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A Quick Guide to ISBNs for Self-Publishers

A Quick Guide to ISBNs for Self-Publishers

A Quick Guide to ISBNs for Self-Publishers

ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. It is a code assigned to every published book that uniquely identifies it in the marketplace. ISBNs make it easier and more efficient for libraries, booksellers and others in the publishing industry to order, distribute and catalog books.

When To Use an ISBN

You need to assign an ISBN to any content you intend to distribute through outside channels such as bookstores, catalogues or libraries. ISBNs should be placed on

– print books

– electronic books

– videos

– audio cassettes and CDs

– CD-ROMs, and

– other items as detailed by the International ISBN Agency.

You need to issue a separate ISBN for each edition of your book and for every format. For example, if you issued the same book as a print book, e-book, audio book and Braille book, you would require a separate identifier for each. If one year later, you updated the manuscript and re-issued the book, you would assign new ISBNs to this second edition in each of its different formats.

Deciphering the Numbering System

All ISBNs are currently 10 digits. (The industry will slowly be transitioning to a 13-digit system starting in 2005. See http://www.isbn.org/standards/home/isbn/transition.asp for more information on the change.)

The digits identify

– the group (country, area or language area of the publisher)

– the publisher, and

– the title of the item.

The last digit is a check digit.

The group number is comprised of one to three digits. Zero is the number for the English language group that includes the United States, English-speaking Canada, the U.K., Australia and other countries.

The publisher number is comprised of two to seven digits. The more ISBNs a publisher uses, the small their publisher number.

Publishers that use more than 100,000 ISBNs are given a publisher number of only two digits. If you apply for 10 or fewer ISBNs, you will be assigned a publisher number with seven digits. Everyone else falls somewhere in the middle.

Thus anyone in the book trade can look at an ISBN and know roughly how big you are as a publisher by the number of ISBNs you have applied to use. This is why self-publishing gurus like Dan Poynter recommend acquiring your ISBNs in blocks of 100 to avoid being labeled “small potatoes.”

Poynter further recommends that you use an ISBN from the middle of your list of 100 for your first book, since a 0 or 1 as your title number will reveal you as a first-timer.

The check digits range from one to 10. Since there is space for only one check digit, the number 10 is represented by an X.

How To Acquire ISBNs

ISBNs in the United States are administered by R.R. Bowker. Bowker charges a fee to process your application. Ten ISBNs cost $225; 100 ISBNs cost $800. Visit www.bowker.com for more information, or to complete an application.

ISBNs in Canada are administered by the National Public Library as a free service. Visit http://www.nlc-bnc.ca/isbn/index-e.html for more information or to apply on-line.

For more information on the ISBN system and how it works, visit www.isbn.org.

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