isbns for ebooks

ISBNs for eBooks: Do You Need One?

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When you are self-publishing for the first time, there are many challenges and obstacles you have to overcome, and decisions that have to be made – some fun decisions and some stressful. One hurdle you’ll have to jump over is deciding if you want to purchase your own ISBN for your book, or even purchase multiple ISBNs for the various formats of your book, or will you utilize the “free” ISBNs available through Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, or other self-publishing platforms. In this blog, we’ll focus on ISBNs for eBooks, and whether or not you need one.

What is an ISBN?

The International Standard Book Number, or ISBN, was first devised in 1967. The purpose of the ISBN is to uniquely identify a specific edition or variation of a book.

You will also see references to “ISBN-10” and “ISBN-13.” The 13 version is the same number but with a prefix to identify it as being for book publishing. Before 2007, there were only 10-digit ISBNs; then 13-digit ISBNs were introduced and used to increase the availability of ISBNs. You can show both numbers in the eBook or print book version of your book, although only the ISBN-13 is necessary.

ISBNs are used by booksellers, libraries, publishers, and retailers to identify the book, manage their inventory, and list it for sale. In addition to this, Amazon also assigns an ASIN to each book, which I’ll talk about more below.

What is an eISBN?

It’s a myth. There is no such thing as an eISBN. Some people use the term eISBN freely, however, it doesn’t exist. An eBook is simply a different format of your book, just like a hardcover edition is different from a paperback, or from an audiobook. Each format of your book would need its own ISBN.

What Do the ISBN Numbers Mean?

Each ISBN consists of 5 elements with each section being separated by spaces or hyphens. Three of the five elements may be of varying length:

  • Prefix element – currently this can only be either 978 or 979; it is always 3 digits in length
  • Registration group element – this identifies the particular country, geographical region, or language area participating in the ISBN system; this element may be between 1 and 5 digits in length
  • Registrant element – this identifies the particular publisher or imprint; this may be up to 7 digits in length
  • Publication element – this identifies the particular edition and format of a specific title; this may be up to 6 digits in length
  • Check digit – this is always the final single digit that mathematically validates the rest of the number

Are ISBNs Necessary for eBooks?

Amazon KDP does not require Kindle eBooks to have an ISBN when you upload your eBook using KDP. However, in general, eBooks still do require an ISBN if you want to have wide distribution of your eBook outside of just Amazon.

Again, you do not need an ISBN to publish your ebook via Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). However, if you want to expand beyond Amazon one day, you will not be able to take their “ASIN,” or Amazon Standard Identification Number, with you to another distributor.

What’s the difference between an ISBN and ASIN? 

We just learned all about ISBNs above, so you can scroll up for a quick refresher if you’d like.

An ASIN number is Amazon’s version of an ISBN. Everything that Amazon sells gets an ASIN when it’s added to their website, including books. You’ll get a free ASIN automatically when you put your book on Amazon, regardless of your what you decide to do about your ISBN (i.e., use the free ISBN or purchase your own ISBN).

It is recommended, but not required, that you assign a unique ISBN per each format of your book. A format is a Kindle eBook, an EPUB (used by B&N, Apple, Kobo, etc.), audiobook, hardcover, or paperback.

Also, just for reference, it’s safe to say that all printed books require an ISBN if the publisher wants to sell that book in a store.

How Many ISBNs Do I Need for my Book Title?

Each format of your book requires its own ISBN number. For example, if your book is available in three different formats – ebook, paperback, and hardback, then you would need three different ISBN numbers.

Can I Re-Use an ISBN?

No. For example, a print book ISBN cannot be reused for the eBook.

Do ISBNs expire? 

No, they don’t expire.

Where Can I Purchase ISBNs for eBooks?

The 7 types of book mediums you can select from include:

-Audio

-Digital

-Ebook

-Other

-Print

-Packs & MultiMedia

-Video

Once you select one of those seven choices from the drop-down box, then the format field to the right will appear and provides the format options available for the medium you chose. For example, if you choose Print for the medium, then the format drop-down gives you 16 different types of print books to choose from such as paperback or hardcover.

How Much Do ISBNs for eBooks Cost?

By now, I think you know that all ISBNs, regardless of the book format – eBook, audiobook, paperback, etc – all cost the same price.

You can purchase ISBNs individually or in bulk. One ISBN is $125, 10 ISBNs are $295, 100 ISBNs are $575, and 1000 ISBNs are $1000. In my opinion, the 10 ISBNs for $295 is your best bet.

How Do I Purchase an ISBN number for my eBook?

  1. Create an account with Bowker MyIdentifiers at myidentifiers.com.
  2. Choose the number of ISBNs you need.
  3. Pay for your ISBNs.

Then after checkout, go to My Account > My Identifiers, select an ISBN number and fill in your book’s information, such as its title, author, publication date, and pricing. 

When you’re done, simply submit the form.

Where should I add the ISBN in my eBook?

You should include ISBN number on the copyright page of your eBook. In fact, if your book is available in a variety of formats (i.e., paperback, hardback, or audiobook), you should include those ISBN numbers on the copyright page as well, so the reader knows that other formats are available.

Bottomline

If you’re going through a distributor (like Amazon KDP) that does not require ISBNs for eBooks, you won’t be printing your book anywhere else, you don’t plan on having a physical print copy of your book, and if you don’t care about being listed as the publisher, then you probably don’t need an ISBN for your eBook. Otherwise, I’d say it’s a safe bet to purchase a bundle of ISBN’s through Bowker’s MyIdentifer’s website and use one for the eBook version of your book.


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