The ISBN Dilemma … Should Authors Buy Their Own?

WOWSA! Such a deal … buy your ISBN for only ten bucks … who wants to pay $125? The real questions are: are they legit ISBNs? Or, are they knockoffs? Or, are they a re-sale? And if they are a resale, are they being sold by an approved resale outlet? Are they legit … or are they fake? What’s an author to do?


All authors need to understand this: ISBNs are ONLY ISSUED by Bowker … it doesn’t matter what name you get them through. And in fact, it may be a giant hiccup if you take this route. Bowker has the exclusive distribution rights in the United States … other companies have them in other parts of the world. Here’s what and others like it do: they purchase a bank of ISBNS… you too, can buy 1000 for $1000 or $1 an ISBN (now, that’s a deal)—where single ones are sold for $125 via Bowker, 10 for $250, 100 for $500 and 1,000 for $1,000, etc. 

Anyone can buy and then repackage and sell them as singles or multiples at, say $10 vs. the single direct purchase from Bowker for $125. If you are crunching numbers, $10 sounds better than $125—but is it?  Supposedly, they have a “channel” arrangement with Bowker to do that. You think—”WOW—such a deal.” Maybe. Maybe not. And yep, that means you could buy them and resell to your friends and maybe as a “side business” as well. Hmmm, 1,000 for $1,000—resell for $10 each … what a rate of return!

They are making 10 times on their money—not a bad ROI for sure! … and get this: all those ISBNs are really listed as them—whoever sells them to you and originally purchased them—as the publisher … you see, Amazon’s CreateSpace still owns them, as does IngramSpark or ANY other company that you use THEIRS and you don’t PERSONALLY buy them yourself. Understand this.  When you buy from others, they “resell” to you but DO NOT transfer ownership to you as the publisher. Deep in the guts of Bowker, it still will show that the original owner is the owner. What you get is the right to use the number as long as you are connected with it. Technically, your book is connected to the ISBN via title, but not as the publisher. And if you leave CreateSpace, etc., you will have to get a new ISBN before you print/publish your book again with your own publishing company … or with another.

Bottom line: Before you buy any of the “deals” check it out—determine if you get to register your book personally with the ISBN so that BookScan picks up your retail sales and IDs you as the publisher. It’s Author Beware time.

My take … if you are a publisher, you should have a minimum of 10 ISBNs … better yet, 100. Why 100?–it’s cheaper for sure ($5 each) and if you really get the re-purposing side of just what one book can create—breaking it up into mini books, creating new books and products, etc. And if you watch the emails that puts out, they often offer deep discounts on them.

I have one client who took his tome—published what we called the Mothership; then broke it into sections—created each in a POD format with corresponding eBook; and then took 9 other chapters in the book that stood alone-did the POD and eBook side—we morphed the cover just a tad—branding was there; created a new intro for each. One book = 15 books. He was amazed. He is selling. He is happy. He needed 15 ISBNs and bought 100, all registered to his own publishing company. 

When my husband and I first started Mile High Press, we pulled down 100 ISBNs several years ago—we are now at #73 in use. If I do what I plan to do, I will have to go for a second round of 100 soon. 

Noodle here … what are your big plans … the Vision thing for your authoring and publishing? Right now, Bowker owns the game in publishing town and controls ISBNs in the United States. Other countries have different arrangements with ISBNs within their countries. Who it officially allows to resell is another game and then those who just buy and resell and don’t give a twit if it’s official or not is yet another. 

My Advice:  Bowker created MyIdentifyers for ease for authors to get information on publishing as well as buy single ISBNs to multiples. Make it your portal to get YOUR ISBNs that you own and control. It’s the savvy thing for all authors who are self- and independent publishing today. 

Should buying ISBNs be a dilemma? Nope … you should buy your own from the get go.




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Judith Briles is a book publishing expert and coach. She empowers authors and is the Founder of, a membership organization created for the serious author who wants to be seriously successful. She’s been writing about and conducting workshops on publishing since the ’80s. Judith is the author of 35 books including Author YOU: Creating and Building Your Author and Book Platforms (Foreword IndieFab Book of the Year), Snappy Sassy Salty: Wise Words for Authors and Writers and a speaker at publishing conferences. Book #35 was published in 2016: How to Avoid 101 Book Publishing Blunders, Bloopers & Boo-Boos. Get your copy now.

Each summer, she holds Judith Briles Book Publishing Unplugged, a three-day intensive limited to a small group of authors who want to be seriously successful. In 2017, the dates are June 22-24th.  Her audio and workbook series, Creating Your Book and Author Platform is now available. Join Judith live on Thursdays at 6 p.m. EST for “AuthorU-Your Guide to Book Publishing” on the Toginet Network at

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header-logo1.pngAuthor U is a non-profit membership organization dedicated to the author who wants to be seriously successful. Monthly education programs delivered face-to-face and online, The Author Resource ezine, BookCamps, and the annual Author U Extravaganza are tools designed for authors pre-, during and post-publishing of their books. Join today.

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