Elle
12-14-2012, 12:07 AM
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.

Medievalist
12-14-2012, 01:41 AM
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 (http://feedyourreadinghabit.blogspot.com/2011/10/how-to-read-international-standard-book.html).

Medievalist
12-14-2012, 02:00 AM
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 (http://www.apple.com/itunes/content-providers/book-faq.html) 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 (http://www.apple.com/itunes/affiliates/resources/blog/using-isbns-with-the-ibookstore.html).

LBlankenship
12-14-2012, 02:27 AM
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 (http://feedyourreadinghabit.blogspot.com/2011/10/how-to-read-international-standard-book.html).

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.

Medievalist
12-14-2012, 02:34 AM
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.

Katie Elle
12-14-2012, 05:55 AM
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.

Old Hack
12-14-2012, 02:54 PM
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.


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.

Katie Elle
12-14-2012, 04:00 PM
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.

Eppur si muove

Old Hack
12-14-2012, 05:30 PM
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.


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.

James D. Macdonald
12-14-2012, 07:00 PM
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.

Katie Elle
12-14-2012, 07:32 PM
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.

Katie Elle
12-14-2012, 07:46 PM
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.

Medievalist
12-14-2012, 08:05 PM
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.



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:


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.


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.


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.

valeriec80
12-14-2012, 08:06 PM
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.

Medievalist
12-14-2012, 08:08 PM
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.

Medievalist
12-14-2012, 08:11 PM
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.


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.

Medievalist
12-14-2012, 08:17 PM
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.

Medievalist
12-14-2012, 08:19 PM
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.

Medievalist
12-14-2012, 08:22 PM
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.

Katie Elle
12-14-2012, 08:30 PM
"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/UsingiTunesProducerPaidBooks.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.

Katie Elle
12-14-2012, 08:34 PM
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.

Torgo
12-14-2012, 08:40 PM
iTunes FAQ suggests ISBNs are required if your book is paid-for, but optional if it is free: http://www.apple.com/itunes/content-providers/book-faq.html

Medievalist
12-14-2012, 08:41 PM
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.

Except that isn't what you wrote. People will read what you write, not what you meant.

Go back and re-read your posts in this thread. You sneer at other self-publishers, you imply that they buy ISBNS out of vanity, and then, you reveal that despite your dismissal of anyone using ISBNs, you do in fact use ISBNs provided by Smashwords and Amazon.

Medievalist
12-14-2012, 08:42 PM
iTunes FAQ suggests ISBNs are required if your book is paid-for, but optional if it is free: http://www.apple.com/itunes/content-providers/book-faq.html

Yes; I pointed that out (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showpost.php?p=7806841&postcount=6).

Medievalist
12-14-2012, 08:43 PM
https://itunesconnect.apple.com/docs/UsingiTunesProducerPaidBooks.pdf

Page 23 (emphasis mine)

It's optional in that charging for your book is optional.

If you charge, you must have an ISBN.

Bulletproof
12-14-2012, 09:08 PM
It's optional in that charging for your book is optional.

If you charge, you must have an ISBN.
I started a thread about this last week, but it quickly got buried.

My understanding is that the ISBNs were always optional for the free iBookstore books.

But as of about 6 weeks ago, ISBNs are now also optional for the paid books. The information is being kept quiet as hell, and it took me a long time to verify, but from what I've gathered, it's true.

Unfortunately, Apple will still use your real name as the publisher unless you have a DBA, but I expect they'll eventually change that. Or not.

Old Hack
12-14-2012, 10:43 PM
I started a thread about this last week, but it quickly got buried.

So you did! Here's a link (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=259846). I'm sorry it didn't get a response, and hope you weren't discouraged.


I understand this publishing ecosystem and how it works or I wouldn't put myself out there.

Katie, I'm sure you know how publishing works for you, in your particular niche. But that doesn't mean that it couldn't work better if you were more aware of various aspects of publishing, nor does it automatically extend to you knowing how publishing works in a wider sense.


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 doubt they'll fall out of use any time soon: they provide too much information and assistance to the book trade. And I agree with you on the "vanity" thing. There are too many good, useful reasons for using them.


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'm not sure that ISBNs aren't necessary to everyone who self publishes: as Medie has already explained there are lots of instances where self publishers need ISBNs to achieve what they want to achieve. However, I do think that for some subsets of self publishing a paid-for ISBN might not be strictly necessary.


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.

That's why I get so riled up when I see people spouting misinformation. It doesn't help, and it can hurt the writers who believe it in all sorts of ways--in your case, the hurt was financial. It's infuriating, isn't it?


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.

Minimising the costs is only the best option if your primary motivation is not spending much at the outset.

If you want to maximise your income and profits, then you might want to invest in the quality of your books in all sorts of ways and maximise the number of sales outlets your book appears in: and for that, you might well need ISBNs.

As I said, one size doesn't always fit all, and your way isn't necessarily the best way for everyone.


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.

All we ask is that you use the term "self publishing" rather than the term "indie publishing". By putting quote-marks around it as you did you were making a point, Katie, and a pretty shabby one at that.

Still, it's nice that you've apologised for the quote marks, if not the attitude.

James D. Macdonald
12-14-2012, 11:06 PM
Let me see if I understand the argument:



"I don't need an ISBN because I'm not going to be on any best-seller lists."

"Why won't you be on any best-seller lists?"

"Because I don't have an ISBN."

shadowwalker
12-14-2012, 11:42 PM
Perhaps I'm misunderstanding but isn't one main reason for self-publishers to want an ISBN to ensure that the book's "history" and info always goes with the author/publisher, no matter who the distributor/reseller? If I'm correct in that, it seems an advantage to be able to have one's books use one universal number, regardless of who's handling distribution/sales. And I know that if I'm looking for a particular book, I'll find the ISBN and google that for pricing and availability.

Medievalist
12-14-2012, 11:49 PM
I started a thread about this last week, but it quickly got buried.

My understanding is that the ISBNs were always optional for the free iBookstore books.

But as of about 6 weeks ago, ISBNs are now also optional for the paid books. The information is being kept quiet as hell, and it took me a long time to verify, but from what I've gathered, it's true.

I think perhaps it's what it appears. I've just contacted vendor support at Apple, and they tell me that people are misunderstanding the meaning of the dialog in iTunes Producer.

In iTunes Producer 2.8 (released in late October) you can create your package without the ISBN. Here's the dialog you get (https://discussions.apple.com/thread/4466001?start=0&tstart=0).

I've just now tried to release a new book for sale at $5.00 without an ISBN. iTunes Producer cycles back around and won't let me finish the process.

I've previously released a number of books and have not had this problem, so I suspect that Apple still require an ISBN for a book that is not free.

I further suspect that the use of "offer" versus sell is deliberate.

Here's the current Apple FAQ (http://www.apple.com/itunes/content-providers/book-faq.html), linked to previously:


Do I need an ISBN?
An ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is required if you have a paid book agreement for any book you are selling on the iBookstore. An ISBN uniquely identifies the book and its current edition, and helps sellers ensure that they are marketing the right book. In the U.S., you can obtain an ISBN by visiting www.myidentifiers.com. Outside the U.S., visit www.isbn-international.org/agency.

An ISBN is not required if you have a free book agreement and choose to offer your book free on the iBookstore.

Apple ties metadata to the ISBN. So does their affiliate link system (though there are at least two ways around that if you're willing to hand-link).

Also note that you can use the ISBN of another book you published in the Related Product metadata field as long as the book is available from the iBooks Bookstore, and Apple will generate the link to that book's page for you.

Given that, if you plan to sell your book ever, I think either using service like Smashwords or ePubBud (they provide ISBNs for 5.00/number, but they will be listed as the publisher. There are several similar vendors.) makes sense.

ISBN-13 is now the standard, with ISBN-10 grandfathered in.

The ISBN is tied to that edition of the book; if you start out with Smashwords as the provider and using their ISBN, if you later want to use another provider or be your own publisher, you'll need a different ISBN.

Medievalist
12-14-2012, 11:57 PM
Perhaps I'm misunderstanding but isn't one main reason for self-publishers to want an ISBN to ensure that the book's "history" and info always goes with the author/publisher, no matter who the distributor/reseller? If I'm correct in that, it seems an advantage to be able to have one's books use one universal number, regardless of who's handling distribution/sales. And I know that if I'm looking for a particular book, I'll find the ISBN and google that for pricing and availability.

Yep; it is the unique identifier for your book in that particular edition.

I don't think they're going away anytime soon. They're now part of cataloging, inventory, and vendor data systems, and while right now the retail channels for buying books are somewhat confusing, especially for ebooks, I think we're going to see much more ubiquitous purchasing of ebooks. I think we'll find kiosks, and vending machines, and not just in Japan, that sell ebooks in a variety of formats, and can delivery wirelessly or on temporary media.

I think we'll see companies like DropBox providing a Vendor API for buying digital content that is delivered to a user's DropBox account, with encryption on both ends.

Bulletproof
12-15-2012, 05:53 AM
So you did! Here's a link (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=259846). I'm sorry it didn't get a response, and hope you weren't discouraged.
No worries...it's hardly your fault if no one knew anything about it.

I saw the no ISBN thing referenced a few places. What confused me is how CASUAL some people were about it, like everyone's been publishing without them. In the comment section of the Passive Guy's blog for 20 November, someone said it was in the information guide but not yet in the FAQs. I also came across a few other places where people said the guide had been changed recently.


I've just contacted vendor support at Apple, and they tell me that people are misunderstanding the meaning of the dialog in iTunes Producer.

Can't get any clearer than that. Thanks for asking them. And then trying anyway. So I'm going to be optimistic that Apple has some nice changes around the corner.

Ah, but...sorry for the continuing derail, but if someone who's familiar with iTunes Producer could tell me if the people here are talking about a secondary/additional ISBN field? The comments that I'm mostly interested in are by Laura34 and Ardalp. Laura34's comment suggests that the book was submitted just fine without the ISBN, but maybe that information was already included elsewhere?
https://discussions.apple.com/thread/4482031

JoeNassise
12-15-2012, 07:21 AM
With reference to the question of whether or not an ISBN is still needed:

From the iBookstore News and Announcements newsletter dated Oct 31, 2012

iTunes Producer has been updated to make delivering and managing your catalog even easier. The new features include:

Book versioning support for EPUB 3 and books created with iBooks Author
Optional ISBN for your books. In many cases, you no longer need to provide an ISBN for your book. If you do not provide an ISBN, a vendor ID will be assigned for your book automatically. Note that if no ISBN is provided, your sales will not be reported to charting organizations.
Support to set up rights and pricing for multiple territories at the same time

Medievalist
12-15-2012, 08:13 AM
The comments that I'm mostly interested in are by Laura34 and Ardalp. Laura34's comment suggests that the book was submitted just fine without the ISBN, but maybe that information was already included elsewhere?
https://discussions.apple.com/thread/4482031

It look like if you're creating a new account with a new Apple ID (which I've just done) you can upload a book to sell without an ISBN, even if you are selling the book.

It also looks like that there's no meta data associated with the book beyond the basics, which is why they're indicating that your book won't listed in terms of any lists that rely on metadata (best sellers, category lists, also-by lists), and why it looks like you receive and aggregate sales report, rather than the verbose version.

Were it me, I'd rather go with Smashwords or ePubBud, than that. You can always create a new edition, and purchase an ISBN you control, even if you do lose sales rank etc.

It also looks to me that some of the posts in Apple Support are confusing the iBooks Author upload method with uploading an ePub directly via iTunes; they are not the same, and I suspect the person took a wrong turn at the point where he/she indicates whether the book is for free or for sale, or the point where the Vendor ID is generated based on an Apple ID.

Also note that people are getting very different results on regions right now, not sure why.

sarahdalton
12-15-2012, 02:13 PM
Is there anyone who has self-published and found an ISBN useful for selling books? I wonder if they could hop into the thread and explain their experience. It would be nice to hear it from the horse's mouth.

Old Hack
12-15-2012, 02:33 PM
I've worked with a few writers who have self published their own works and have required ISBNs. They weren't publishing in the same niche as Katie Elle, who has self published a handful of erotica shorts: the authors I've worked with have published non fiction, some of which is heavily illustrated. Most of the books concerned do better in print than in digital editions, and have sold well (one has sold upwards of 7,000 copies, I recall, and the others have had solid sales) through bookshops and specialist retailers: they wouldn't have been able to make those sales without an ISBN.

They're not members of AW, so can't speak for themselves here; nor can I give you much more information than that because it's not my place to do so.

Medievalist
12-15-2012, 09:12 PM
Is there anyone who has self-published and found an ISBN useful for selling books? I wonder if they could hop into the thread and explain their experience. It would be nice to hear it from the horse's mouth.

I'm not the writer, but this book (http://www.amazon.com/Averting-Demons-Protecting-Medieval-Visual/dp/0974801909/ref=la_B001H6IOR2_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1355591228&sr=1-2) was initially self-published.

It's meant for the scholarly / academic market, which meant we needed to get it into libraries, and on the tables of bookstores who sell to our market, which meant getting it into vending databases.

This was a book that publishers turned down because the licensing costs for images and the printing costs were so high that the retail price of the book would drastically limit sales, making it too costly to publish.

So Dr. Mellinkoff self-published, working with a team of experts including an editor, a designer, a typesetter, and a rights person who assisted Dr. Mellinkoff with acquiring some of the images and image prep.

It sold so well, and was reviewed so very positively, that a publisher purchased the remaining stock, and then re-issued it in both paperback and hard cover.

Bulletproof
12-15-2012, 09:37 PM
From the iBookstore News and Announcements newsletter dated Oct 31, 2012

Ah. That explains everything. Thanks a million, Joe.


It look like if you're creating a new account with a new Apple ID (which I've just done) you can upload a book to sell without an ISBN, even if you are selling the book.

It also looks like that there's no meta data associated with the book beyond the basics, which is why they're indicating that your book won't listed in terms of any lists that rely on metadata (best sellers, category lists, also-by lists), and why it looks like you receive and aggregate sales report, rather than the verbose version.

Were it me, I'd rather go with Smashwords or ePubBud, than that. You can always create a new edition, and purchase an ISBN you control, even if you do lose sales rank etc.

Very nice break down, Medievalist...plus you anticipated my next round of questions. Wonder why they bother with half-assed improvements. Makes me question how well they understand the market. And thank you very much for investigating the conversation in that link. Unexpected twists! It seems working directly with Apple is a whole other world.

Medievalist
12-15-2012, 09:48 PM
It seems working directly with Apple is a whole other world.

I've been an Apple developer since 1989.

I love their technology, mostly.

The corporate culture, and often, developer relations (which extends to content producers in many respects) is messed up on many levels.

I've got a couple of queries in; I'll post if I get anything useful that I can talk about—Apple is the most NDA obsessed company I've ever worked with, more so even than various state and federal agencies.

JoeNassise
12-16-2012, 01:18 AM
Is there anyone who has self-published and found an ISBN useful for selling books?I've sold roughly 50,000 ebooks in the last two years via the self-publishing route. (I also have three ongoing series with traditional publishers.)

There have been three instances were an ISBN was necessary for what I wanted to accomplish. (Whether that make is useful or not is debatable in my opinion.) The first was making my work available through Apple's iTunes/iBooks platform. The second was making my work available via Overdrive. The third was creating print editions of the books for sale via Amazon, B&N, etc.

I know quite a few authors who self-publish - quite successfully as well - who do not bother with obtaining an ISBN for their books. They stick to producing ebooks only and ignore any platform that requires an ISBN. With the majority of the ebook market being handled through Amazon, B&N, and Kobo - none of which require an ISBN - this is a feasible strategy if you decide to ignore print and library sales as part of your business objectives.

sarahdalton
12-16-2012, 02:59 PM
I've sold roughly 50,000 ebooks in the last two years via the self-publishing route. (I also have three ongoing series with traditional publishers.)

There have been three instances were an ISBN was necessary for what I wanted to accomplish. (Whether that make is useful or not is debatable in my opinion.) The first was making my work available through Apple's iTunes/iBooks platform. The second was making my work available via Overdrive. The third was creating print editions of the books for sale via Amazon, B&N, etc.

I know quite a few authors who self-publish - quite successfully as well - who do not bother with obtaining an ISBN for their books. They stick to producing ebooks only and ignore any platform that requires an ISBN. With the majority of the ebook market being handled through Amazon, B&N, and Kobo - none of which require an ISBN - this is a feasible strategy if you decide to ignore print and library sales as part of your business objectives.

Thanks Joe - and everyone else who responded. That's interesting, I've never heard of Overdrive but if it's another platform to sell books I'll look into it.

Katie Elle
12-16-2012, 06:01 PM
Overdrive is the platform that most libraries get ebooks and audiobooks through. I've heard of a very few people who've managed to get onto the platform without a major publisher, but it's not the kind of self-service portal you'll find elsewhere. Our library acquisitions manager has lots to say about them, most of it in the kind of language she doesn't generally use.

Medievalist
12-16-2012, 08:10 PM
Overdrive is the platform that most libraries get ebooks and audiobooks through.

That's public libraries in the U.S. Those are books the libraries lease from Overdrive, and then loan to members.

That's not where or how libraries purchase digital media; nor is it the way academic or k-12 libraries purchase digital media.

Voyager is the primary vendor; they also sell printed materials. They use the Bowker API, and filter on ISBN for U.S. published books, and require a LOC CIP identifier for inclusion. That means, they won't accept self-published books using a ISBN number that isn't associated with a publisher of record.

The difficult part is honestly meeting the criteria for LOC CIP data. (http://www.loc.gov/publish/cip/faqs/#eligible)

Alessandra Kelley
01-25-2013, 07:58 PM
...You can waste money for a vanity ISBN ...

I had wondered about these statements, because they seemed to parrot so exactly the Smashwords guidelines:


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).

Smashwords seems to really, really try to discourage use of an independent ISBN.

In fact, I haven't been able to get one for my husband's latest self-published book.

We have self-published some of his novels through Smashwords. We had always bought our own ISBN through them -- even though they label it "vanity" and appear to pooh-pooh the importance of being listed as the official publisher in Books in Print. But on his last book, the option was removed. I emailed them to ask why several months ago and never received a reply.

We are planning to buy our own block of ISBNs and determine independently what we shall do.

DRMarvello
01-28-2013, 02:30 AM
My wife and I put an ISBN on the books we publish. We release every book in paperback, EPUB, and MobiPocket formats. The paperback and EPUB editions get an ISBN. The MobiPocket edition does not because Amazon assigns it an ASIN, which works just as well within their book ecosystem. If our MobiPocket editions were sold outside Amazon, we'd assign them an ISBN.

I like ISBNs because they assign our books a unique identifier that ties that title back to us regardless of who distributes or sells the book. The ISBN also relates the book to its entry in the "Books in Print" database, which is the master database of books published in the U.S. Now THAT is a record you cannot modify without being the publisher of record.

ISBNs were originally created to give books a unique identifier within the book distribution system. It used to be that all book retailers bought through a distributor, and the ISBN was an essential "part ordering number." I can understand the argument for dispensing with ISBNs now that we go straight to the retailers. But what we do today is not necessarily what we'll do tomorrow. It certainly isn't what we were doing yesterday! I think it makes sense to continue having a single identifier that can be reliably used to order a specific edition of a specific title regardless of where the book is sold.

The explosion of retailer self-publishing portals and the bypass of distributors has definitely watered down the effectiveness of ISBNs, but I see that as a failing of the new systems: readers have no way to know exactly what edition of a book they are getting.

I can't really make a strong argument for why self publishers should invest in ISBNs. But I'd like to point out that your book is going to get an ISBN anyway, so it might as well be one you own. Smashwords can't distribute your books without one, so they give you a free number. But if you decide to switch from Smashwords to Draft2Digital as I recently did, you can't take that number with you. ISBNs are *still* essential for book distribution. I don't think that will ever change because we logically HAVE to have some identifier that vendors can use to order from distributors, and it doesn't make sense for every distributor to make up their own numbering system when one that has been in use for decades already exists.

jnfr
01-29-2013, 09:27 AM
I don't know much about ISBNs. I know they are an identification number, and that each one must be unique for a given version of a book. Also, if I understand correctly, whoever bought the original ISBN is listed as the publisher of the book version that uses that ISBN. But that doesn't give them any copyright license, right?

Can someone who knows more tell me what the advantages are for owning the ISBN as a publisher? This is really confusing me since it is split from copyright in such an odd way. What rights does owning the ISBN confer?

James D. Macdonald
01-29-2013, 10:20 AM
Smashwords seems to really, really try to discourage use of an independent ISBN.

Sure. Because if they own the ISBN you're locked in to them.

Old Hack
01-29-2013, 11:39 AM
I don't know much about ISBNs. I know they are an identification number, and that each one must be unique for a given version of a book. Also, if I understand correctly, whoever bought the original ISBN is listed as the publisher of the book version that uses that ISBN. But that doesn't give them any copyright license, right?

An ISBN refers only to the specific edition of a book that it's attached to. It has nothing to do with copyright, which is a completely separate issue.


Can someone who knows more tell me what the advantages are for owning the ISBN as a publisher?

An ISBN is essentially a tag which allows everyone involved in the selling of that book to ensure they're working with the right book. It's used in catalogues, online and off; it's used to produce sales statistics and royalty statements, it's used for ordering and stock reports and production documents. All sorts of stuff. It makes sure that different editions of the same book aren't confused, and that books with identical titles from different authors are separated too.


This is really confusing me since it is split from copyright in such an odd way. What rights does owning the ISBN confer?

The ISBN has nothing to do with copyright. Owning an ISBN doesn't confer any rights at all in this respect.

Katie Elle
01-29-2013, 03:59 PM
Smashwords seems to really, really try to discourage use of an independent ISBN.Sure. Because if they own the ISBN you're locked in to them.

How are you locked into them? They don't own you work. You have full rights. You can take them down, put them elsewhere, whenever you'd like.

Old Hack
01-29-2013, 04:27 PM
But you can't take that Smashwords ISBN with you when you go so, and if you reissue that same book with a new ISBN it'll have to start again, as far as sales rankings and reviews go. So if you want to preserve the momentum you've achieved, you really can't move it elsewhere and give it a new ISBN.

Katie Elle
01-29-2013, 04:54 PM
B&N will definitely pick it up as long as the information is otherwise the same. You might need to have overlap in publication. It came up in a thread for people switching from Smash to D2D from someone who had done so and had their information transfer. That makes sense, they already do this for different print and ebook editions which, obviously, if they have an ISBN at all, have different ones.

At least one person was told by Apple reviews and rankings don't carry period. Apple's pretty notorious for bad info though--they're pages still claim you need an ISBN and you haven't for months.

DRMarvello
01-29-2013, 06:21 PM
...if I understand correctly, whoever bought the original ISBN is listed as the publisher of the book version that uses that ISBN. But that doesn't give them any copyright license, right?

Can someone who knows more tell me what the advantages are for owning the ISBN as a publisher? This is really confusing me since it is split from copyright in such an odd way. What rights does owning the ISBN confer?


Copyright and ISBNs have no relationship to one another. They are totally separate issues.

Copyright relates to the person who created the content. As soon as you write something original, you own the copyright for it. You can choose to license your copyright to other entities. For example, when you publish a book through KDP, you are granting Amazon the right to distribute and resell your book. You still hold the copyright, and since the arrangement is not exclusive (unless you join KDP Select), you can grant those same distribution rights to another organization (like Barnes & Noble).

ISBNs were devised so every published work could have a world-wide unique identifier. The ISBN allowed book sellers and readers around the world to order a specific edition of a specific title and know they were going to get exactly what they ordered (e.g. the first edition paperback of title X). The ISBN not only identifies the book title and edition, but it identifies the publisher of the book, making it possible to track down the source of a book regardless of where/how it was distributed.

The advent of e-books, retailer publishing portals, and distributors that create throw-away/reusable ISBNs (like Smashwords and CreateSpace) has essentially defeated the purpose of ISBNs in the name of making things easier for authors. You can decide for yourself whether that's a good thing or a bad thing.

jnfr
01-29-2013, 07:59 PM
Okay, so this is helpful. Thanks DrMarvello and Old Hack.

So this must be why Smashwords insists that you specifically label their editions as the "Smashwords Edition" inside your book, so that the ISBN (if you use their ISBN), is assigned as the identifier to that edition. Even though the content is the same in your KDP edition, that makes it a separate ebook edition.

DRMarvello
01-29-2013, 08:17 PM
Okay, so this is helpful. Thanks DrMarvello and Old Hack.

So this must be why Smashwords insists that you specifically label their editions as the "Smashwords Edition" inside your book, so that the ISBN (if you use their ISBN), is assigned as the identifier to that edition. Even though the content is the same in your KDP edition, that makes it a separate ebook edition.

You're welcome. And you are right that it is a separate edition on multiple levels. Smashwords distributes an EPUB, so that format would get a separate ISBN from your Kindle (MobiPocket format) edition in any case.

Medievalist
01-29-2013, 09:36 PM
The advent of e-books, retailer publishing portals, and distributors that create throw-away/reusable ISBNs (like Smashwords and CreateSpace) has essentially defeated the purpose of ISBNs in the name of making things easier for authors. You can decide for yourself whether that's a good thing or a bad thing.

Bowker specifically forbids the use of reusable ISBNs.

Are you specifically aware of a publisher reusing ISBNs?

Old Hack
01-29-2013, 09:53 PM
ISBNs were devised so every published work could have a world-wide unique identifier. The ISBN allowed book sellers and readers around the world to order a specific edition of a specific title and know they were going to get exactly what they ordered (e.g. the first edition paperback of title X). The ISBN not only identifies the book title and edition, but it identifies the publisher of the book, making it possible to track down the source of a book regardless of where/how it was distributed.

The advent of e-books, retailer publishing portals, and distributors that create throw-away/reusable ISBNs (like Smashwords and CreateSpace) has essentially defeated the purpose of ISBNs in the name of making things easier for authors. You can decide for yourself whether that's a good thing or a bad thing.

My bold.

It's true that some self publishers who work in a relatively small niche might find ISBNs unnecessary. But that hasn't "essentially defeated the purpose of ISBNs".

ISBNs are still very much necessary in trade publishing, and for print editions, and for bookshop sales and distributor systems and bestseller lists and royalty statements and all sorts of other situations.

Torgo
01-29-2013, 09:58 PM
So are we losing the ISBN as a unique identifier for editions? That would utterly suck. What is this about reusable ISBNs?

Sheryl Nantus
01-29-2013, 10:07 PM
Bowker specifically forbids the use of reusable ISBNs.

Are you specifically aware of a publisher reusing ISBNs?

I'd like to hear the source of this as well.

A million years ago when I worked for Penguin Books Canada I was responsible for submitting the paperwork for ISBNs for the books. I never, EVER heard anything about them being resusable!

Not to mention it'd open a heap of trouble up about tracking and logistics...

Source, please!

DRMarvello
01-29-2013, 10:20 PM
Bowker specifically forbids the use of reusable ISBNs.

Are you specifically aware of a publisher reusing ISBNs?

It isn't necessarily the publisher reusing the ISBN so much as the authors. If you make substantive changes to your book and upload a new version to Smashwords, that updated book goes out into premium distribution with the same ISBN it originally had, even though it is technically a new edition. I'm not talking about fixing typos here. I mean a new ending to the book, new chapters, etc.

The same thing can happen at CreateSpace with print books.



It's true that some self publishers who work in a relatively small niche might find ISBNs unnecessary. But that hasn't "essentially defeated the purpose of ISBNs".
If the purpose of an ISBN is to identify the globally unique edition of a specific title and its publisher, then the free ISBNs that Smashwords and CS hand out are defeating the purpose of the ISBN. Those organizations erroneously list themselves as the publisher. Plus, the numbers are not valid in any other context than when the book is distributed through them, so I'd argue that defeats the "unique book identifier" purpose as well.

Old Hack
01-29-2013, 10:41 PM
It isn't necessarily the publisher reusing the ISBN so much as the authors. If you make substantive changes to your book and upload a new version to Smashwords, that updated book goes out into premium distribution with the same ISBN it originally had, even though it is technically a new edition. I'm not talking about fixing typos here. I mean a new ending to the book, new chapters, etc.

The same thing can happen at CreateSpace with print books.

That sounds to me more like sloppy work than accepted practise. (Practice? I can never remember which is which. Sorry.) I don't think this means that ISBNs are now reusable: it just means that some people who use Smashwords' free ISBNs don't understand properly what ISBNs are for, and don't know how they're meant to be used.


If the purpose of an ISBN is to identify the globally unique edition of a specific title and its publisher, then the free ISBNs that Smashwords and CS hand out are defeating the purpose of the ISBN. Those organizations erroneously list themselves as the publisher. Plus, the numbers are not valid in any other context than when the book is distributed through them, so I'd argue that defeats the "unique book identifier" purpose as well.

It's not making ISBNs unnecessary, though: it only affects those issued through Smashwords etc. and doesn't affect how trade publishers use them, or their use of them.

I think we're talking a bit at cross purposes here.

Sheryl Nantus
01-29-2013, 10:47 PM
Those organizations erroneously list themselves as the publisher.

Trust me, there's nothing "erroneously" about it. It's done with a purpose.

I'm with OH on this one - I think we're not talking about the same thing.

DRMarvello
01-29-2013, 11:07 PM
That sounds to me more like sloppy work than accepted practise. (Practice? I can never remember which is which. Sorry.) I don't think this means that ISBNs are now reusable: it just means that some people who use Smashwords' free ISBNs don't understand properly what ISBNs are for, and don't know how they're meant to be used.


I agree with you completely. However, when I have had discussions with authors who do this, they are adamant that being able to update your books at will is one of the benefits of the new reality of self-publishing. Many of them see Bowker as an evil monopoly out to steal their profits by forcing them to follow a bunch of arbitrary rules.



It's not making ISBNs unnecessary, though: it only affects those issued through Smashwords etc. and doesn't affect how trade publishers use them, or their use of them.

I think we're talking a bit at cross purposes here.


Yeah, I think we are just arguing semantics. My comment was not meant to imply that I think ISBNs are no longer necessary. There's no question that the trade distribution channels still rely on them as always. I'm a fan of the ISBN concept, and I'm disturbed by what I see happening in the marketplace now.

Old Hack
01-29-2013, 11:26 PM
I agree with you completely. However, when I have had discussions with authors who do this, they are adamant that being able to update your books at will is one of the benefits of the new reality of self-publishing. Many of them see Bowker as an evil monopoly out to steal their profits by forcing them to follow a bunch of arbitrary rules.

Yep, because trying to ensure that books are properly identified and one author doesn't get another author's sales receipts and so on is so evil and mean.

I am so weary of hearing about people complaining about stuff they don't understand and haven't bothered to find out about.

Gah!

If ISBNs are reused, it's bad for readers.

If books are published, revised, and republished without any indication of which edition the reader might be buying, it's bad for readers.

If we piss off our readers, we'll lose them. Readers fund publishing.

Without them, we've got nothing.

Gah again!


Yeah, I think we are just arguing semantics. My comment was not meant to imply that I think ISBNs are no longer necessary. There's no question that the trade distribution channels still rely on them as always. I'm a fan of the ISBN concept, and I'm disturbed by what I see happening in the marketplace now.

Thank you for the clarification. I think we're actually arguing the same point.

DRMarvello
01-29-2013, 11:32 PM
If ISBNs are reused, it's bad for readers.

If books are published, revised, and republished without any indication of which edition the reader might be buying, it's bad for readers.


Exactly! Most of the "rules" Bowker publishes regarding ISBN use are actually designed to protect the buyer. The rules make sure the buyer gets precisely what he or she ordered.

Medievalist
01-29-2013, 11:38 PM
It isn't necessarily the publisher reusing the ISBN so much as the authors. If you make substantive changes to your book and upload a new version to Smashwords, that updated book goes out into premium distribution with the same ISBN it originally had, even though it is technically a new edition.

That's a sign of ignorance and/or incompetence.


If the purpose of an ISBN is to identify the globally unique edition of a specific title and its publisher, then the free ISBNs that Smashwords and CS hand out are defeating the purpose of the ISBN. Those organizations erroneously list themselves as the publisher.

They do so because they are the publisher, and they are following Bowker's instructions.

Old Hack
01-29-2013, 11:38 PM
The buyer--the reader--pays for everything that happens in publishing. Without the reader we're shouting into the void.

When writers complain that publishing doesn't work for them, they're missing the point. Publishing works for readers. That's what it's meant to do. Writers are just suppliers.

BAY
01-29-2013, 11:56 PM
The whole crisis of ISBN would evaporate if Bowker would lower their prices. The price of one ISBN has created the problem-125.00.

The solution if Bowker valued their own numbering system would be sale prices, but it hasn't happened.

Medievalist
01-30-2013, 12:13 AM
Ten ISBNs with a unique identifier for the publisher are 250.

If you're serious about being a professional publisher with a quality product, there are costs of doing business.

And frankly, I'm not sympathetic.

I paid $500.00 for a single ISBN when I first started in the 1990s.

Don't care about being identified as a publisher, but just wan't your books available for online purchases? There are any number of alternatives to buying an ISBN.

DRMarvello
01-30-2013, 12:18 AM
The whole crisis of ISBN would evaporate if Bowker would lower their prices. The price of one ISBN has created the problem-125.00.

The solution if Bowker valued their own numbering system would be sale prices, but it hasn't happened.


I suspect you're right.

I also think Bowker made a tactical error by offering a "single ISBN" option. In reality, the smallest block size that can be assigned a unique publisher prefix is 10. When you buy a single ISBN, you are actually getting a number from a block that is shared with other publishers. In order to get publisher information for those numbers, Bowker has to do something different than what they've done in the past. I'm betting that has something to do with why it costs ridiculously more to buy a single ISBN than it does to buy a block of 10 ($125 per number versus $25 per number).

Other countries offer ISBNs for free or for a nominal charge. One country (I forget now which one) lets you reserve a block of numbers, but pay for the numbers out of that block as you use them. U.S. authors would probably be more willing to play the ISBN game if they didn't have to pay so much money up front.

Just to show you how much I believe in ISBNs, my little publishing company (run by my wife and me) owns a block of 1,000. I only burn a buck when I use an ISBN, but to get that "economy of scale" we had to pay the money up front. Will we ever use them all? I don't know. At least they don't expire. ;)

Old Hack
01-30-2013, 12:30 AM
The whole crisis of ISBN would evaporate if Bowker would lower their prices. The price of one ISBN has created the problem-125.00.

The solution if Bowker valued their own numbering system would be sale prices, but it hasn't happened.

There is no crisis.

ISBNs are sold at just about cost price.

If publishers object to that, I suspect they have little or no experience in publishing, and/or don't understand all that ISBNs do and the value they represent.

The solution doesn't lie with Bowker, but with the people who complain about the cost of ISBNs.

jnfr
01-30-2013, 02:46 AM
So when other countries supply ISBNs to authors and publishers are low or no cost, is the government itself paying Bowker for them, or do they use another supplier?

I assume the government can buy in large bulk, but then how does Bowker (or whoever) then decide who to call the publisher?

I think the proper uses of ISBNs in publishing editions and so on really is not generally understood outside of trade publishers, which isn't surprising.

DRMarvello
01-30-2013, 03:08 AM
So when other countries supply ISBNs to authors and publishers are low or no cost, is the government itself paying Bowker for them, or do they use another supplier?

I assume the government can buy in large bulk, but then how does Bowker (or whoever) then decide who to call the publisher?


Bowker is the official supplier of ISBNs for the U.S. market only. Other countries allocate them according to their own rules. In some cases, the government itself issues them (I believe Canada is one example.)

Part of the ISBN is a 2-digit "group id," which can generally be thought of as a "country code" (although that's not entirely accurate).

[Edit: The group id is actually variable in length: 1-5 digits. See
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Standard_Book_Number
for more information about the breakdown of an ISBN.]



I think the proper uses of ISBNs in publishing editions and so on really is not generally understood outside of trade publishers, which isn't surprising.


That's true, unfortunately. Many authors have decided to become publishers without first learning about the business of publishing.

jnfr
01-30-2013, 06:53 AM
I think that's true, but to be fair the business of publishing is changing very fast, and I think this business of how to accurately ID editions needs to be updated somehow.

When any of us can upload pretty much anything with no ID number except what our distributor provides, the idea of charging $125 for one ID number is pretty much doomed. That's basic marketplace dynamics.

And yet there's still a need to accurately ID and separate various titles and authors and editions. I have no idea what will come into place to help that happen, but I hope something fast and inexpensive comes soon.

Katie Elle
01-30-2013, 05:13 PM
I think that's true, but to be fair the business of publishing is changing very fast, and I think this business of how to accurately ID editions needs to be updated somehow.

The question of "what is an edition?" is really relevant because with ebooks, it's all very Buddhist. There is no future or past, only now.

It's not as if you can go to your local indie and say "I'd like the Kindle edition of Wool, please order that. Not the one available now, the earlier one." You order Wool from Amazon and you get the current Amazon edition. Hugh Howey uploads it there. If he changes it, he changes it, and there are no used versions available for resale.

On the other hand, if you want a physical book, you can walk into your indie bookshop and say "I figure Hugh Howey is going to have a brilliant career and I want the first edition of Wool because I figure I can sell it in 20 years and put my daughter through college. The Createspace edition, not the Simon and Schuster one." They can order that. Because it exists. It's a thing. An ebook is not a thing and the ISBN arrangements are for things.

Sheryl Nantus
01-30-2013, 05:42 PM
On the other hand, if you want a physical book, you can walk into your indie bookshop and say "I figure Hugh Howey is going to have a brilliant career and I want the first edition of Wool because I figure I can sell it in 20 years and put my daughter through college. The Createspace edition, not the Simon and Schuster one." They can order that. Because it exists. It's a thing. An ebook is not a thing and the ISBN arrangements are for things.

OT, this is one of the reasons I haven't bought "Wool" and probably never will. I don't want to have to track down different versions, additional chapters written specifically for overseas editions and all the variations on a theme. When I buy a book I want the FINAL product, not a work constantly in flux.

Just a grumble.

DRMarvello
01-30-2013, 06:27 PM
The question of "what is an edition?" is really relevant because with ebooks, it's all very Buddhist. There is no future or past, only now.


This is a great point. The way ebooks are published definitely contributes to the problem. KDP and all the other vendor portals encourage authors to "update in place." It is far easier to update an existing edition than it is to create a new one. You know for sure you won't lose your reviews or your sales ranking that way.

In many respects, the update-in-place approach makes sense. If you release a new edition of your book, you want to take the old edition "out of print" anyway. In the digital world, that means you replace the old edition with the new one. You can optionally use the "Edition Number" field at Amazon to give readers a clue as to what you've done, or you could even change the ISBN number to a new one.

Add to that the problem that you have to update your ebook in every portal you've used. In effect, YOU are the digital distributor for your books. Some authors have started putting a revision number on their copyright page so they can track which version of their book is shipping from which vendor.

It's a complex problem, and I don't expect it to have a simple solution.

Old Hack
01-30-2013, 06:33 PM
I think that's true, but to be fair the business of publishing is changing very fast, and I think this business of how to accurately ID editions needs to be updated somehow.

When any of us can upload pretty much anything with no ID number except what our distributor provides, the idea of charging $125 for one ID number is pretty much doomed. That's basic marketplace dynamics.

And yet there's still a need to accurately ID and separate various titles and authors and editions. I have no idea what will come into place to help that happen, but I hope something fast and inexpensive comes soon.

Publishing has always changed, and those changes often happen fast. This is nothing new.

Further, you're looking at this from a very limited point of view: your own. You see that it might cost you $125 for a single ISBN and you think that's expensive; a trade publisher will look at the cost of buying a thousand and consider it negligible.

I realise you can get a number for free from Smashwords etc: but that free number doesn't give you all the information and benefits that a "real" ISBN confers, it comes with its own set of problems, and it's just not comparable.

The ISBN system of "one edition, one number" works really well for trade publishing. Self published writers could adopt it, but the frequently-seen willingness to update books after they've been published does, as you point out, make such a scheme unreliable.

But that's not a problem with the ISBN scheme: it's a fault of the people using it, who don't understand how it works and what it signifies.


The question of "what is an edition?" is really relevant because with ebooks, it's all very Buddhist. There is no future or past, only now.

It's not as if you can go to your local indie and say "I'd like the Kindle edition of Wool, please order that. Not the one available now, the earlier one." You order Wool from Amazon and you get the current Amazon edition. Hugh Howey uploads it there. If he changes it, he changes it, and there are no used versions available for resale.

On the other hand, if you want a physical book, you can walk into your indie bookshop and say "I figure Hugh Howey is going to have a brilliant career and I want the first edition of Wool because I figure I can sell it in 20 years and put my daughter through college. The Createspace edition, not the Simon and Schuster one." They can order that. Because it exists. It's a thing. An ebook is not a thing and the ISBN arrangements are for things.

Katie, you're also looking at this solely from your own point of view. Trade publishers treat ISBNs for e-books as unique identifiers, just as they do for print editions. The issues you describe relate to self published books or books from publishers who don't use the system properly, not to all books: so your statement that "the question of "what is an edition?" is really irrelevant" is meaningless in any broader context. Unless you provide specific boundaries and definitions for such statements, you're on really shaky ground.


OT, this is one of the reasons I haven't bought "Wool" and probably never will. I don't want to have to track down different versions, additional chapters written specifically for overseas editions and all the variations on a theme. When I buy a book I want the FINAL product, not a work constantly in flux.

Just a grumble.

Agreed.

I've seen the argument that it doesn't matter if I buy a book that's subsequently changed because with e-books being what they are I can then go and download the newer, updated version so I've not lost out. But once I've read a book I'm very unlikely to want to go and read it again just so I can see how much better it is now the grammar's been improved. I want to buy a final product.

Katie Elle
01-30-2013, 10:15 PM
OT, this is one of the reasons I haven't bought "Wool" and probably never will. I don't want to have to track down different versions, additional chapters written specifically for overseas editions and all the variations on a theme. When I buy a book I want the FINAL product, not a work constantly in flux.

The chapter in question will be added to existing ebooks. So you have to weigh archival purity of separate editions against the benefit of not having to purchase a new product.

Sheryl Nantus
01-30-2013, 10:42 PM
The chapter in question will be added to existing ebooks. So you have to weigh archival purity of separate editions against the benefit of not having to purchase a new product.

(apologies for derail)

But WHY should I have to hunt down new chapters to an already-published work? And, AFAIK, that new chapter was an S&S exclusive for the overseas printing so I doubt he can add it to the US version.

I'm sure Howey can get by without my few pennies but I won't buy ANY author's book that isn't a finished product. Period. I'm not talking about fixing typos, I'm talking about adding new chapters and rewriting the ending because the author changed his/her mind.

That, to me, isn't anything I want to pay for and be worried about. I shouldn't have to keep reloading a book to see if the ending has changed or an Extra!New! Chapter is there because the author realized his story wasn't complete enough without it.

But that's my quibble. Just an old broad who believes in the final product being published, not a constant work-in-progress.

:)

DRMarvello
01-30-2013, 10:53 PM
(apologies for derail)
But that's my quibble. Just an old broad who believes in the final product being published, not a constant work-in-progress.


But you never *really* know if the book you purchased is the final product. You might get a notice from Amazon some time later that the book has an update (as has happened with 3 of the books I've purchased).

If I've already read the book, I don't bother to download the update unless I plan to re-read the book, which is extremely rare. If I have not read the book, I probably would download the update.

I have to say that Amazon's wording when you get these update notices certainly isn't confidence inspiring. So far they have always given a reason of "Significant editorial issues were present." Even if I DID update my book, I would not ask Amazon to send THAT notice to my readers.

Katie Elle
01-30-2013, 10:57 PM
I had a kindle in 2009, I have a lot of update notices. The early ebooks were often dismal unedited OCRs. That's really different than something like an additional chapter or a revision. Those happen other than in the wild and wooly world of ebooks though. The difference is with an ebook, you don't have to pay again. Given that you can't sell one used etc., that is a tangible benefit.

Medievalist
01-30-2013, 10:58 PM
The question of "what is an edition?" is really relevant because with ebooks, it's all very Buddhist. There is no future or past, only now.

Professional ebook producers include a version identifier in the metadata; this is even in the Open Ebook Standard, and in the ePub standard.

There's even provision for including metadata for β versions, that is, production and QA versions.

This dates back to the early days on ebook publishing, when ebooks were large produced by software developers working for and with publishers.

Sheryl Nantus
01-30-2013, 11:19 PM
But you never *really* know if the book you purchased is the final product. You might get a notice from Amazon some time later that the book has an update (as has happened with 3 of the books I've purchased).

If I've already read the book, I don't bother to download the update unless I plan to re-read the book, which is extremely rare. If I have not read the book, I probably would download the update.

I have to say that Amazon's wording when you get these update notices certainly isn't confidence inspiring. So far they have always given a reason of "Significant editorial issues were present." Even if I DID update my book, I would not ask Amazon to send THAT notice to my readers.


I have a Nook and I've *never* received any notices. OTOH I don't buy self-published books other than those put out by trade authors.

I buy final, finished books. I don't buy works-in-progress or whatever the current term is. I've never received a notice and I don't expect to - because those self-pub books I've bought are from trade authors like Courtney Milan who understand that readers want the final product NOW, not when the author feels the whimsey train coming by to redo the ending to make the fans happy.

As I said, that's my take. I don't hand in unfinished work to my publishers and claim that we can just keep issuing "new editions" as we go through editing. They put out the final product and that's what sells to the readers.

But what do I know...

:)

jnfr
01-31-2013, 07:08 AM
I've received those notices and gotten updated downloads. I figure most of them are updates to take out typos and stuff, and for books I haven't read yet, I don't care if they are more.

On the other hand, I think of the books that I love and have read over and over and practically know by heart, and if I suddenly picked up that book in whatever form and the words were substantially different, it would upset me no end. I don't want or need a different Alice in Wonderland, or other editions of Anne McCaffrey. I love those books exactly as they are.

For a self-publishing author there is the complication that that when you upload a new edition with an actual new ID (whether ISBN or Amazon ASIN, whatever), in most of the current ebook universe you lose all connection to your earlier edition, including all the reputation and rankings that your book has earned. That's a real problem and I hope we find some way to address that. I think that's what James McD was referring to with his comments about SW owning your ISBN.

Two other things, and then I'll go away because clearly I'm thinking about this way too much.

First I was thinking about this last night, and thinking about what DRMarvello said earlier in the thread about how the Kindle edition, because it was MOBI rather than ePub, would in the old method require a different database ID (ISBN in this case) because it was in fact a different edition.

But when I upload to Smashwords, and accept their ISBN, they publish in many different formats, MOBI as well as ePub as well as PDF, etc. So the ISBN is already being forced into various unnatural contortions to try and cope with digital editions.

And my last point, which I say sincerely, is that Hugh Howey's Wool is now available in paper form from Simon & Schuster, and if you love science fiction at all you should read it in that form if nothing else. It's an excellent book and over time I believe it will be as important as earlier classics in the SF pantheon.

Katie Elle
01-31-2013, 04:06 PM
Smash only uses the isbn for distribution to other stores because they require it. They are all in epub format.

DRMarvello
01-31-2013, 06:35 PM
Smash only uses the isbn for distribution to other stores because they require it. They are all in epub format.

That's true. Smashwords associates the ISBN only with the EPUB edition for Premium Distribution.

However, that does make me wonder what the do with the lucky few authors who get distributed to Amazon. They can't (or shouldn't) use the same ISBN they use for the EPUB. So how do they synchronize the feed with Amazon? Do they assign a second ISBN? Do they use the Smashwords book identifier? Do they use the ASIN that Amazon assigns?

The feed is not automated yet, as I understand it, so they could probably do any of the above. The database developer in me is curious about how it works, but not enough to go ask Mark. ;-)

HistorySleuth
02-03-2013, 06:58 AM
So in other words, if I wanted to use my own ISBNs it is not only about editions (changes in the text since I would want to follow correct standards) it is also about formats.

Lets say all my text is the same. I'd need one ISBN for hard copy, one for paperback, one for mobi file and a different one for ePub file?

Since Amazon had to be exclusive with it's mobi file being just for Kindle, one ISBN for that, but ePub is for Nook, Sony etc readers right? So the same ISBN I use for the ePub format could be uploaded to B&N, google books etc. Am I correct?

Personally I would want my editions to have ISBNs and be tracked. I self-published a book in 2000 (Bread & Butter in my siggy). First to clarify not vanity published (which are usually package deals costing thousands plus buying your own book) but self-published. We paid Morris Publishing to print them at per book price. The more you print the price per book goes down.

It's a non-fiction true crime. Neither my co-author or myself knew much about publishing then. We figured we would only have local sales so who needs an ISBN#? Bad mistake. We sold near a 1000 in the first six months. Some across the ocean. Then it was all word of mouth. Does anyone else know that? Nope. No ISBN to track anything by anybody so we lost momentum although we still sell here and there, but I went on to write other things.

So my friend moves and finds 2 cases. Sigh... I had to jump through hoops to get it on Amazon since it is after 1972 and had no ISBN. I got a waiver and put them on Amazon. It won't come up in a book search though as it is looked at differently. More like selling a toaster on Amazon. A different type of product than the other books.

I have a plagiarism issue going on right now with this book so numbers would have been helpful to prove, and had we an ISBN for bookstores etc to see our sales would have grew, in my opinion. We did register the copyright thank God, as you need that if your going to go after someone. (Which I am.)

I am now formatting it for Kindle and the other readers. Then POD, and save the hard copies we have just for the locals. So I can see a lot of reasons to have an ISBN#. Wouldn't it also be something a publisher would notice if a self-publisher was selling a ton of books be it hard copy or digital? You could prove it in the stats and maybe said publisher might pick it up. I could be guessing on that.

And just to clarify, it is not true about libraries not wanting self-published books. Libraries have the one I'm talking about. Bread & Butter shows up on worldcat. I imagine non-fiction might do better in that area of self-publishing though.

DRMarvello
02-03-2013, 09:43 PM
So in other words, if I wanted to use my own ISBNs it is not only about editions (changes in the text since I would want to follow correct standards) it is also about formats.

Lets say all my text is the same. I'd need one ISBN for hard copy, one for paperback, one for mobi file and a different one for ePub file?

Since Amazon had to be exclusive with it's mobi file being just for Kindle, one ISBN for that, but ePub is for Nook, Sony etc readers right? So the same ISBN I use for the ePub format could be uploaded to B&N, google books etc. Am I correct?


You got it. You use one ISBN per edition, and the definition of an "edition" includes the format.

Keep in mind the ultimate purpose of an ISBN: it's to make sure customers get exactly what they ordered. If they order the second edition of your book in EPUB format, you don't want to send them the MobiPocket format. Or the first edition. If we didn't assign different ISBNs to the different formats, we'd never know which format the customer wanted.

The reason you can (and should) use the same ISBN for your EPUB edition at the different vendor portals is because you are acting in the role of distributor. Your book has the same "identity" at the different vendors because it is exactly the same edition. Even if a customer orders your book from two different vendors, they are getting the same book in the same format.

KDP is kind of a strange case. A lot of authors don't bother putting an ISBN on their MobiPocket (Kindle) editions because that edition isn't technically "in distribution;" it is only sold within the Amazon ecosystem, and Amazon assigns its own number (ASIN). That said, putting an ISBN on your MobiPocket edition doesn't hurt anything and might actually be a good idea if you ever plan to sell that edition anywhere else (like on your own web site).

Again, it's all about customers getting what they want. If a friend recommends your book and gives me the EPUB ISBN, I should be able to use that number to order the EPUB format for that same edition of your book from any vendor who carries it.

HistorySleuth
02-03-2013, 10:57 PM
Oh good, just wanted to be sure I understood it all correctly. Thank you DRMarvello!

stranger
02-04-2013, 12:34 AM
I would say a lot of people just use one ISBN for their digital edition though (whether it be epub, mobi, whatever).

Seems to make sense since you could upload one file to, say, Smashwords and they'll spit out different formats for different vendors.

DRMarvello
02-04-2013, 01:03 AM
I would say a lot of people just use one ISBN for their digital edition though (whether it be epub, mobi, whatever).


Yes, I agree that a lot of people are using ISBNs incorrectly.



Seems to make sense since you could upload one file to, say, Smashwords and they'll spit out different formats for different vendors.

Smashwords does not spit out different formats for different vendors. Premium Distribution distributes an EPUB file only. They sell the other formats directly from their own retail store, and they have their own book ID for that.

The only question mark is the Amazon feed, which is done completely manually at this time. If they send a MobiPocket file to Amazon, I'd be willing to bet they do not associate the EPUB ISBN with it. It's also possible that they send over an EPUB file and Amazon runs Kindlegen against it. Either way, my guess is that they just let Amazon assign an ASIN. [These would be good questions for Mr. Coker.]

stranger
02-04-2013, 02:25 AM
Yes, I agree that a lot of people are using ISBNs incorrectly.

Incorrectly in the letter of ISBN procedures. I haven't seen any argument where different ISBNs are needed for different digital formats.


They sell the other formats directly from their own retail store, and they have their own book ID for that.

So they are selling books in different format using either the same ISBN or using no ISBN for formats other than epub. That doesn't speak highly for the need for ISBNs for different digital editions.

As far as I'm concerned digital editions are the same edition with different software manipulation to make them readable on different devices. Smashwords shows this. Publisher uploads one book with one ISBN. Smashwords uses its software to make that book available in different formats.

DRMarvello
02-04-2013, 02:56 AM
Incorrectly in the letter of ISBN procedures. I haven't seen any argument where different ISBNs are needed for different digital formats.


That's cool. Do what you want. I've said my piece, and you disagree. I can live with that.

HistorySleuth
02-04-2013, 03:25 AM
Just goes to show how unprepared the publishing industry was for this. Obviously they never expected self-publishing to take off the way it did. But Smashwords would only need one file right? All the other readers read ePUB files correct? Except for the oddball mobi file for Kindle. Although it is not necessarily needed, I think I would still prefer it.

Old Hack
02-04-2013, 11:06 AM
Yes, I agree that a lot of people are using ISBNs incorrectly.


Incorrectly in the letter of ISBN procedures. I haven't seen any argument where different ISBNs are needed for different digital formats.

Using them correctly (and if you're going to use them, why would you not?) makes things clearer and easier in all sorts of ways.

This discussion provides a good argument for using separate ISBNs for each format of your book. If you aren't able to see that here then either you're not reading this thread with any level of attention, or you've just dismissed the viewpoints and advice of several of AW's members. Tread carefully, please.


So they are selling books in different format using either the same ISBN or using no ISBN for formats other than epub. That doesn't speak highly for the need for ISBNs for different digital editions.

That's one possible conclusion.

Another is that Smashwords feels it's not necessary to use ISBNs from its own site because it uses other means to track sales.

That's fair enough, I suppose, if all your sales are from Smashwords and you don't need an ISBN for anything else: for example, selling the same edition elsewhere, or as an identifier. Being satisfied with using just the Smashwords identifiers seems indicative of a somewhat narrow focus, particularly in regard to sales and various marketing opportunities; but then I've worked with several complex co-editions in multiple formats, and have seen how helpful--I'd even say essential--ISBNs are. They ensure clarity down the line, which can't be achieved in any other way.


As far as I'm concerned digital editions are the same edition with different software manipulation to make them readable on different devices. Smashwords shows this. Publisher uploads one book with one ISBN. Smashwords uses its software to make that book available in different formats.

Using only Smashword's numbers is fair enough if all you're doing is selling from Smashwords and don't have any broader ambitions; or if you're not interested in the sales data that ISBNs provide. But if you want to do more with your book, you're going to be stuck; or you're going to get into an administrative pickle further down the line.

If you don't want to use ISBNs then that's fine, it really is: but one shouldn't suggest they're not required, or that they don't work properly, just because one doesn't see the benefit of using them.


Just goes to show how unprepared the publishing industry was for this. Obviously they never expected self-publishing to take off the way it did.

Sleuth, I really don't see how you could safely draw those two conclusions from this discussion. I'd be grateful if you could explain them.


But Smashwords would only need one file right? All the other readers read ePUB files correct? Except for the oddball mobi file for Kindle. Although it is not necessarily needed, I think I would still prefer it.

I don't understand. What would you "still prefer"?

stranger
02-04-2013, 02:10 PM
This discussion provides a good argument for using separate ISBNs for each format of your book. If you aren't able to see that here then either you're not reading this thread with any level of attention, or you've just dismissed the viewpoints and advice of several of AW's members. Tread carefully, please.


Most of the discussion was about using different ISBNs for different editions. It wasn't about whether you use different ISBNs for different digital formats. My argument was that mobi, epub etc. are the same edition of the book (just altered by software to make it readable on different platforms).

I don't see why I have to tread carefully. Are you not allowed to disagree with others here anymore? What did I say that was out of line?

Old Hack
02-04-2013, 03:52 PM
Most of the discussion was about using different ISBNs for different editions. It wasn't about whether you use different ISBNs for different digital formats. My argument was that mobi, epub etc. are the same edition of the book (just altered by software to make it readable on different platforms).

"Different digital formats" are "different editions", stranger. Each new format of the same book is a different edition, just as paperbacks and hardbacks are different editions. That's kind of the point.


I don't see why I have to tread carefully. Are you not allowed to disagree with others here anymore? What did I say that was out of line?

You read way too much into my comment. Of course you're allowed to disagree with others here, and I didn't suggest otherwise.

My point was that you seemed to be either ignoring or dismissing others' comments here, and by doing so and commenting in the way you did, you risked coming across as disrespectful to your fellow writers. It wasn't a telling-off, more of a heads-up.

Katie Elle
02-04-2013, 05:18 PM
So in other words, if I wanted to use my own ISBNs it is not only about editions (changes in the text since I would want to follow correct standards) it is also about formats.

Just to be clear, making some minor corrections of typos or even changing a cover do not count as an edition. They are talking about a full update with new or revised material.


Wouldn't it also be something a publisher would notice if a self-publisher was selling a ton of books be it hard copy or digital?

Of the four people I know from message boards who have had breakouts in the last year and gotten on the NYT or USA Today bestseller lists, they have all had a mishmash where some had an ISBN because a store required it or not. Two were picked up by publishers, one pursued hard enough that they negotiated to keep their ebook rights and sold only the print rights. YMMV obviously. The key is they were well written, well timed, and were selling enough that trade publishers couldn't ignore them.


Just goes to show how unprepared the publishing industry was for this. Obviously they never expected self-publishing to take off the way it did.

I think the issue is ebook vs. physical book, not so much who publishes them. Physical books are generally ordered, not automatically pushed to retailers, usually going through a distributor chain. Ebooks are generally distributed by push from the publisher and tend to dwell within a retailer ecosystem with no middle-men.

Old Hack
02-04-2013, 08:20 PM
Just to be clear, making some minor corrections of typos or even changing a cover do not count as an edition. They are talking about a full update with new or revised material.

It depends who you ask, Katie. In trade publishing, any change--no matter what the level of changes made--usually counts as a new edition. If that weren't the case there wouldn't be such interest in first editions, especially in those with mistakes which were corrected in subsequent editions.

And yes, changing a cover does result in a new edition. It might not where you're from, but where I'm from it most certainly does.


Of the four people I know from message boards who have had breakouts in the last year and gotten on the NYT or USA Today bestseller lists, they have all had a mishmash where some had an ISBN because a store required it or not. Two were picked up by publishers, one pursued hard enough that they negotiated to keep their ebook rights and sold only the print rights. YMMV obviously. The key is they were well written, well timed, and were selling enough that trade publishers couldn't ignore them.

I'm not sure what that has to do with ISBNs.


I think the issue is ebook vs. physical book, not so much who publishes them.

E-books from trade publishers have ISBNs, though, don't they? I just checked out a few on Amazon and they all showed them. So who publishes them is significant in this conversation.


Physical books are generally ordered, not automatically pushed to retailers, usually going through a distributor chain.

Print editions ("physical books" sounds like a genre!) from good trade publishers are definitely "pushed to retailers", as you put it, and bought from the shelves of those retailers. That's exactly what distributors do for publishers (and note here I use "distribution" to mean "full-service distribution", which is common in trade publishing, and not the sort of distribution I see talked about in self publishing circles where almost all that's involved is ensuring a book is included in a few electronic databases).

Backlist books might be bought through special order, and books from smaller presses; and of course with online ordering it's a lot different. But most current titles will be aggressively sold into bookshops and other retailers: trade publishers don't rely on special orders to sell their books.


Ebooks are generally distributed by push from the publisher and tend to dwell within a retailer ecosystem with no middle-men.

Is that true for both trade and self-published books, though? I've seen a lot of definitives issued (in this thread and others, and by several members) which only apply to self publishers, but that's rarely clarified; and often it's only true for a very small subset of self publishers--sometimes, as small as "the person making the comment"--which really doesn't help anyone learn or progress.

DRMarvello
02-04-2013, 09:00 PM
It depends who you ask, Katie. In trade publishing, any change--no matter what the level of changes made--usually counts as a new edition. If that weren't the case there wouldn't be such interest in first editions, especially in those with mistakes which were corrected in subsequent editions.

And yes, changing a cover does result in a new edition. It might not where you're from, but where I'm from it most certainly does.


According to Bowker, it is okay to keep the same ISBN when you make minor changes like fixing typos. You only need a new ISBN when you make *substantive* changes, like adding a new chapter or changing the ending of the book.

From the Bowker FAQ


If typos are being corrected, is a new ISBN necessary?

No.

What's the difference between a reprint and a new edition?

A reprint means more copies are being printed with no substantial changes. Perhaps a few typos are being fixed. A new edition means that there has been substantial change: content has been altered in a way that might make a customer complain that this was not the product that was expected. Or, text has been changed to add a new feature, such as a preface or appendix or additional content. Or, content has been revised. Or, the book has been redesigned.
(For the purposes of this discussion, a "reprint" is effectively the same as uploading new ebook content.)

As for changing the cover, it comes back to managing customer expectations...

From the Bowker FAQ:


If changing the cover of a book, does a new ISBN have to be assigned?

US practice is if the book is just out or the idea is to give a marketing boost to the product, then no, a new ISBN should not be assigned. However, if the change in cover substantially changes the product (ie., would lead to customer complaints), then a new ISBN should be used.
When in doubt, go to the source:
https://www.myidentifiers.com/help/isbn

Anarchic Q
02-04-2013, 10:23 PM
Just to be clear, making some minor corrections of typos or even changing a cover do not count as an edition.

According to Goodreads, different covers are different editions, with different ISBNs. Movie-poster-cover of a book? Different edition than original-cover version, even if all the content within is the same.

HistorySleuth
02-04-2013, 10:39 PM
http://absolutewrite.com/forums/images/buttons/viewpost.gif (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?p=7931520#post7931520)
SLEUTH: Just goes to show how unprepared the publishing industry was for this. Obviously they never expected self-publishing to take off the way it did.

OLD HACK:Sleuth, I really don't see how you could safely draw those two conclusions from this discussion. I'd be grateful if you could explain them.

Quote:
SLEUTH: But Smashwords would only need one file right? All the other readers read ePUB files correct? Except for the oddball mobi file for Kindle. Although it is not necessarily needed, I think I would still prefer it.

OLD HACK:I don't understand. What would you "still prefer"?




As to the first, I'll try to explain, although it is just an opinion or my observation. When we had just physical books they came with ISBNs. If the format was changed then it had a separate number. Self-publishers did or didn't use them, but less people self-published then than now because of cost so I don't think the publishing industry really noticed.

People still self-publish some with ISBN numbers some without that part is the same, but now there are so many more doing it, because cost is little to none, all because of e-books. So since some use ISBNs for each format, some don't and talk about reusing them it just seem the waters have gotten muddy over it.

And it seems to me (and I could be wrong) the publishing industry did not lead the way on e-books, but followed after. I just thought had they lead the way maybe it would have set a precedent on the correct way to use the ISBNs on various ebook formats. Was my thinking anyway. Am I making more sense?

As to the other, I should have said, " Although it is not necessarily needed, I think I would still prefer my own ISBN on each (mobi, ePub) on my ebooks. Sorry

Katie Elle
02-04-2013, 10:50 PM
According to Goodreads, different covers are different editions, with different ISBNs. Movie-poster-cover of a book? Different edition than original-cover version, even if all the content within is the same.

Not sure what you mean here. GR actually has instructions on how to create an "alternative cover edition (http://www.goodreads.com/help/show/85-adding-an-alternate-cover-edition)" for books with multiple covers and the same ISBN. (I'm actually off to do this with my favorite book as I always associate it with the SF Book Club cover, not the paperback that GR displays.)

As to where I got the claim about cover and minor edits, it was the ISBN users manual:


5.2 Changes to publications
A separate ISBN shall be assigned if there have been significant changes to any part or
parts of a publication. A separate ISBN shall be assigned if there has been a change to the
title and/or to the sub-title of a publication. A change to the cover design or colour or to the
price of a monographic publication does not require a separate ISBN. Minor changes in an
edition (e.g. corrections to misprints) do not require a separate ISBN.

HistorySleuth
02-05-2013, 12:51 AM
Think that is just how goodreads does it.

Anarchic Q
02-05-2013, 12:53 AM
I stand corrected. Disregard.

Medievalist
02-05-2013, 06:56 AM
And it seems to me (and I could be wrong) the publishing industry did not lead the way on e-books, but followed after.

The publishing industry lead the way.

The standard UI you see on ebooks in terms of feature sets and navigation was created in 1992 by The Voyager Publishing company.

I was in fact the one who did much of the licensing and obtained the ISBN numbers—and it was clear then that ebooks in HyperCard and Ebooks in binary/C++ were two different editions and required different ISBNs, as did the ebooks we published in Canada, Great Britain and Japan.

We produced and published ebooks from big six publishers, including Random House, and authors like Crichton, Gibson, Grisham, Turow, Doug Adams, L'Engle, and The Modern Library.

We worked closely with a large number of publishers, big six, indie and university publishers included, and it was exceedingly clear to all concerned what did and did not equate with a new edition.

Publishers were not slow; the reading public was, and has been behind publishers in term of ebooks. Even now, the publishers are already working with newer versions of OSs and features than the public has access to.

HistorySleuth
02-05-2013, 07:57 AM
Ahhh. Thank you for clarifying Medievalist.

Old Hack
02-05-2013, 04:12 PM
According to Bowker, it is okay to keep the same ISBN when you make minor changes like fixing typos. You only need a new ISBN when you make *substantive* changes, like adding a new chapter or changing the ending of the book.

From the Bowker FAQ
(For the purposes of this discussion, a "reprint" is effectively the same as uploading new ebook content.)

As for changing the cover, it comes back to managing customer expectations...

From the Bowker FAQ:
When in doubt, go to the source:
https://www.myidentifiers.com/help/isbn

Thanks for that link, DRM.

As I said earlier, though, revisions do usually result in a new edition. So I don't think we're disagreeing with one another here. To clarify, it's very unusual for a book to have corrections made without a new edition being involved, although minor corrections such as typos are sometimes made when new print-runs are instigated.

The real issue here, I think, is that there's such a difference between how trade publishing and self publishing work. In trade publishing, the emphasis is on making the book a finished product before it's published; whereas I've seen many self publishers make frequent revisions based on their readers' input. It seems to me that it's not uncommon for some self publishers to treat their first readers almost as editors, and to expect those early readers to report problems which the publishers then clean up*.


As to the first, I'll try to explain, although it is just an opinion or my observation. When we had just physical books they came with ISBNs.

Print editions still make up the bulk of books sold, and they still come with ISBNs.


If the format was changed then it had a separate number. Self-publishers did or didn't use them, but less people self-published then than now because of cost so I don't think the publishing industry really noticed.

Trade publishing is a completely separate business to self publishing (there's far more crossover between vanity publishing and self publishing--witness the number of vanity publishers which have now rebranded themselves as self publishing service providers). It's not that trade publishing didn't notice that self publishers were doing things differently: it's that it didn't affect trade publishers one bit, so why would they notice or care?

How self publishers use or don't use ISBNs did have implications for book sellers, however, on the rare occasions that self-published print editions made it onto their shelves. Their lack of ISBNs, and their unreliable use of them, made it harder for bookshops to process orders for those books and track their stock of them, and added to booksellers' general reluctance to stock those books.

This doesn't imply that, as you suggested,


how unprepared the publishing industry was for this. Obviously they never expected self-publishing to take off the way it did.

It just shows that many self publishers didn't and still don't understand the benefits of an ISBN, or how they should really be used.


People still self-publish some with ISBN numbers some without that part is the same, but now there are so many more doing it, because cost is little to none, all because of e-books. So since some use ISBNs for each format, some don't and talk about reusing them it just seem the waters have gotten muddy over it.

I agree that more people are misusing ISBNs now, and there are more people not using them at all. But that doesn't mean that how they should be used has changed, nor does it imply that trade publishing is somehow at fault, as you suggested.


And it seems to me (and I could be wrong) the publishing industry did not lead the way on e-books, but followed after. I just thought had they lead the way maybe it would have set a precedent on the correct way to use the ISBNs on various ebook formats. Was my thinking anyway. Am I making more sense?

Trade publishing did lead the way in e-publishing, as Medievalist has already explained. Trade publishers tend to use ISBNs correctly. They always have, because so much of their accounting systems depend on them.


As to the other, I should have said, " Although it is
not necessarily needed, I think I would still prefer my own ISBN on each (mobi, ePub) on my ebooks. Sorry

Thanks for the clarification.


* I find this approach really difficult to understand. In my view, we should nurture and cosset our readers, in the hope that they'll then be more likely to buy more books; and we should never lose sight of the fact that it's their money which drives all of our publishing efforts. If we treat them as editors who have to pay us for the privilege (I can never spell that) of cleaning up our books we're going to alienate them, which is not a good thing.

HistorySleuth
02-05-2013, 07:39 PM
Sigh. I did not mean to imply that trade publishing was at fault in anything. It's not a laying blame issue. More like something unexpected, how fast self-publishing grew with the advent of anyone being able to upload ebooks getting worldwide exposure rather than just on a local level. I don't think anyone expected that, including trade publishers (opinion).

And I'm not implying that the self-publishing ebook boom is a bad thing either, I plan on doing it. Only that it muddied the waters as far as the use of ISBNs. As you say, Old Hack, "It just shows that many self publishers didn't and still don't understand the benefits of an ISBN, or how they should really be used."

When it was just physical books, and a person self-published and it didn't have an ISBN I think it was less of an impact on keeping editions straight since honestly, most of the sales would be local. But now that it is not just physical self-published books and ebooks and even POD books go worldwide, and being so many of them, it has become muddled.

If early on in the self-publishing ebook boom people were required to have ISBNs from the get go from the places they were uploading to, the whole procedure of what format or changes constituted a new edition resulting in a new ISBN number would have been maintained and understood by self-publishers.

I'm not laying blame anywhere. I have nothing against commercial publishers. I hope to do that someday. I have nothing against self-publishers. I've done that before. Just analyzing the situation. In this case, I think I'm not doing a very good job of articulating myself.

Katie Elle
02-05-2013, 08:11 PM
If early on in the self-publishing ebook boom people were required to have ISBNs from the get go from the places they were uploading to, the whole procedure of what format or changes constituted a new edition resulting in a new ISBN number would have been maintained and understood by self-publishers.

I'd say the opposite.

I think the bigger issue is that a plurality (if not a vast majority) of us believe that ISBNs serve no purpose for ebook sales through the major storefronts other than as a form of rent collection by Bowker. When Apple still required one, that led people to seek the most inexpensive way to satisfy (or more accurately evade) the "tax."

Now that Apple has removed the requirement, the issue has essentially been settled as none of the storefronts require ISBNs so we can agree to disagree. Those of us who believe they aren't necessary can simply omit them and those who believe they are useful can assign them and each group will have to live with the economic consequences or lack thereof of our decisions.

Old Hack
02-05-2013, 10:35 PM
Sigh. I did not mean to imply that trade publishing was at fault in anything. It's not a laying blame issue. More like something unexpected, how fast self-publishing grew with the advent of anyone being able to upload ebooks getting worldwide exposure rather than just on a local level. I don't think anyone expected that, including trade publishers (opinion).

Sorry, Sleuth: I am a bit obsessive when it comes to clarity and reason, and didn't mean to make you feel like I was telling you off. But it does help if we're all really clear about what what we mean, as it avoids misunderstandings and so on.

I do get a bit prickly when I see people making claims about trade publishing which are either unsafe, logically speaking, or untrue: there's so much misinformation about publishing online, especially when it comes to trade vs. self publishing, and it misleads writers and often causes them to make poor decisions, which isn't good. Consequently, I do my best to keep things clear in this room at least.


I'm not laying blame anywhere. I have nothing against commercial publishers. I hope to do that someday. I have nothing against self-publishers. I've done that before. Just analyzing the situation. In this case, I think I'm not doing a very good job of articulating myself.

Been there, done that, when it comes to not being as articulate as I might be. We've all done it. But isn't that why we ask questions here, and question each other's responses, isn't it? To obtain that clarity.


I'd say the opposite.

I think the bigger issue is that a plurality (if not a vast majority) of us believe that ISBNs serve no purpose for ebook sales through the major storefronts other than as a form of rent collection by Bowker.

Again, Katie, you're talking from your own very narrow viewpoint.

I know several self-published writers who understand the value that ISBNs provide.

And we're not all self published, either.

I don't deny that you might not get anything of much value from using an ISBN on your own books: but it doesn't automatically follow that the vast majority of writers share your opinion.

I can't help thinking things would be easier here if you'd add a few qualifiers to some of your comments, and if you'd consider that how you do things isn't how all writers view things. It's not even how all self-published writers view things.

HistorySleuth
02-05-2013, 11:23 PM
Nah, I didn't feel like you were telling me off, Old Hack. Just more annoyed at myself for not being able to explain myself better. "Dammit, Sleuth! Just spit it out already!" :D Usually I'm pretty good at that.

I've found the discussion to be very useful. Personally, me, if the industry standard is to put one ISBN on the mobi, and a different ISBN on ePUB format then that is what I want to do. Hence my reason for joining in the conversation. I have no plans to keep revamping the book once it's up there.